Ariane Audet

Estelle, Montréal QC (Canada)

Ariane Audet
Estelle, Montréal QC (Canada)

The first six weeks after I gave birth to my daughter, I was on a high. My partner had taken his paternity leave and we were in a cocoon. Everything was exciting, everything was new, we had found a rhythm. After six weeks together, he had to go back to work. When I think about this moment, there is this image of him leaving in the morning and the sound of the wind blowing under the front door that closes. That’s kind of what happened too: when he left, a door closed, and I found myself alone. At first, everything was ok. I had a lot of projects and I don’t think I realized the exhaustion of the care you have to perform day after day and the fatigue caused by sleep deprivation. Before she came, I always thought that I wouldn’t be 'that mom,' the one who stops doing her favorite activities because she had a child. I had this dream of doing one big project per day, but it quickly became one per week, and then one per month. I remember one afternoon I was in a store to buy a special type of paper because I wanted to make DIY baby announcements. I still see myself wandering in the alleys and panicking because I knew we wouldn’t make it on time to beat rush hour and we’d be stuck in the bus with dozens of people. I was also constantly concerned that she would cry in public – which of course she did that day in the bus. I had to feed her, all tangled up in our winter coats… I never thought of myself as a modest person, but it really, really bothered me to nurse in public. I had imagined myself as the type of mom who would constantly be out and about, never feeling overcome by my child and the care I had to provide. The reality was that I was extremely anxious. So much that one day, I realized I just couldn’t feel anything. It’s like if I had stopped breathing.

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It took me a couple of months before I felt the impact of the shock. At the time, I did not have words for it. My partner had started a new job and I had this aching feeling that I had to care for our daughter, but in a setup that was making me feel so miserable. The daily life of being a stay at home mom on maternity leave was boring. I was isolated. I felt so guilty towards her. I couldn’t untangle the difficult experience of becoming a mother and the love I had for her. As if both couldn't go together. It’s not even because I wanted to project the image of the perfect mother, it was simply internalized. The charge I had put on my shoulders was colossal and asking for help would have meant I had failed. In retrospect, I was a wonderful caregiver, but in the moment, I was without landmark and I simply threw myself into the sole image or idea we – somehow – still have of how to be a mother: the good housewife. I had locked myself into a world of domesticity. I wanted to like my life, but didn’t, so I cut myself off from my emotion. Doing so meant I couldn’t connect with my daughter, which was then making me feel guilty and reinforced that blockage. There’s a story I always tell: my daughter was about seven months old and my mom came to visit. I had baked muffins and the apartment was spick-and-span. I remember us sitting on the couch and her looking at me, half stunned, half empathetic, and saying to me, "Dear daughter, you hold house very well." I know she was opening a door, but from the inside, I howled. I could hear myself howl. But I didn't say anything.

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Eventually, I went back to grad school and our daughter, who was one year old, went to daycare. In retrospect, I was on autopilot, but still, at the time, I couldn’t put words on what was happening to me. My partner was still busy, but he was home more. Then one morning, it’s like if I just exploded. We were getting ready and were having a trivial discussion about work and caring for the family when he said something like ‘You know, I do as much as you do for this family.’ And I shrieked. It was a turning point. I had to scream to hear myself and to be heard. It was incontrollable. I stopped when I saw our daughter in the doorframe and she said, "Maman?" You know, the work you do as a mother is invisible. There are different forms of alienation of course – his is work, mine is the domestic space – but you are never celebrated as a mom. Even more, I think we’ve learned to despise the world of mothers – hence the feeling I was having towards my own life. In retrospect, I think that shriek was a good thing: the ground was about to disappear under my feet and I was finally feeling something. But at that moment, I didn’t want my world to crumble. I wanted to keep it solid. But it was time, I needed to see someone. I needed to get help.

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It took me a couple of months to find somebody but I did. Slowly but surely, spring came and we had a very nice summer. The idea of having another child sprouted. Our daughter started to talk, which changed everything. Then I got pregnant again. I was still tired all the time, but therapy helped me to realize that I had the right, all at once, to put a distance between my child and myself, and to embrace the tie I had nurtured since her conception. I made peace with the fact that, in retrospect, she wasn’t a very cuddly baby and I hadn’t failed her. That it was ok that our love had been built within a certain distance from each other. She was attached to me and me to her, but side by side. Fusion wasn’t necessary. Soon after I had our son at home. It was painful and great. Something sort of unraveled and our life became softer. My partner took half of the parental leave this time (six months) and it was wonderful: we had so much time and we both assumed the mental charge together. I think he really understood the meaning of the word "care." At some point, I also started to read female writers only. Tony Morisson, Fanny Britt, women who showcase different landmarks than the traditional Betty in Mad Men. Not only motherhood comes in various forms, but it’s constantly changing and elusive. Now I know that my mother-being can’t exist without my feminist-being. Both go together and I had to bring myself closer to women, through books and writing, to understand that. For a long time, I was really sarcastic about what I used to call "the world of mothers." Not anymore. What brought me peace was to dive head first into motherhood and to surround myself with other complex motherly figures: loving, angry, caring, horrified or mourning their life from before. That’s me now: I am a woman with children - who can live and feel her maternity however she wants it.