When I first approached Meg to do an interview with me about early motherhood, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of it exactly. It’s not so much that Michael and I are even in a place where we want kids yet, but I’m definitely in a place where I want to be able to talk about wanting kids without having to spiral down into hyperbole. So much of what’s available for conversations about parenting is either fear-mongering, or condescending, or prescriptive, and none of it allows for me to safely express my anxieties about having children in a space where I feel like I’m being given platform for honest discussion (both online and off). And if the 500 plus comments from our open thread on the subject are any indication, I’m willing to bet that the same goes for a lot of you.
Over the past few years APW has played the role for me of best friend’s big sister, who will tell it like it is. So, I thought maybe an old fashioned sleepover-type confessional could be the answer. As some of you might know from Meg’s pregnancy announcement last year, Meg and David are choosing to keep their family life pretty private, so this might be the most I ever get out of her on the subject. Meg will be the first to tell you that she’s no expert on child-rearing (her words were “I’ve been at this for exactly four and a half months. You can call me in for expert advice when I’ve had ten kids.”) Which means that this interview is not meant to be in any way prescriptive, nor is it meant to represent the experience of all new mothers everywhere. Rather, in the same way that I once found solace in these pages hearing that marriage wouldn’t fundamentally change who I am if I didn’t let it, and that a career move isn’t a prison sentence, this interview gave me the reassurance that having children doesn’t mean getting on a roller coaster ride and enduring it until it’s time to get off. When Meg and I first started talking about this interview, she told me, “I don’t want to offer any advice on motherhood, other than the magic that is overnight diapers. The rest is just thoughts from the trenches. Your mileage may vary.” I think that just about sums it up. So here is part one of Marriage And Early Motherhood (part two to follow next week). May it spark a non-terrifying conversation that makes you feel a little better too.
That Gut Feeling
Meg: Are you going to set the scene? Wisteria. A lime popsicle. The sun. Chicken enchiladas, cooked by Meg’s husband.
Maddie: [Laughing] Yes. The enchiladas were really good. Ok, so one of the first questions people asked in the comments of our open thread was about the issue of confidence with the decision to have kids. Because I think a lot of people are concerned that if you aren’t 100% certain that you want, want, WANT a baby, that you have no business having one. And I’m curious what your take is on that?
Meg: Yeah, I think that’s bullshit. There’s this Elizabeth Gilbert quote in Committed where someone says to her something like, “Having a baby is like having a tattoo on your face. If you’re not sure about it, you shouldn’t get it.” And I just don’t think that’s true. There are very few decisions in life that you’re that sure about, period. Right? And I think that probably anyone who is 100% sure about having kids and never has any questions about it, that is where I might question whether or not you knew what you were getting into. Because you’re committing to a very big life change, and the scary thing about having kids is that it’s the one of the few things in your life you can’t get out of. The dirty secret about marriage is that if it doesn’t work you get a divorce. Yeah, it sucks, and it’s going to fuck up your life but you move on. The scary part about having a kid is that it’s irrevocable. So if there isn’t some part of you that’s like, “Uh, is this a good idea?” I just worry that you haven’t applied your analytical self to it.
Maddie: I feel like there’s this thing that’s happening, where there’s celebrity pregnancies are really oddly sexualized, and then in educated, urban communities there is this glorification of pregnancy and motherhood. I’m curious how you anticipated, and also dealt with that. Because that’s something I’m scared of… having to explain why I’m either bottle feeding or not using cloth diapers, or on the flipside having to explain doing all those things… I guess, it’s the whole mainstream versus indie thing.
Meg: Right. In some ways we were protected because we’re so early in our friends circle having kids.
Maddie: Which is hilarious also.
Meg: Right? Because I’m, what? 32? But we have a couple of friends who have kids… our friends who have kids have kids who are either five or thirteen (we have a lot of friends that got pregnant right after high school, or are a little older than us, or who just don’t have kids at all.) There was no one that was contemporaneously having children. So we were able to do things the way we thought were logical, which has led to some interesting social moments later, when we were around parents, because we, like, didn’t know that everyone got an infant car seat and it just didn’t seem logical to us, so we didn’t get an infant car seat. We got a convertible car seat, and then we didn’t have an infant carrier to carry the baby around with and I totally looked like I was making a political statement when I was out with other mothers. But that sort of protected me in some ways. I did feel a lot of pressure around the, what I call the Cult of Whole Motherhood: give birth at home, don’t have an epidural, don’t ever bottle feed, etc. Though ultimately a lot of that stuff worked itself out. I sort of fundamentally (no surprise here, the whole site is built around this) am just not a dogmatic person. So I went into labor being like, you know it might be nice not to get an epidural, but we’ll see, I had a pretty precipitous labor so—our doula actually said it was the most intense labor she’d ever witnessed—so I got an epidural. I had milk supply issues right away, so I supplemented with formula. Because it seemed like the baby was going to starve if we didn’t. And now, he’s 95% breast fed. So I sort of worked it out by doing what was logical. But there does have to be a certain amount of just tuning out what different people want you to do.
Do Your Hormones Eat Your Rational Brain?
Maddie: Shifting to post-baby, one of the questions that really struck me in the comments of the open thread was whether or not you can avoid your own hormones? And this idea that there’s a lot of inevitability built into having a kid, in that you can say you’re not going to want to do X, or you can think you don’t want do Y, but once the baby’s there and your hormones kick in, it’s a whole new ballgame.
Meg: Sort of yes, sort of no. I think the way the narrative is built is really damaging. You’re not going to become a new person unless on some level you want to become a new person or are secretly hoping you’ll become a new person or are just really embracing that. So this whole idea that “You just don’t now, you just don’t know”—I think in the big picture I don’t know that that’s actually true. I knew I wanted to keep working, and people said “Oh you just don’t know, you just don’t know,” and, well, no. I know who I am, right, so I do want to keep working.
However, you don’t know what your hormones are going to do. But the idea that your hormones take over your rational brain is not true. I was not aware the I was physically going to go through withdrawal having the baby in daycare, I was going to be physically shaky at first because my hormones were at conflict with my rational mind. My rational mind wanted to be at work, but also my baby was happier in daycare, I was happier with him in daycare, but my hormones were telling me something else. So yes. In some ways you can’t avoid your hormones and they are super powerful, and they’re going to do what they are going to do, but your rational mind is still as much in play as ever.
Maddie: When it comes to a lot of the other stuff that I think people try to caution you about: the lack of sleep, how much attention they need, how many physical needs they have, I know a lot of people expressed concern over just being able to function as they know themselves in those early days and whether or not they could physically survive it. Continue reading Marriage And Early Motherhood, Part I