Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Freedom, Baby: Part 1

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"Maintaining your own identity is not only essential to your mental health, it's vital to the health of your relationships. Without a strong sense of self, you won't neccesarily feel entitled to your own desires."

-- From Sexy Mamas, Keeping Your Sex Life Alive While Raising Kids, by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans

It is ironic that after employing extremely passive and dare I say, idiotic, birth-control methods for the first half of my sexual life, I am now in a situation where it would be entirely appropriate to get pregnant -- and I have become a birth-control fascist. Snuggled in bed, my husband's foot accidentally grazes mine -- but I am prepared: "No cover, no lover," I state, pulling the sheet to cover any skin irresponsibly exposed. Bewildered, he takes the time to remind me that our daughter is sleeping between us, that he has to wake up painfully early, and that, despite my overwhelming charm, he is simply not in the mood. "Still," I say, scooting to safety on my side of the bed, "you can never be too safe."

It's not that I don't like babies; I do. Perdiodically I even check my doorstep to see if one has shown up. None has -- yet -- but I stay vaguely hopeful, especially during those times of the month I'm ovulating or have discovered yet another perfect/so cute/totally-to-die-for name. But the truth is, most days I want another baby about as much as I want sex: I'm sure I would like it if it happened, but frankly, it seems like a lot work.

It's not just the prospect of reaquainting myself with unrelenting morning (Ha! Try 24-hour!) sickness or another horribly stressful ("Non-Stress Test?" Ha!) pregnancy. It's not those early days of poop, puke, and deprivation that turn me off, or the sketchy division of labor (both kinds!) or the fact that with a single three-year-old I am beginning to recognize my husband again, beginning to enjoy a vocabulary that includes words like: "Quiet-time" "Play-date" and "Sleep-over." No. What really gets me about babies is the oppressive nature of fresh Mother-Love. The way it burrows itself into every part of me, the way it sneaks up so sweetly; a life sentence with no time off for good (or more importantly, bad) behavior, no sick days, no easy outs. Mother-Love is the stickiest, grabbiest, most dangerously satisfying kind of love. It's the kind of love that can make even the most devoted mommy fantasize about getting in her stationwagon and going and going and never coming back, just to make sure she could. Just to make sure she was still herself.

* * *

With three years of this parenting gig under my belt, I feel like I am cheating. I am, after all, a stay-at-home mom of a kid who is not even at home three mornings a week. I watch the moms at swim lessons and preschool with a combination of horror and envy as they lug around their sleeping seconds, desperate to distribute energy and attention with motherly fairness. Part of me wants to be in that club; to know I can, to earn my wings, to get that prestigious two-kid street credibility. With time to breathe, I feel like a fake. With time for me, I feel guilty. As intoxicating as my fledgling freedom is, I can't help but envy the way other moms seem so wonderfully busy and full of purpose. The way they never seem to run out of laundry or kids to chase, the way they never get a chance to sit across from their husband and wonder what to talk about, the way they never have to sit alone in a moderately clean house and wonder what the hell they are doing with their lives.

* * *

"So, what do you do?" the cute bartender asks me. I am out. At night. With friends. Childless! I am utterly befuddled. Three years of Mother-Love stupor renders me useless and empty in this foreign enviornment. "I'm a homemaker," I stutter, the ancient word sticking to my tongue. For a minute he is confused. In this industrial artsy crowd he actually thinks I make homes. Build homes. But a moment later he gets it, and a moment after that we're both relieved when he gets called away to escort some drunk guy out.

* * *

My daughter is a know-it-all. On the way to preschool she lectures me on what she's learned about caterpillars, butterflies, cocoons. "She's so independent," her teacher says, as my daughter pushes me out the door. I have a sudden urge to grab my daughter and tell her how I know a thing or two about butterflies, too. I want to make her remember the hours we spent, no, the days we spent walking at the Berkeley Marina, knee high in weeds and wild flowers. How she would shriek in delight from her backpack at the Monarchs circling us. How I would point to them, and say, "Butterfly," and she would clap and grin and wrap her arms around my neck where I could kiss the dimples on her chubby hands.

I want to tell her about the night her dad tried to take me out, to loosen me up, to reconnect on one of our first post-baby dates; how he leaned over to kiss me, how I turned instead to the plastic butterfly taped to the cash register and said out loud, to no one in particular, "Butterfly." I know a thing or two about butterflies. And cocoons.

Instead, I blow her a kiss and head off, unsure how to spend my free time. Across the street, I walk into a children's consignment store to browse. I pick out size three pants but they look enormous. I hang them back up and touch the baby clothes on my out; the onesies, the footsies, the tiny little sundresses with tiny matching hats.

I get home with two hours left still before it's time to pick her up. I write a little. I read a little. I take a long, leisurely shower; I shave, I exfoliate. I step out light-headed, the heat and freedom conspiring. I call downstairs, where my husband works from home, and ask him if he can take his lunch yet. "I'll be up in a minute," he shouts, but I have other plans. I walk naked into his office, unbutton his pants and sit on his lap. "I want to make you happy," I say, climbing him. In a moment of weakness I let him inside me, condom-free. A freebie, for old time's sake.

After a minute he pulls back out and begins kissing me. "But what can I do for you?" he asks, eyebrows arched, playful, committed. "What do you want?"

And this is the question. What do I want. What do I want? What -- do -- I -- want?

The romance is instantly gone. What I want right now is for him to stop asking. To stop being so damn sweet and generous, to stop staring at me, stop trying to find me, stop trying to please me when I don't even know who "me" is anymore.

"Will you just fuck me already, please?" I say, and throw him a condom from the closet. What I want, really, is to be left alone.

It works. For the moment I am free; I watch as my husband turns and walks out of the room, hurt. "You know," he says, stepping over the unused condom and setting a mine of his own on the way out, "you really ought to get a life."

~

Will The Naughty Mommy get a life? Give in to baby lust? Find out in Freedom, Baby: Part 2 coming December 5th.


Heidi Raykeil is the author of the books Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents’ Guide to Getting it on Again (Collins, 2009) and Confessions of a Naughty Mommy: How I Found My Lost Libido (Seal Press 2006). She is a contributor to Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth and to several anthologies, including Unbuttoned: Women Open Up About the Pleasures, Pains, and Politics of Breastfeeding (Harvard Common Press, 2009) and Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (Seal Press 2006). Her writing has also been featured in Parenting Magazine, Redbook, and online at iVillage.com. Heidi lives in Seattle with her husband and two daughters.


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