I made this drawing a few days after R was born. I wanted to capture a profound moment of being seen and understood- the neonatal nurse’s simple statement of acknowledgement, ‘it pushed you to the edge of what you were capable of,’ when she found me fighting back tears, attempting to feed my newborn son on the maternity ward. Something about her manner released something I didn’t know I was keeping inside and my whole birth story had come pouring out of my mouth as she held R. I’d been trying to hold myself together and contain all the fear and shock of birth in my usual avoidant, mutant way. Her words gave me permission to own what I could barely admit to myself: I have an edge, and all those contractions and pushing for all those hours brought me to some paradoxically sacred-profane threshold of euphoria and pain. It was almost unbearable. Something as ordinary as birth could have undone me- I might not have been able to assimilate so much suffering into my personality and use it for my own growth. That I endured the pain and was able to symbolise it to myself afterwards is a miracle. I wrestled with a bear and came back revenant-style, over the horizon on a white horse.
The edge is a risky place to go- it is necessary for me to mark it and stay well away from it most of the time. Its great for rites of passage and initiations into new lives and identities, but a terrible place to set up house. I’ve been here, in varying distances from it, for three years. It’s time for me to start packing. Some people are great in a crisis. I am not someone who thrives on adrenal thrills and frenetic, overstretched living. The edge is a sacred-profane place I go to be transformed, but then I must retreat.
I recently decided to give away all of Rs baby things in recognition of my limits. I’ve been storing his old babygrows in the loft for ‘the second one.’ Other people choose to have two or three kids, I am not other people. Growing a baby inside me and pushing him out and doing parenting has been one of the most intense and weird and glorious experiences of my life and I’ve become all kinds of strong and deep and found parts of my soul I didn’t know existed.
But I’m ready to grow different parts of myself and learn new stuff about me now.
I don’t have another kid in me unless I sacrifice more of my psyche and soma than I’m willing to relinquish. It has been a relief to admit this to myself, to fold the washed sleepsuits into plastic carrier sacs and give away the fantasy of the second child, one bag at a time. A second kid would make me stay here, on the cusp of what I’m capable of, the knife-edge of nearly too much.
The resources a child absorbs – psychic, economic, environmental, relational- are enormous. How many women go mad with motherhood and lose themselves in the welter of care giving? I made a list, spanning early pregnancy to toddlerhood, of what, both in body and in soul, has been necessary to give up or risk or ration to make room for my son’s emergent subjectivity – I want to welcome many of these things back in, gradually, as R becomes more independent and needs me less. To make it clear, I chose to have a kid, and I have willingly entered into this adventure. This list is not laced with threats of guilt tripping or martyrdom. Living on the edge has been fruitful for me too. I guess this list honours the shape of my identity, it is a way to beat the bounds and mark where I start and finish. These are the pleasures that make me, me (I’m very aware other parents probably have different lists!) and when I have to make do without them for too long I’m in danger of not turning up to my own life and living for someone else.
Booze, stinky cheese, cigars
Really deep chat, the kind that is sprawling and investigative and leaves your soul glowing with satisfaction. The kind you need several afternoon hours alone with a good friend or a whole weekend and lots of whisky to do properly.
Leaving the house without too much thought or preparation
The meanings of my non-maternal body
My body belonging to me, not sharing it with another human first for nine months then for the duration of the breastfeeding relationship
An un-colonised mind. Falling in love with a tiny human obliterates other kinds of thinking
The risk of prolapse (estimated to be 1 in 3 women) I escaped this tragedy last pregnancy and birth, but there are no guarantees and every pregnancy puts an strain on the pelvic floor muscles. We rarely talk about this issue
Leisurely application of eyeliner and lipstick
Showers either alone or without someone shouting with strong, emotive expression outside the door that they wish you were not having a shower alone
Ditto with the toilet
Time to think
Time to lie on the sofa and just be
A reasonable amount of washing
The risk of birth injuries. I broke my tailbone pushing
The risk of postpartum depression and PTSD after a difficult birth
Fitting into all my lovely clothing
A martial relationship without the inevitable strain exhaustion, bewilderment, in depth discussions about purée and overdraft use puts on it
Walking the city
Money from two incomes
Time to myself
Effortless emotional equilibrium
Normal sleep and wake patterns that don’t involve being woken at 2am or falling asleep at 6pm
Time for reading or writing or creative life
My internal attention focused exclusively on me instead of being locked into vigil and keeping-in-mind
Energy to watch a film
Doing things on a whim
Copyright Diana Smith 2018