Almost two years have passed since I discovered I was pregnant with my sweet daughter Seymour. Since that moment, I’ve found myself on the joyful, mystifying, wonderful journey that is motherhood and parenthood, experiencing everything incredible and terrible that comes with it.
The time passes so quickly, and my daughter changes so much every day, that I find myself struggling to understand the experience. I’ve found that before I even have a chance to process and understand the experience, it has passed, my daughter is completely different, our relationship has changed, and I have to try to grasp the present moment and understand it in a flash before it’s gone. But I’m busy: I have two jobs (working at The New York Times and writing my own books), I have precious little time with my daughter, I need to exercise every day, I need to study and learn, I need to read, I need to cook, I need to do the chores, I need and need and need and am needed. There is no time for processing, no time for waiting, no time for staring at the wall and thinking about how I feel and how I view myself and what and who I am now, in this moment, as a mother, as someone’s mother, as this sweet, kind, open-hearted little girl’s mother.
And so I try to do with motherhood what I do with most other things in my life: I try to find words written by others about how they experienced it. Whenever I pick up such a book, I have this secret, quiet hope in my heart that maybe this person, this book, this poem, will put into words what I cannot.
That’s the hope I had when I picked up Motherhood: Poems about Mothers. I read it eagerly, holding every word by Audre Lorde and Sylvia Plath and Anna Akhmatova. I read each poem again and again and again, hoping that I could find the words for what I felt, and that reading those words would help me understand myself and this new, ever-changing, role I was playing in the world. But I came up empty.
It happens quite a bit. It’s rarely an indictment of the book itself, as was the case here. The poems in this collection are wonderful. They are beautiful and careful and tell the inner stories of many men and women and their relationships to this role of “mother.” But none of them were what I felt, none of them were what I had seen, none of them had the words that describe what I have experienced as a mother.
In some way, the lack of understanding was a gift, and it is something I do not take lightly. If few women have felt the way I do about motherhood, if “motherhood” is not some universal role that is experienced by everyone in the same way, then perhaps there is more to be said on the subject. Perhaps, then, there is room for me to find the words for the way I feel about myself, about motherhood, about parenthood, and to put those words into the world for others to find. Perhaps another young mother like myself might find the words and say “yes! exactly! this is what I feel! these are the words I couldn’t find!”
Of course, that all hinges on one thing: time. I must find a way to slow down time, find a way to make each minute feel longer, so that I can process and understand the things I feel and see. I’m a little scared that, at the end, I’ll only find that there is no way to do so.
There was one very wonderful poem in the collection that I have completely become obsessed with. It doesn’t at all mirror my experiences in the way I described above — it’s just an incredible, brilliant, biting, fierce, rebellious poem. I’ll share it with you because I think you will love it too:
Prayer Before Birth, by Louis Macneice
I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.
I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.
I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.
I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.
I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.
I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God come near me.
I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.
Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.