on rekindling one’s spark
despite the shadow of war and our own instincts.
I’m painfully aware that a war just started. And more so how inconsequential some of my writing might seem in times like these. I’ve been finding it hard to reconcile where I was hoping to go with this project once the newborn arrival dust had settled, with where it currently is. As you might have noticed, it took longer than I predicted to get back to writing. Last time I showed up in your inbox, I said enthusiastically I would return early in the new year with more content. It is now March.
I gave birth to a beautiful girl named Alma on January 12th—a flashing reminder of my own competence, resilience and undying optimism. To give birth is to participate in the mystery of life in the fiercest way. Still, it seems that as mothers we are all wired to forget how difficult the whole bringing-life-into-the-world ordeal is, if not—how do we gear up to do it more than once? I went in blind as if I hadn’t done it already! Blind to the point of thinking I could seamlessly come back to writing a week after I had welcomed a newborn.
The reality of diapers, feedings, sleepless nights, and second-time mom guilt have been the least of my worries as I face once again the challenge that became my Everest after giving birth the first time around: reclaiming the bits of myself that I set aside for motherhood. I wonder daily—were there any important ones worth fighting for?
It is said that having children is an irrational act, as in: not a decision that correlates to happiness, especially if you’ve looked at all the data. Certainly, our government doesn’t think much of it, and even women artists have deemed it taboo. But despite the farewell to freedom, sleep, and time, the lessons I have gained in humility and love have been profound to the point of recoloring the significance of joy and pain all the way down to their roots. Having made it through to the other side, wounded inside and out, I would still choose this same journey if I had the chance to start over.
But just like you wouldn’t say your job is all of who you are, neither can motherhood define you entirely. If anything, motherhood is a set of blinders that makes it harder to remember that searching for meaning and direction—aside from raising children—is a lifelong journey that should not be relegated to something we figure out eighteen years in the future when our nest is empty. It certainly isn’t lost on me how difficult this might be to undertake, since the importance I used to place on my public persona has been swapped for the one found within the confines of my most private encounters with those I love at home. What used to matter is no longer, and I’ve been forced to rethink it all anew.
It’s a dangerous venture to predicate our life’s meaning on another’s existence. Our kids did not sign up for such a burden! They will leave us, yet we will never be alone again. Thus the paradox of motherhood presents itself to me with resolute clarity: it is as difficult to leave your children as it is to stay with them. With them you are never quite yourself, without them you are never quite yourself.
This relentless tussle is what can turn the desire for writing (or the emotional bandwidth to deal with the fact that there is a war) into something you’ll access again when you have the time. As this review from the New Yorker says:
“Writing depends on hoarding time, on putting up a boundary (often at home) between oneself and the immediate world around in order to visit a separate one in the mind. A mother must make herself always available. A writer needs to shut the door.”
The truth is I have not yet recalled the woman I was prior to being mamá. But I’ve made it back to myself once before, so writing this bit is my first attempt at trying to reach that distant memory. I carved the time because this feels important. I want to gently remind myself that I’ll be able to leave this liminal space when I’m ready. I will recall all the pieces of me I have buried to be who I need to be for someone else right now. I will love again all of my incongruent self. I will remember that there’s plenty of room for the mom, the wife, the writer, the artist, the woman, and that my wish to mother and the spark to create will learn to coexist once more. Adulthood will be waiting for me this time, unbothered.