Friday 25 September 2009

Twelve and a half percent parenting

(Here's one I prepared earlier - I wrote this a few days before we left Addis. I've just re-read it, and it maybe doesn't make a whole lot of sense, so sorry about that. But this is what I was thinking).

At the moment, we get to see the babies for about three hours a day - two hours in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Out of a 24 hour day, that means we’re spending about 12.5% of our time together.

To be honest, this kind of tallies with how I’m feeling. I only really feel like about 12.5% of a parent at the moment. I’m really falling in love with them, and the thought of kissing those little cheeks goodbye in a few days time makes me feel physically ill. But. At the moment, I really feel my lack of being able to do anything for them. I sit and cuddle one, or the other, and one of the nannies comes up to me and whisks the baby away to be changed. I can either follow her, and stand around watching her change my child like a lemon, or I can stay sitting in my chair like a lemon. Either is… not great. I’m constantly reminded that I’m not yet really these children’s mother in any meaningful sense (to them). And I’m really not immersed in that 24 hour a day full time parenting thing yet. I can kid myself I am, sometimes, (I LOVE them 24 hours a day!) but… I’m not. This really stinks. And the worst thing? Sometimes I can go for whole stretches of time without really thinking about them. And I don’t mean when I’m asleep. I just mean if I’m watching an interesting DVD, or trying to navigate our way somewhere with an inadequate map, or moaning (yet again) about HOW GOOD the icecream at Kaldi’s looks and HOW MUCH I want some, and HOW SAD I am that it isn’t really sensible to eat ice here. You know, trivial stuff. And then I suddenly get a jolt of remembering - my babies, my babies! Only a few hundred metres away, and I can’t see them! I hope they aren’t crying! I hope they aren’t too hot! I hope they’ve had their milk! Mmmm, milk, that makes me think of ice cream. I wish I could have some darn ice cream! Hang on, ack, go away, ice cream thoughts, what about the babies?

Probably, the ability to still think about other things is actually perfectly healthy. I think my subconscious knows that really, these babies aren’t reliant on me yet. I just hope the right switch flicks somewhere in my brain once I actually have responsibility for these beings, because as things stand… I’m kind of worried I’m going to accidentally leave them behind in a shop.

I think about this, and I wonder: why do I feel so inadequate for not having my brain in 24hr baby mode? I guess it is just that I’ve observed enough new mothers to know that maternal obsession tends to come with the territory. After all, isn’t this why those of us in the ALI community have lost so many friends once they cross the great divide? We want to see our old friend, they only want to talk about whether Junior is too warm in his hooded top. Biological imperative or not, this is intensely irritating when it’s taken every molecule of love we have for this person to steel ourselves to buy them a baby present and visit. We have to accept the fact that for at least the next two years, we are only going to be able to keep this friendship if we, too, develop a keen interest in Junior’s thermal preferences.

And of course, I swore this would NOT happen to me. No, no, no. I would retain an ability to think about other things! And yet… I’m kind of skeeved that it hasn’t . That I’m still interested in ice cream, and wondering (even sometimes while cuddling the babies) what is going to happen next in the Gilmore Girls. Am I a mother yet? Yes? Sort of? Shouldn’t I have noticed when that happened? Shouldn’t I be a different person now? Shouldn’t it have been a bit more… transcendental than this? When friends have looked at me with shining faces and told me how DIFFERENT things are for them, now that they are a MOTHER, I have always smiled politely but thought: whatever. You are such a banana brain. I’ll never be like that. And I always mentally add to the conversation: a mother is not a different sort of person, a mother is just a woman who has been blessed with children. And when people use that old line about motherhood being about learning to live with your heart walking around outside your body? Again I say: whatever. Involuntary childlessness is like having your heart torn from your body and eaten by a pack of wolves. I’ll take the first option, please.

And yet, gaaaaah. It seems there was a part of me that wanted to be proved wrong about all this, to find out that I really was about to enter a secret and magical club. J and I were talking about how difficult all of this adoption nonsense is, and how the horror of the process makes you feel like finally achieving your end goal of parenting is some shining, shimmering prize. That when you get there, it really will be transcendental. When actually… parenting is one of the most ordinary things in the world.

The only way I can sort this out in my head is by separating out having a child from being a capital-M Mother. The first part, I want intensely. We’re almost there, and I can taste it. I’m just a little bit less sold on the magic implicit in the second part. Much as I want these children, I still don’t believe that I’m about to become a different person. Even when the 12.5% has become 100%, I don’t think I will - I think I’ll be the same me I always was, except blessed with children.

