images of mothering…


This photo is from my book stash, a Mode Illustree from the 1880s, if memory serves. I love it because it seems so candid for a fashion illustration. The woman’s hair is down, which seems a rarity in these old illustrations, and the affection depicted is something universal and warm, one of the best feels motherhood has to offer, really.

But there are many feels in motherhood, and people don’t usually talk much about the not-so-pretty ones outside of Roseanne reruns or feminist discourse about the economics of human labor. Somehow it seems rude to talk about the less than blissful elements without airbrushing them away with platitudes. It is all worth it, of course, but for those of us with a gloomier turn or problems with touch or physical proximity, there is much to keep to ourselves.

I have my first doctor’s appointment in about two weeks, at which point I’ll be nearly 8 weeks, and I have a laundry list of things to tell her. Please don’t worry if I cry every time I get off of the scale, it’s fine, I just get upset. I always get upset after a pelvic exam, please don’t be alarmed. It’s an invasion of body boundaries thing. Rationally, I completely understand the necessity of what you’re doing and I want it to be done, but I can’t help crying at the feeling of being overrun physically. My pulse goes crazy at the doctor. It’s an anxiety thing, I promise. I’ve had an EKG done with my GP over this. Needles sometimes make me pass out. I’m sorry I’m so intense. I don’t want to be this way and am deeply embarrassed by all of the above.

Maybe it would be different if my being felt less defined by its physicality than it does at this moment, but somehow, pregnancy makes me feel reduced to it, caged by its hormonal upswells and digestive tempests, an automaton that can’t help dropping into sleep mode when resources so often deplete. Capsules to take, pressures to measure, fluids to fill. I wonder if it’s similar to the frustrations of aging, when the will is strong but the body takes primacy with pained joints, physical constraints and dangers, easier fatigue.  I can sympathize with that kind of frustration.

I have a sister who loves being pregnant and who is master of her domicile in a way that I can only marvel at. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible to be allergic to progesterone and that’s why I fall into an almost immediate depression while my sister beams with excitement and enjoyment of the feeling of bringing another person into the world. I understand her reasoning for her feelings, but those buoyancies and happy forward lookings can’t cut through the fog of whatever it is that descends on me when I’m gestating a kiddo. People admonish me, “Oh, enjoy it. It will be the last time. This is a precious experience.” None of those things are wrong, but there’s also a shit ton of pain involved in this experience, and somehow, no one used this logic to gloom-shame me when my wisdom teeth were extracted, even though that was the last time I’d have that particular experience.

I feel like even writing that sentence is somehow a shameful thing. My great aunties would be appalled that I would compare a miraculous event like bringing another precious life into the world to something like having a tooth pulled. I am being flippant, really, but the fact that a certain range of feelings seems unutterable among polite people is strange to me when it’s a process that also involves me being pantless in front of strangers. I can’t feel excited yet, and I certainly can’t will myself not to be afraid. People act as if it’s a waste that I feel such apprehension. There is some truth there, in the same way that feeling any anxiety is a waste of energy. Anxiety is a deep, dark well of anguish that you fall into and climb out of over and over and over again, and though you know the process is a waste, you can’t brick it over. You know that anguish lies waiting to receive you, and there’s no vigilance or act of will that will stop your fall back in.

The cultural image of mother in our time seems a cheery, breezy thing, laughably neurotic about nesting urges or food cravings or teary-eyed at silly little domestic spats, but on the tv and the ad spread she is dressed in Breton stripes with whitened teeth in a sunny kitchen in a sleek, orderly beige house, yelling through a smile for her kids to come to a healthy, gourmet dinner that she either whipped up in a spasm of uncomplaining efficiency, or better yet, crockpotted on her way out the door to work that morning and plated up on a dish set that perfectly coordinates with her carefully curated decor.  She’s heath conscious enough to make her own baby food, but not opinionated enough to be off-putting or difficult.  If she breastfeeds, we never see the tension when she has to decide between making people with old school ideas about it feel uncomfortable or having to isolate herself and the baby for half hour chunks of time when everyone else is at the family BBQ enjoying themselves. We certainly never see her snarling obscenities at her breast pump at work, while she sits cross legged on a dirty bathroom floor to reach a power outlet and cringes any time someone tries the door.

