On writing through motherhood

The blare of my alarm snaps me out of a dream. Eyes half-shut, I roll over to silence it, then consider my options. If I get up now, I can write. Maybe. There’s always a chance I could wake my son, a light sleeper, and lose the gift of time. Or I can sink back under the covers and steal another hour of delicious rest. The rhythmic drone of my husband’s snore propels me out of bed. Today I rise. 

Step one: Shower. I creep across our creaky floorboards, steal into the bathroom and twist on the squeaky faucet. “Shit,” I mutter, then mouth a prayer: please please please don’t let him wake up, God, just let me have this morning for myself. I’ll be extra good today, I promise. I step in the shower. Scalding water washes over me and baptizes me with possibility. Next: Soap. Rinse. Dry. Dress.

Step two: Coffee, mixed with a dash of cream. I tip-toe into the kitchen, retrieve my mug, the one with a pug on it, then pour the time-brewed coffee into my cup. The aroma of blonde roast fills my lungs and rouses my sleepy mind. I take a sip and savor the just-right temperature. Pure delight. 

Step three: Write. I sit at a spare desk in our family’s dining room, coffee on my left and a ticking clock to the right. The time reads 6:20 a.m. I glance at my son’s door. If I’m lucky, I can eke out 40 minutes of writing before he wakes up. I flip open my laptop and begin. 

When I became a mother, I needed writing because it allowed to grapple with the giant identity shift happening inside of me. My too-big emotions and broken, achy body overwhelmed me.  Psychiatrists call this matrescence, a period in a woman’s life when her body and mind transition to a new role — caretaker. In those early days, I hard and fast, scrawling out ideas before my son summoned me for another feeding. 

Bleary-eyed and tired, I wrote sporadically. Yet I kept returning to my journal because it both grounded me and brought me back to life. Etching out my story helped me stitch together the woman I was before giving birth with the woman I was becoming. Sharing it online with others — on my blog and eventually in other publications helped me feel less alone.

Two and a half years later, I sit at my desk, clicking letters and letting my thoughts play out on the screen.

What’s different is that the season of motherhood allows me the semblance of a writing routine. A few days a week, whenever everyone is healthy, I rise early to brainstorm, blog or tackle freelance assignments. 

The fact remains: I still need writing like I need water. If I go too long without it, I feel parched. 

On the page I belong to no one but myself. There’s no crying to comfort, no milk to fetch, no bottoms to wipe. No texts to return, emails to answer, calls to make. Here I am nothing and I am everything. Line by line, I uncover my identities — wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee, neighbor, friend, believer. 

This month I published an essay that brought me to head to head with the crushing weight of my motherly worry. In the midst of a story swimming in fear, my editor noticed a different narrative. She pushed me to resurrect the carefree girl inside of me, the girl I was before I became mother. So I wrote a new scene, and in doing so I discovered this:

“There’s a girl inside of me who loves roller coasters and waterparks and white water rafting, who dreams of visiting Sweden and the Grand Canyon, who’s always up for a little mischief. She runs simply to feel the power of her legs and the wind in her hair. She isn’t plagued by the past or preoccupied with the future. She sees every day as a grand adventure. 

She’s brave and afraid. She’s rooted and restless. She boldly pursues what sets her heart on fire. And she’s still here now, aching for a chance to shine. All this time I spent consumed with caring for my son made me forget.”

I stop typing for a moment and sip my coffee. Writing that scene brought me to tears. It reminded me that my identity isn’t just wrapped up in protecting my son. I realized something so important: I need to teach him to live too. 

These days, with my son, I’m all in and hands-off. We do more exploring together — last weekend he biked a new path at the forest preserve as my husband and I walked alongside him — and I encourage him to explore on his own. (He’s older and stronger than when I first drafted that essay, so I’ve taken a considerable step back at the playground.) What I’m most grateful for is that writing gifted me with a breakthrough off the page. My prayer for whatever I publish is that my story might someone else with a breakthrough or moment of recognition too.  

Fingers to keyboard, pen to paper, I record, reflect, discover. Motherhood unearthed in me a desire to share my stories, but writing, in turn, helps me be a more thoughtful mother. 

I hear my son rustling so I only have a moment left at my desk. I save my work and shut my laptop. Tomorrow I will rise again and write — like a mother. 

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