I was chatting with my mother late one night, and she mentioned reading a recent news clip about Chirlane McCray, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife, in New York Magazine. The initial media response to McCray’s admission was mixed, with the New York Post dubbing her a “bad mom” and the Huffington Post commending McCray’s raw honesty regarding her willingness to voice her struggles with motherhood. The clip wasn't salacious, at least not politically- McCray publicly admitted that it was difficult for her to come to grips with impending motherhood, and that adjusting once the baby was born wasn't much easier.
My mother shared McCray’s story with me, knowing I had my own psychological battles with motherhood when I was pregnant with my daughter. As my mother and I continued to discuss McCray’s bravery and vulnerability amidst the public backlash, our conversation evolved into how each of us coped with the inevitable prospect of being a parent when we were pregnant.
When my mother discovered she was pregnant, she relished in the thought of being a parent. She always wanted to be a parent, and her time had come with a forceful certainty. My mother recounted her pregnancy with a misty nostalgia, and I could see the love in her eyes. Filled with eager trepidation, my mother tenaciously prepared for the arrival of the little person she would soon meet in the most intimate of ways, and forge a perennial bond of love that that would exceed perpetuity. At least, that’s the story as she tells it.
Needless to say, my tale of impending motherhood is a little different, but no less maternal.
You see, I knew when I was pregnant I was going to be a parent. I knew this in the most pragmatic sense. And so I prepared methodically. I crossed my "t's" and dotted my “i's”, purchasing all the necessary baby gear from the onesies that would catch the spills and thrills of baby excretions to the breast pump that would allow me to store the most nutritious of meals for my unborn. But unlike my mother, my heart just wasn't in it. At the time of my pregnancy, I was grappling with the demands of a rigorous graduate program and coping with gestational diabetes -- I didn't have time or energy to bond with my baby, and I certainly didn't want to discuss the nuances of life and motherhood with close friends or family.
I wanted to have a child, but I wasn't consumed with the definitive certainty that this was the “right” path like my mother was.
It’s not that I didn't want to be pregnant or be a mom -- I just wasn't as emotionally connected to the person growing inside of me as I wanted to be. My baby was there-her karate kicks to my rib cage told me so. But I didn't feel the profound connection I thought I would feel. I felt disconnected and ashamed of that disconnect, and I struggled to confront the emotional disengagement between myself and my baby.
To be honest, I was upset and disenchanted because I didn't feel the way I'd been told (or socialized) to feel. Motherhood was supposed to be instinctual. I wasn't prepared for the emotional apathy I felt. I had always heard through conventional (and often popular public) wisdom that a mother becomes a mother at the time of conception. But since when does a cliche become a rule by which maternal experience is bound?
Mainstream literature on women who feel ambivalent about pregnancy and motherhood is scarce, indicative that there is a gap in knowledge when it comes to the variegation of the maternal experience. A quick Google search of “mom can’t bond with baby” reveals various tips and methods for forging a bond with your baby. Dishearteningly, there are few resources available for moms looking to be assuaged for feelings of maternal ambiguity. While there are many women who don’t enjoy pregnancy, the reasoning is often rooted in the physical discomfort and hormonal changes that can accompany pregnancy. The emotional aspects of pregnancy are often glossed over.
That is, until Chirlane McCray. McCray’s admission opened a space for critical dialogue concerning how we define motherhood, and has enabled mothers, such as myself, to have a voice that is no longer marginalized. McCray’s frank disclosure is allowing for a shift in the discussion framing motherhood and a reinterpretation of what that experience means for women.
When I heard McCray’s tale, I re-contextualized my own experience with motherhood, and realized that the emotions that come with this experience are diverse and multifaceted. Pregnancy and motherhood shouldn't be essentialized and treated as monolithic. Chirlane McCray's candid vulnerability reminds women that it's ok if motherhood brings about fear, uncertainty, and a mother-load (pun intended) of emotions that cannot be immediately interpreted as unbridled love.
While it may be difficult for women fighting in the emotional trenches of pregnancy and motherhood, it is important to realize that there are resources available to help women cope with the battle. Joining a mother’s group can provide women with group-centered assistance, while therapy or counseling gives one-on-one support for women trying to understand their feelings. Online forums are another resource for women, allowing them to connect virtually with other mothers to discuss the multifaceted nature of motherhood. Chirlane McCray coped by merging motherhood with her career interests, another avenue for women to explore.
My journey through motherhood isn't typical and it isn't an anomaly. Today, I'm the proud and protective momma bear of a two-year-old girl. Although I may not have bonded with my daughter during pregnancy, our love has unfolded and continues to blossom every day. From the morning kiss she plants firmly on my face to let me know it's time to wake up to endless hours of Barney sing-a-longs, I know I love her. I love her not because it's instant and easy, but because I can't help it. I feel it the deepest pockets of my heart. Maternal love can hit you immediately, like it did for my mother, or it can evolve in ways that exceed perpetuity. It doesn't matter what road you take to get there--it's much more important that you arrive at the destination.
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