Clearly I have nothing in common with this woman, except maybe the occasional Breton stripe. But imagine my surprise and my happiness to find this portrait among the Schlesinger Library portraits of breastfeeding women, alas unnamed:


That expression speaks volumes to my heart, somehow. I’m unclear what cultural images of motherhood were during the Victorian era, though I suspect it must have been seen as a celebrated role if it would be photographed in this way. I know that the seriousness of her expression is probably more about the way people carried themselves in portraiture of the era. But I can’t help but love that look and relate to something in it more than the plasticized expertise or earthy granola joy imagery of contemporary maternity. That expression says I love being a mom but this shit is complicated and I have a lot of feels and I will cut you if I have to.




3,078 random maternity feels.


It’s been a week since I found out I was pregnant, and my feelings on the matter depend on the day and the intensity of my caffeine withdrawals. I’ve resolved to write/sew/rant my way through it, mostly because I have way too many feels not to grasp for catharsis wherever I can find it, but also because my experience seems so out of step with that of most women I know that it makes me feel like (even more of) an alien outlier, and it might be of some comfort to other women who don’t find their experience reflected in the usual cultural apparatus of motherhood. While I’m not crazy about labels and pigeonholing of human experience into isms and DSM criteria, it also feels relevant to mention that I have an Asperger’s diagnosis, and suspect that my experience might align with others who identify on the spectrum.

I hate being pregnant, though I love being a mother. I have one child already, who I love with an intensity I’d never have thought possible. He’s nearly eight. I hated every moment of being pregnant the first time, and maybe some of that was because I was younger, less emotionally prepared, less certain of my ability to enjoy motherhood or be a good parent. Or maybe it’s because pregnancy is invasive and terrifying, among other things. The pregnancy went smoothly until the last three weeks, when I had pre-eclampsia and had to be induced. I was put on magnesium sulfate that swelled me up like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka, and spent 53 hours in induced, miserable, terrified labor before I was given a C-section, which I was so exhausted I mostly snored through. They had to wake me up to give me my baby boy, and it took me a few minutes to wake up enough to be into the experience, but the rest was what my grandfather aptly calls “joyful stress.”

Both times, I had some inkling before taking a pregnancy test that something was off, accompanied with the distinct sense of being sent on the long walk to the gallows by my boyfriend’s penis. He stuck around the first time and actually kind of wanted another kiddo the second time, but there’s a big difference in saying, “I’m there for you through this,” and having another consciousness embedded in your uterine wall for the next nine months. Each time, there has been the feeling of a cage door closing and shrinking walls, not because I don’t love and maybe even want more children, but because it’s inescapable, and because I will be weakened and reliant on the help of other people to function and be healthy and, from a certain point of view, to survive the next nine months myself. As a stubborn, private, recalcitrant woman, this is an unbearable feeling if I linger on it too long.

When my significant other prods our son to cooperate with going out to eat by suggesting that we need to help mom, mom will get sick if she doesn’t eat, my being chafes against what I know is intended as thoughtfulness. Mom is not a delicate flower. Mom is a force of nature to be cherished and feared. I want my son not to feel any worry and certainly no responsibility for my well-being. I want to roar like the strong tiger mother I am, but in the same moment this damnable weak body demands I sit my crazy ass down because my blood sugar is being crazy and I have the shakes and don’t want to humiliate myself in the parking lot of Denny’s.

Speaking of humiliation, let’s talk about pregnancy gas. After taking the pregnancy test and the sobbing and the alternating waves of almost acceptance, terror, grave responsibility, and tiny rays of almost-excitement, I had this really sweet moment cuddling and fell asleep with my son resting on my chest and my significant other playing video games beside us. I awoke suddenly, scared awake by my own blast of flatulence, to find my significant other right there laughing and no way to deny it. We have been together 12 years. He has heard this happen exactly once before, because I will usually herniate myself rather than fart in public, (unless it’s in front of my son, because he finds it hysterically funny).

Goodbye, dignity. Maybe I’ll see you again in 2019.

More on this to come, for sure, and much related to sewing for maternity, as I’m currently learning all about sewing for a rapidly expanding belly and hoping to strategize so that I can cut clothes wide now and reduce them later as needed, rather than buy or make clothing strictly to wear while pregnant. Maternity fashions and existent patterns make me very sad, so there will be much pattern drafting to come. Also to explore at length: were maternity corsets an evil instrument of the patriarchy, or did they provide some much needed back and belly support in the way that currently marketed belly bands do? I process all my emotions through sewing and historical rambling, so pregnancy the research project, here we go.