I recently realized that I never truly defined the relationship I had with motherhood. My daughter is five months old and I was too much in the day-to-day experience to even think about it. So like any good scholar, I had to read a lot to be able to grasp this new reality. I read The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, and Les Tranchées, by Fanny Britt. They're fucking amazing. I also read Rachel Cusk, who is sometimes put in the "dark mothers" category, like Sylvia Plath. I didn’t find her dark. I found her realistic. I connected a lot with what she wrote, especially the parts about the delivery. Like her, I had a C-section. She says something like, "I got out of the recovery room and the nurse asked if I wanted to breastfeed. I looked at her as if she had just demanded I make her some tea." It seemed totally ludicrous. In my head, I still belonged to a world in which, when you had your belly cut opened minutes ago, people pity you and take care of you. Not the other way around. But when you become a mother, you're suddenly shoved into another world. A world in which you’re the one who has to give and to care. It’s brutal. I was like, "I’m so high right now, you can’t possibly ask me to nurse a newborn. Something must exist to spare me this." But no. You’re right in it. Right away.
I didn’t feel any special bond the first time I met her. It seemed like I couldn’t do it at the hospital. I was caring for her when she needed to nurse, but other than that, we learned to tame each other only when we went back home. It was frightening. Thankfully my partner had taken his full five-week paternity leave to stay with us. I don’t know how I would have done it alone. I needed to be with both of them to learn how to become a mother. I never had this need to be the "first parent" or the "number one expert" of our kid. My partner and I had her together, and we would have had as much fun to share every moment of her first year together too. But our work situation meant he had to go back to work before me. It was rough. At the same time, it’s only when I had time alone with her that I really found myself as a mother. It allowed us to foster our love and relationship. Love doesn’t just happen, it’s being built through an overwhelming sense of caring. It’s ‘to care’ that makes you a parent. It takes effort. I hope she won’t resent me one day for having said that.
I don’t know if I would have thought about motherhood the same way if I’d had a son. There’s this other aspect of having a daughter: you want to show her she can achieve anything she puts her head up to. You want to teach her she can choose her own project and talk about whatever she wants to talk about. She doesn’t have to inhabit the masculine sphere to find her own voice. We often shut up because we think that the topic is too "feminine" and struck with stigma, perceived as less serious… like motherhood. But this experience is as much about the mind as it is about the body. It's intensely carnal and intellectual. This is a very concrete period of your life where your whole body is mobilized. You learn to navigate between moments of perfect communion and violent diffractions. There are times where I still struggle. To become a mother is to go through a series of shocks that consumes your entire life. Breastfeeding, for example, is a great mobilization of both the mind and the body. The gesture itself is hard, but so is the constant responsibility of feeding a child.
My "mother-self," if you will, is more like a slow conversion. There’s this rhetoric around conversion that it happens suddenly. St. Paul, for example, had a transfiguration: God comes as an Illumination, he is blinded, and then – bang! – he has faith. But a lot of times, it doesn’t happen like that. St. Augustine is one who writes about the construction of his faith as something that unfolds in time. Of course, we’re talking about religious conversions here, but the same applies to any type of conversion. It’s a process that involves tugging and wrestling. It is not always so sudden or so automatic. Just like in motherhood. More and more, I believe that there are two worlds: the world of people without children and the world of people with children. When you give birth, your body – concretely and automatically – crosses into the latter. But your mind might not follow right away. Not yet. It needs time to go through the transition. And even when you think you crossed over for good, you sometimes want to withdraw and return to your old world. I’m 36. I belonged to the old world for a long time! This fracture is part of me. I have to convince myself that it's now my responsibility to come back, that being with my daughter is my current reality. Before she came into our lives, my days were filled with pages full of writing. Now, they’re filled with full diapers! It’s still Creation. You simply cannot count it in numbers of pages.