There’s a sound that my 9-month-old daughter makes. It’s somewhere between a moan, a whine and a screech, and it seems calibrated to pierce directly into the centre of my brain and destroy every shred of sanity I have ever possessed. I could probably make some money selling recordings of The Noise as an interrogation aid, but then I remember that torture is against my principles. Some days, when my wee girl has been making The Noise for a while (and she can keep it up indefinitely, without seeming to need to breathe), I find myself staring at the floor between my feet and wondering why, why, why I ever thought becoming a mother was a good idea.
There are people out there who will tell you that all women should be mothers. They seem to be under the impression that it’s just something women do, like going through puberty or getting their first job. It’s seen as an essential life experience that a woman must have or she will regret it forever. This is, of course, absolute nonsense. Motherhood isn’t a life experience. Motherhood is a life, and it’s not always an easy one.
My life as a mother didn’t get off to an easy start. I chose to breastfeed, which meant that my sleep was reduced to what I could cram into the two hours give-or-take intervals between feedings. I got so tired sometimes that I would cry uncontrollably as I nursed my little girl. I walked into walls more than once. The thought of reading or writing seemed as far-fetched as flying to the moon. I was pretty sure I wasn’t even human anymore, just an extension of the tiny little bundle of constant need I had brought into the world.
It’s not that any one thing about motherhood is all that bad. Most of it is delightful. It’s just that babies always need something. Even when my girl is asleep, my life is focused around maintaining quiet in the house so she’ll keep sleeping. On a bad day, it’s impossible to focus on anything other than figuring out what is making her scream so that she’ll stop, stop, stop please just stop.
Motherhood, especially with a tiny baby, is 24/7, and one of the hardest things for me is how little control I sometimes have over what I’m going to be doing at any given time. Ask my husband about the time I stood in the living room and shouted “My whole life is putting her soother back in her mouth! This is the only thing I ever do anymore!” before breaking down in tears.
Those moments, when my kid has been making The Noise for two solid hours, when my body hurts from lack of sleep, when I despair of ever becoming the writer I want to be because even a 500-word article feels like a project on par with the Sistine Chapel, I think of the people who think that motherhood is just something a woman should check off her bucket list and toddle on her merry way, and I laugh. It’s not a very nice laugh.
And yet…there’s this noise my daughter makes. It’s a soft little sound, somewhere between a coo and a giggle. She makes it because she knows I’ll answer her, because she’s learning who I am and who she is. It’s the sound of the lights coming on in another human soul. I feel the sleeping weight of her head in the crook of my arm and I realize that there are whole galaxies in that mind of hers. She’s a universe and she’s growing every day. It’ll be my privilege to show her around a few of the stars.
I can’t adequately convey the mind-shattering frustration I feel when it’s 3 am and my little girl is wide-awake and hollering. But then again I can’t describe the overwhelming wonder I felt when they took her from my body and placed her on my chest. I know that as she grows, I’ll learn new depths of anger, frustration and weariness. I also know that I’ll also get to watch the whole world come alive again in her eyes.
I can’t tell you that motherhood is the right choice for you, but I can’t tell you that it’s the wrong one, either. It’s a different choice for every woman, because every woman lives a different life.
Motherhood isn’t a life experience. It’s a life, nothing more and nothing less. And if I had it to do over again, it’s the life I would choose every time.