Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Two’s Company

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I was so close. This close to my dream of becoming a novelist, with intermittent short story and anthology publications and appearances on "Oprah." Well, not that close, but I did write regularly, gain confidence in my writing and my mothering, and feel like I had a handle on life again.

And then we adopted.

For a couple of years, we (okay, I) had gone back and forth over whether or not to grow our family through adoption. My husband, Mike, definitely wanted more than one child, and I'd always thought I did, too. A miscarriage preceded Taylor's birth, and a cornual ectopic pregnancy and a lost Fallopian tube followed it. After difficulty conceiving again and the subsequent discovery of the scar tissue, we thought about adopting. Several friends and relatives of ours had adopted, and we knew what a blessing this was. We shared our friends' belief that as black people with the means and desire to give a child a good home, we should at least consider the many black children in foster care awaiting adoption.

When Taylor was four, we visited an adoption agency, and after much discussion, we (okay, I) decided the time was not right. I was not ready to go back to caring for a completely helpless newborn, nor did I feel prepared for the unique challenges of an older special needs child. Perhaps, I would feel differently at a later time. Maybe after I'd Done Something with my life. I'd worked for less than a year as a management consultant right after college, and then taught elementary school for just two years after that. When Taylor was born in 1998, I became her full-time caregiver. After about three years of martyrdom, I began to devote some time to pursuing my own interests and meeting my own needs for intellectual stimulation and achievement. When we contemplated adoption, I knew another child would grind my personal strivings down to a near halt. It was too soon, I decided.

But then the adoption agency called us. A young woman in a neighboring county had just given birth to her ninth child. The woman and her husband were unable to care for this child, and were interested in placing her for adoption. However, they would only place her with a black family. The agency had no black clients waiting to adopt a black infant, so they remembered our visit and called us. Suddenly, this was no theoretical child I felt incapable of caring for; this was a flesh and blood baby actually waiting, needing a family. That changed everything for me. Everything that had seemed impossible, now seemed possible. Sure, I'd have less time to pursue my goals, but I wouldn't have to give up writing entirely. As long as I didn't go the martyr route again, I knew I could care for this child and not lose myself in the process.

But the birthmother changed her mind two days before the child was scheduled to be placed with us. We were stunned and disappointed, but this sad experience actually strengthened our resolve to adopt. Two months later, we brought our daughter Peyton home.

As I expected, a new baby changed everything and consumed much of my me-time. But unlike when Taylor was a baby, I now had the benefit of this wonderful thing called perspective. I knew the old adage to be true: "And this too shall pass."

Knowing how to type with one hand also helps.

I've been doing this mothering thing long enough to know that it's normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes -- or most waking hours, give or take a few minutes. Writer Anne Lamott taught me that mothering isn't just for the Zen-like among us. I count myself among the rag-tag band of moms who pray not only for good health for their children, but for faulty long-term memories for them: the better to forget the all-day Disney channel marathons, the dry-cereal-in-the-car breakfasts, my screaming and yelling when I would rather be somewhere, anywhere, else, alone.

Another writer, novelist Martha Southgate, and I must have been separated at birth. She writes, "I love my children, enormously. I'm a fairly good parent, but it's not easy for me. It's not easy for anyone, but I find it harder than most. Family life -- taking care of others, the bump and rub of a group -- I've never been comfortable with it. My children's needs intrude, on my need for solitude, reflection, selfishness, time to be. I resent it. I try not to let my resentment affect my parenting, but I must be honest. As I become more serious about my work as an artist, I am less patient with . . . all the minutiae that fragment a mother's day."

Part of accepting this, accepting who I am, is realizing that for all the joy my children bring me, I have a two-child limit. While I could certainly use more personal space and quiet, I believe I have exactly the number and type of children I should have. It's not a flattering truth, but less demanding, compliant children would probably not get the attention from me they need and deserve, given my propensity to get lost in my own little world of words and books.

Before becoming a mother, I thought leaving that little world for long periods of time for my children's sake would come naturally, effortlessly. It never occurred to me to ask myself the important questions beforehand: Are there still things I'd like to do in my life which motherhood might preclude? Was I even "mother material"? I knew the pros of motherhood, but what were the cons, the sacrifices, the costs, besides some vague notion of lost freedom? Back then, I never considered the pros of a child-free existence. These days, however, I fantasize about that more than I do about Denzel Washington in a Speedo.

Even with the downsides, however, motherhood has made me a better person. I see how unattractive and bothersome whining and complaining are, so now I try to keep mine to a minimum. Kids will also disabuse you of any misconceptions that the world revolves around you. Kids make you grow up. In these ways, motherhood is the best thing to ever happen to me.

Deesha Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, TueNight and elsewhere. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, her collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2020.

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