...but who can tolerate the power of a woman
close to a child, riding our tides
into the sand dunes of the public spaces.
--Alicia Suskin Ostriker, excerpt from "Propaganda Poem: Maybe for Some Young Mamas"
My daughter was three when my son was born and for me, the early years of mothering felt like a kind of suspended animation: I could see the cosmos racing away from me outside my spaceship porthole; I knew great stuff was happening out there, I think I even realized, in some tiny dinosaur region of my brain, that I was doing a pretty decent job as a mother, but I couldn't take it in.
I watched other moms gaze deeply into the faces of their children as if they would never tire of looking at them, never grow impatient with what I saw as the bland diet of infancy. I did my share of gazing, but at the periphery of my vision my "other life," my writing, was out there, floating in space, running out of oxygen.
I felt guilty for not writing and guilty for wanting time away from my kids to write. I yearned for mornings when I could let in the world by increments, chewing on my own thoughts, taking for granted the leisure to consider and discard. And because I am who I am, I held what I missed more dearly than what I'd gained. I couldn't stop looking at my new life through the lens of my old life. I raged against the constraints of the new.
Reader, I did not go gently. Instead, a tape loop of self-condemnation and frustration played over and over in my head:
Why, if I love my children, don't I always love being a mother?
Why, if I love writing, do I not feel like a writer anymore?
What am I supposed to be now?
I was desperate for company, for connection and understanding. I joined breastfeeding groups and baby-massage groups and play groups. I met some nice people, learned a few tricks, engaged in countless conversations about nursing and diapering and was slightly less bored. But what I really wanted was a place where I could be true to the flawed human-who-also-happens-to-be-a-mother that I was and continue to be.
I wanted not to feel like a freak.
Now that mommy blogs and memoirs run rampant, it may surprise you that I couldn't find the kind of company I was looking for, virtual or otherwise. But I couldn't. Or I didn't know where to look. And MotherWoman, please forgive me for saying this--you weren't around. It wasn't your fault: you didn't exist. You weren't born yet!
I would've sold my soul for what MotherWoman offers: a place to be heard and to hear, an opportunity to feel supported and not judged; an organization committed to the idea that being a perfect mother is not only impossible, but that trying to be one is not a healthy or desirable goal--for anyone.
My kids are now 11 and 15. I'm writing again. I've found a way to integrate my mother-self with my other self, and yes, I can say it---I'm pretty OK with the whole mother-writer thing.
So why do I still need MotherWoman? Why do I care about their work?
First of all, because I vividly remember what those early years were like and I wish for other mothers that they have fewer struggles and more joy. Less criticism and more understanding. Many more friends and allies. And MotherWoman is right there leading the way, offering meaningful, respectful, non-judgmental support and providing programs that help women get through the challenging day-to-day of motherhood.
But I also support MotherWoman because their vision extends beyond the day to day. They advocate for policies like paid maternity/paternity leave and paid sick days that contribute to concrete and lasting change. They go to the heart of what's holding us back--as mothers, partners, families and just plain humans living in this world together--and make the invisible visible. They help us keep our footing in those shifting "sand dunes of the public spaces."
I like to imagine that I'm done with all my tortured self-doubt, but it's an ongoing struggle--the conflict of who I feel myself to be, who I want to be and who society tells me I am or ought to be is powerful medicine. And yes, we've made progress, but there's plenty of work left to do: all is not roses for women, artists or no, mothers or no.
I still need to be reminded--every day--that it's OK to take care of myself as I take care of my family. I need validation that the work I do at home is as valuable as the work I do out of the home, and that making time to write, telling my story in the here and now, speaking to you, is an important act of resistance.
Last year I gave a reading for the MotherWoman Mother's Day Night Out. I looked out at the women in the audience taking in my words, nodding their heads and it was absolutely exhilarating. I was with my people. I'm not alone.
Author's Bio: Amy Dryansky works for a regional land trust, teaches creative writing, and writes about what it's like to navigate the territory of mother/artist/poet at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second poetry collection, Grass Whistle, was published in 2013, and she was recently awarded a Poetry Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She's also a former Associate at the Five College Women's Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets.
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