Friday, April 26, 2013

The First Year: The Emotional Toll of Motherhood

So far this week, I've talked about breastfeeding, adjusting to motherhood physically and emotionally, and my overall impressions of motherhood. Today I'll wrap up this reflective first-year series with a talk about the emotional toll of motherhood. Thank you for indulging all my thoughts and ramblings this week!

The emotional toll of motherhood

I touched briefly on my emotions about motherhood already (love it, fulfilling, nothing better in the world), but one thing I hadn't really anticipated was the extent to which my general emotions about life and current events would be altered by having a child: the emotional toll of motherhood.

You know that quote: "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body" (credit Elizabeth Stone)? I always thought it was a little cheesy but I have to say, I get it now. I really, really get it. As we all know all too well, there has been a lot of sadness in the news lately. I suppose there always is, isn't there? But since becoming a mother, I am far more affected by these sorts of things than I ever was before. I wept over footage of the Boston Marathon bombings. Sandy Hook? I couldn't even think about it without breaking down. Recently there was a local story about a little girl who had her legs severed in a lawn mower accident. I couldn't even let myself read the newspaper articles for days and when I finally did skim one, I cried through the whole thing. Even stories that used to really grab my attention are almost too much for me now. For example, recently the State of Florida executed a man convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young girl over 30 years ago. The old me would have read that sort of story with a good deal of academic/professional interest regarding the death penalty (for any who may not know, I work in jury consulting and the majority of cases I work on are death penalty cases). Now, I can only read it and think of that innocent little girl and her poor parents. In short, motherhood has made me soft.

There's just so much evil in the world, so much tragedy, so much sadness, so much hurt and heartache. Those are extreme examples that I mentioned, and seeing those types of stories in the news day in and day out is enough to make me want to build an underground bunker to disappear in for the rest of Ellie's life so she never has to know the evil in the world. She is so sweet and kind and innocent and good, and deserves so much more than those tragic headlines.

And on a much smaller scale, it breaks my heart just to know that someday, Ellie's classmates are going to be mean to her. Someday, a friend is going to lie to her or betray her trust. Someday, she will experience romantic heartbreak. These are all very normal parts of life and growing up, and I know that ultimately they will shape her character and make her a stronger person. It is my job to teach her how to cope with those situations in order to rise above and emerge better, more loving, more compassionate, more resilient and more sure of herself. Yet even still, I can hardly stand the thought of my Ellie ever feeling any physical or emotional distress. I just want to scoop her up and protect her from anything that may ever cause her any pain.

I know that it drove my mom crazy with worry that Eric and I lived in Washington D.C. and then New York City for all those years, in a post-9/11 world. She mostly kept it to herself, but every now and then, it would slip out. I would always brush it off with an "oh, Mom" and talk about how I wasn't going to limit my life because of fear. I'd shake my head, because it was just so Mom-like of her to worry. But you know what? I get it now. I really do. I think that if Ellie ever puts me in my mother's shoes (or rather, when she does), I will feel the very same way that my mom did, biting my tongue about my fears while trying to communicate nothing but (cautious) encouragement and support. I think that's just what mothers do.

But at the end of the day, even with all the sadness and darkness in the world, it is still a beautiful, beautiful place. It is so easy to get caught up in those tragic headlines and live in fear, but I don't want Ellie to live in fear. I want her to take the stance that I took for myself, and go out and live her life. I never want my concerns or overprotective tendencies to hold her back from the adventures she is meant to have in her lifetime. I want her to be bold, to seek out new experiences, to find friends she can tell her secrets to, to give her heart away to a romantic love, to explore the world and try new things and appreciate all the wonder that is out there. She has a great life in store for her and I want her to live it to the very fullest, and enjoy every moment of it.

I hope that I will be able to suppress my fears and let Ellie go out into the world. Ultimately, I suppose, I won't have a choice. For a while, I will be with her to hold her hand and show her how amazing life can be, to take her to new places, introduce her to new things and set her on the right path. But eventually, I'll have to let go. She's already such an independent little girl so I'm sure that day will come far too quickly. Before we know it, she'll be brushing me off with an "oh, Mom" as she goes about her fabulous life and I go about my worrying. It's just the circle of life, isn't it? It's my destiny. I just hope I have the stomach for it.

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