First, I am a Mother
Friday, July 20, 2007
"Making the decision to have a child-it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
There are scenes in the movie Waitress that I cant get out of my head because they either repel me or resonate like the word True, true, true dancing before my eyes.
In the film Jenna ( Keri Russell ), a waitress and pie baker extraordinaire, is married to Earl, ( Jeremy Sisto ) a jealous, abusive jerk. When Jenna unexpectedly gets pregnant she initially tries to hide the news as shes saving money to leave her husband.
When Earl learns shes having a baby he makes her promise that she wont love the baby more than him. Throughout the film he makes her promise and the aggressive, pathetic look on his face and the blank stare on Jennas face as she mouths I promise is burned into my mind.
As a mother, I know theres no denying what shes really thinking. No mother can make that promise and believe it.
When you hold your child for the first time you are changed. No one else can see it but you know it inside of yourself. Even if you werent sure about having a baby, even if you were afraid you wouldnt be a good mother, the transformation occurs. Every other relationship, responsibility, interest and care in the world falls away and your priority is crystal clear. For me, this is one of the few things I know for sure about motherhood. I am completely secure in my knowledge that first, I am a mother.
This knowledge is initially scary and a little intimidating because you think it threatens everything else you thought you believed: that you couldnt love anyone else as much as your husband or partner, that no pursuit could be as challenging as your career, that you are defined by your creative passion be it writing or painting or surfing or gourmet cooking. You know youve embraced motherhood when the initial fear of this knowledge blossoms into freedom.
There is freedom in knowing who you are and what you value. It is both empowering and motivating. Having a child doesnt stop you from loving or caring about other people or things, but in a world where you cant buy a carton of yogurt without facing 10 choices, it cuts a wide swath through low priorities.
In Waitress, throughout her pregnancy Jenna puts up with verbal and physical abuse from Earl and seems fearful and unsure of how to escape him. The birth of her daughter gives her the strength, in the delivery room no less, to kick him out of her room and her life. Trite? Maybe. But I dont doubt it could happen because the emotion is so true. Its easy to make life-changing decisions when the person theyll affect most is nestled in your arms.
While many mothers decisions are much simpler than deciding to leave a spouse, the motivation for the decisions is the same. Motherhood is grounding. It provides the filter for the choices you make. It influences whether you work and the job you choose to do. Depending on your circumstances, it impacts whether you work one, two or three jobs to support and elevate your children. It affects what you choose to do with your (often minimal) free time. It influences the people you invite into your life.
I recently spent some time with a family friend, a young woman whos been married for a year and is aching for a baby. She is a woman born to be a mother. Ive only know a couple of women like this. Their innate ability to nurture is palpable. I am envious of this because its not something I come to naturally, but something I was blessed to learn from my mother, who is one of these women. I have no doubt my friend will be an outstanding mother, but I have encouraged her to wait when shes asked me about motherhood.
She knows my children very well so I dont have to tell her about how much work it is to care for a child and how challenging it is to manage kids, work, husband and house. I tell her to wait so she has a little more time to define herself and she and her husband have a little more time as a couple before parenting becomes their primary shared activity. Motherhood is powerful and defining. It demands your attention and that is easier to give when you arent worried about what youll miss when you enter its warm embrace.
Deanna Martin Mackey is the mother of an 11-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl. She is an associate general manager at KPBS, and has been writing professionally for 20 years. She is working on her first novel about a family.