It was July of last year. Mina was about two months old and I had her propped up on my sweaty, milk-stained nursing pillow, barnacled to my boob as she had been almost constantly since birth. Benny was crumpled next to me on our cat-clawed green velvet couch, said cat purring indignantly on his lap. Our house looked like several art/cooking/cleaning projects had been abandoned partway through and then kicked around for good measure. I’m sure I had a hungry, exhausted, bewildered look on my face because that’s how I looked for the first six months after giving birth. Looking for something to watch, we found an Aziz Ansari stand up comedy special, who we knew from watching Parks and Recreation. We watched for a bit, chuckling now and then, and then he came out with this bit:
We forced out a few tense chuckles, and I could feel my cheeks get a little hot.”He’s right,” I thought. “What have we done?! We have this magical little creature in our lives now, but we don’t really have ‘lives’ in the same way anymore. We’ve basically sacrificed everything for the chance that reproducing will enrich our existence in some way. Did we make the right choice?”
Having a baby does seem to reverse every accomplishment you’ve ever attained. Oh, you’ve worked hard to stay physically fit and limber, and have a carefully chosen wardrobe that flatters your figure? Well, now your body is completely different, stiff and painful, flabby and deflated, and the only thing that fits you is sweatpants and your “oversize” shirts.
So you’ve finally got in the habit of washing dishes regularly, putting clothes away right when they come out of the dryer, keeping your documents filed, bills paid, emails responded to, groceries shopped for, yard maintained? Well, now there’s no chance of keeping up on all that stuff. All you can do now is sit trapped under a nursing baby and look around your disheveled house, attempting to clean and organize it with your mind.
You finally found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with and you’ve put time and energy into building a healthy, fun, sexually satisfying relationship? Well, sorry, you won’t see him at all anymore except for a few hours in the evening and maybe a bit on the weekends. You certainly won’t have time to talk about anything besides whose turn it is to get the baby to sleep and what takeout you should order, and if you’re cosleeping forget about spooning. Also forget about sex, especially if your lady parts are still healing from childbirth, which will take much longer than anyone implies.
But now that it’s been a year, I feel a little differently. Not that I disagree with Aziz now, in fact, his words seem even more true, but I have a certain defiant pride instead of sheepish embarrassment. The thing is, when I think back to when I was deciding whether or not to have a kid, I remember that one of the reasons to go for it was that I was bored. What I mean is, I felt like I had pretty much figured out how to do things and I had reached a plateau. I had stopped growing and learning and I wanted to tackle a new project, something BIG that would challenge me and take me beyond the limits of my current capacities. That could mean a few things: I could travel to a foreign country, I could dive into some kind of artistic pursuit, I could take on a physical challenge like a long bike trip, or I could become a mother. Even now I’m not sure what it was that made me choose the last option, because the others sound pretty tempting too. I think partly it was because it was the only thing that, once I had started the journey, there was no going back. All my life I have enjoyed quitting things once they’re no longer fun, but here was one thing I did not have the luxury of quitting. I would be forced to follow this thing through to its conclusion, which meant the likelihood of my complete and utter transformation would be 100%.
I can honestly say that nothing in my life is the same as it was 13 months ago. But I wouldn’t say it was “destroyed”, even though I agreed with Aziz when I heard his views on parenting. I would say that every aspect of my life got turned sideways, upside down, inside out; still there but facing a different direction. Some things that are very important to me (alone time, sleep, art) were almost nonexistent during that first year, but now that I’m slowly starting to get some of that back, an interesting thing is happening: those things have taken on a heavenly glow, and I savor every bit of delicious morsel that I can get. I can do way more in an hour than I could’ve done in a whole day pre-baby. Time is precious, and I can’t squander it anymore. I’ve felt every minute of this past year; I think because I’m living life consciously again.
I also get how hard it is to hold onto yourself after becoming a parent. It’s hard to maintain a sense of self separate from this little being who is dependent on you, to remember that you are also an artist, you are also a musician, you are also a writer, you are also a woman. But because it’s so easy to lose that, it makes me want to hang on so much tighter. It makes me want to root for myself, to pull myself out of the swamp and rub her shoulders, hand her a paintbrush, tune up her guitar. That’s something I realized early on: taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for your child. However, knowing that and living it are two different things.