Featured in Capital #88 Subscribe to get the real thing here
With her daughter turning 10, Melody Thomas looks back to the day she was born, reflecting on the good, the bad, and the downright traumatic moments of motherhood.
Content warning: this column focuses on pregnancy and parenting, and might be difficult to read for people trying to start a family, or who have experienced pregnancy loss. It’s also about the love a parent feels for their children, which is not to say those without children will “never know true love” (drivel!).
As much as I wish I were, I’m not someone who remembers dates. You know the people: “Oh yeah, that was 2013, right after Obama’s inauguration”. Incredible! I could never. But I do remember what I was doing 10 years ago today, because it was the day I became a parent.
Two days before that, my labour began. It was a long, drawn-out process, and by the time I’d passed two nights at home – the first sleeping between wide-spaced early contractions, the second roaring with a guttural violence that reminds us that we, too, are animals – I was beyond exhausted. My cervix had stalled at 7cm dilated, so we rushed to the hospital where things escalated to an emergency caesarean.
When I finally met our girl, cradled by her weeping father, who pressed her small head to mine, I felt as if I were witnessing the moment through a filmy veneer. My body shook and my jaw shuddered (an alarming epidural side-effect – and one for which they make you sign a disclaimer in case your teeth get chipped), but I was happy and spent. I noted that the love I felt for the little creature being laid skin-to-skin on my chest wasn’t explosive and life-changing. It felt the same as it had the whole time she was growing in my body: as natural and settled as the days. Later I would read that during pregnancy, cells from the fetus cross the placenta and enter the mother’s body, where they can become part of her tissues. Even after birth they remain a part of you.
I’ve written a lot about the challenges of parenting, which are plentiful and merciless, because it’s important we understand we’re not alone when we’re in the depths of it. But today I’m thinking about the beauty, which I was less prepared for.
I knew I was to acquire dependents: people who would rely on me for everything needed to keep them alive, a responsibility which would diminish over time but never fully disappear. But I didn’t realise the extent of this privilege, nor its reward. That I would get to hang out with a couple of cool little humans who also happen to think I am the best thing that ever happened. A couple of hilarious, adventurous, sweet and empathetic little weirdos who would devote hours and hours to making me cards and pictures, presenting precious shells and feathers and stones from their pockets, in an endless tribute to me, the human representation of love, their very first home.
I knew I would love them, but I didn’t realise how their laughter would ring like bells in my heart, how their sense of wonder at the world would reintroduce me to the beauty I’d stopped noticing, and how sometimes, when I’m a little shaky, or sick or sore from my period, they would offer me the nook under their armpit, the sweet home of their body, so I might feel a touch of the same love and care they know to expect from me.
Of course this love also makes you extremely vulnerable: no matter how much you cultivate happiness in other areas of your life, it all relies entirely on their safety and wellbeing, as if your own heart were wandering around outside of your body, unprotected by cartilage and rib. It’s also draining, requiring support from your community, wider family, friends, policy-makers and workplaces to be tenable. For years, you might lose yourself completely to the role of Mum or Dad, then spend years again reclaiming some semblance of your individual personhood. You will sacrifice your body, nearly all of your time, your sleep and your freedom, and in return you will often feel taken for granted, underappreciated, burnt out, and bored to the point of madness from the repetitiveness of it all.
But somehow, it’s all worth it. I don’t know how or why, since the hard stuff often seems to outweigh the goods in quantity. I can only assume that the good stuff is worth more, lasts longer, penetrates deeper, because it’s made from love. And I’m so grateful to them for showing it to me.