When I speak about mother shock with other mothers, many of them readily identify the feeling: the disconnect, the giddy joy of caring for a new life contrasted with the gnawing fear of falling short, the numbness that got them through the blurry, sleep-deprived days and nights of the first three months of their child's life. There is a light-bulb moment I can actually see happening when we talk about mother shock and put those difficult months of transition in context.
Shock is generally not what comes to mind when picturing a new mother and her tiny infant, and yet when I compare the shock of new motherhood to the experience of culture shock, mothers get it. They recognize themselves in the description of a traveler in a strange land, they relate to the stress of trying to acclimate in the face of information overload. They are relieved to finally put a name to what we new mothers experience as we hover in the gap between our past world and our present, trying bravely to put aside our own needs to tend to those of our defenseless newborns, attempting to navigate the sheer strangeness of so much responsibility and so much selflessness on so little sleep. Mother Shock the book is an exploration of mother shock from the inside out, featuring essays written during the first three years of my daughter's life. I have organized the essays by subject matter rather than in pure chronological progression, to loosely correspond to the stages of mother shock I have described.
In the first section, "Mother Love," I write about not only the joy of being a mother but also my misconceptions about motherhood and my pre-partum worries about what it would be like. In "Mother Shock" I explore the darker feelings of maternal anger, frustration and ambivalence. In the third section, "Mother Tongue," I write about learning to speak the language, scaling the learning curve of early motherhood and my adventures in navigating everything from playgroup politics to learning the hard way why no one should ever take an eighteen-month-old to a business lunch. The final section, "Mother Land," features essays on what it's like to embrace motherhood in all its complexity, reconciling my pre-maternal life with my current one and feeling comfortable walking around both with and without a stroller between me and the rest of the world.
When I first left the hospital with my baby, looking at the world for the first time as a mother, I asked myself, "Why does no one really talk about this?" As I grappled with my own experience of mother shock, I realized why: it is problematic to discuss the difficulties of mothering without seeming ungrateful, uncaring, unappreciative or unbalanced. It is difficult to contradict the conventional assumption that motherhood is noble and joyous and uncomplicated.
But just because women have been having babies since there were babies to be had doesn't mean that becoming a mother isn't profoundly life-changing. Having a baby takes a matter of hours; becoming a mother is a much more gradual transition.
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