And hopefully I won’t leave them in a shop.


  1. Much as you think this was cloudy and confused, I totally comprehended your flow of logic.

    And I'm hoping and praying that you get to feel some of the captial M Motherhood feelings...every once in awhile. :)

  2. You won't leave them in a shop. Unless there's really good ice cream involved. And probably not then either. Not to beat a dead horse, but I've been home 3 months, spent 24/7 with this child for almost two of those months and I still don't have the M for Mother obsession. Not sure if I ever will. I think I'm just not that kind of person (maybe you aren't either and maybe that's OK).

  3. M for Mother Obsession: IMVHO, this is a myth.

    Now I've never physically birthed a child. Don't care. Motherhood is was what you feel it is. Don't think you have to live up to some motherhood-feeling-cuckoo-societal-standard. Some people are just crazily and annoyingly involved in nothing BUT motherhood because they have not an iota BUT motherhood to be crazily involved about.

    Look, I have had some moments recently when I have felt increasingly a bond so strong with my baby son, but's it's been almost 4 months. This shit takes time. It is not this magical - POOF - and you're this ALL hearts and souls mother. My feeling is if you hold this high standard of how you should feel over your head about motherhood, it will be something of a self-fulfilled prophesy if you don't feel it and you are constantly groping, fumbling for it.

    Claudia, you are an amazing person and we can see it JUST from your blog. You've had experiences which have resulted in your capacity for so much empathy no doubt. Let go a little bit and allow yourself time to feel motherhood when you are united with your babies for good. (Yay, can't wait!) It doesn't have to be all consuming on a molecular almost-incomprehensible level, I truly don't believe. I'm usually not an advice-giver, but since we just got back 4 months ago and I've recently experienced the new mother thing phenomenon, this is what I can tell you from my personal experience.

    Also, I have a good friend that has one son the age of Olly. She gave birth. She said when he popped out she did not feel an overwhelming love, it took lots of time for her to bond to him as well.

    It's not as romantic perhaps, but this whole 'take you to the floor, on your knees and plunged into a mystical world of heartstopping love motherhood stuff' - mythological. There will be moments like that sure, and you will have them, but immediate on arrival? Don't think necessarily so.

    You will be amazing mother, have patience with yourself and KEEP your other interests and make time for them, IMVHO...

    abrazos to you~


  4. Banana Brain is my new favorite insult. lol I love your thoughts...and they flowed nicely for me so I feel like I get what you are saying. I personally think that was torture what you went through by just having them for 3 hrs a day but not being able to be the main caretaker while you are there. But a blessing of a torture...but torture notheless. Not as in it could have killed you kind of torture, but the kind that leaves you more broken rather than making you more whole. When you are their mother...and you have them full will SO be a Banana Brain. It will feel very different. I imagine (b/c I am no expert on being an adoptive mom b/c technically I am not one either at this point)...but I imagine and expect that motherly instinct to take a few months to really kick in a full force. Then, you just won't talk about anything else.

  5. Oh my, girl, I absolutely do think you get motherhood, capital M or not. When I became a mother, I actually mourned my old life so much. I could actually sob about having to sit in the backseat of the car to manage the baby while my husband, my dear heart, sat up front and peered at me in the mirror. I long for time to myself and when I actually get it I often do not know what to do with myself. It's odd, slightly liminal, in fact. I did click over into being a mother about 4 or 5 months after my son was here. He and I were finally alone, my husband returned to work after the summer break. I remember what clicked: I handed a pacifier to Manny in his carseat which was rear facing. His little hand reached up and grasped and he popped it into his mouth! Glory, we were a team. In due time you will become a mother on your own time, your own way. Your words made perfect sense to me, they flowed, and I loved reading it.

  6. While I do love all of my kids dearly and since leaving work, they make up the majority of my conversations, but I do still miss my former life where I got up and went to work with other peoples kids and then got to go home and do what needed to be done without having an extra 25 to 50 pounds hanging on me. I think you will become completely infatuated with them in time, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the world will stop. You can enjoy other things and not feel guilty.

  7. I love how you constantly share your innermost thoughts with us even when you think your thoughts may be different from the norm.

    Of course I have no helpful advice or understanding only knowing the 0% parent part, but I don't think your thoughts and feelings are in the least bit odd. Unlike so many others who have not struggled to get to motherhood, you have not only considered what kind of mother you want to be, but what kind of friend or spouse or person with children that you want to be. It speaks volumes for the type of kind, compassionate, and thoughtful person you are. Your babies are so lucky to have such a great role model.


Over to you!