21 hard things about motherhood my son might never know

By Marianna Marlowe

1. He was conceived under duress, through sex that, goal-oriented, had become a box to tick on a To Do List, a duty, a chore. This task, which had to be gotten through rather than enjoyed, caused tension and resentment between his father and me.

2. Because of his birth, I endured the bottomless pit of postpartum depression, a sadness that dragged on me constantly, pulling me down, unrelenting.

3. I cried when he lay on the changing table and I saw his thin sweet legs, naked and vulnerable, and thought to myself, some parents break and bruise these legs, the innocent trusting legs of their baby. I cried when I saw a homeless man stumbling on the street, ragged and dirty, and thought to myself, He had a mother once, who probably held him in her arms after he was born and dreamed beautiful dreams for him. What would she feel if she could see him now?

4. I refused Zoloft for my depression, because I didn’t want to risk chemicals contaminating the milk he drank.

5. When the urologist told me, offhandedly, that his hypospadias was caused by an environmental trigger, I spent weeks if not months obsessing over the time I was pregnant, constantly thinking back, trying to identify the precise moment, the exact place, the one decision that damaged the fetus, my baby, my son, in utero.

6. Although painful at first with cracked nipples and engorged breasts, the cause later of a mastitis that required two weeks of IV antibiotics, and the reason I could never leave him for more than a few hours at a time for over a year—breast-feeding was one of the highlights of my life.

7. When he napped in another room, I would periodically stop whatever I was doing to check if he was still breathing.

8. When he was two and picky about what he ate, I spent mornings stuffing soft slippery tubes of penne with scrambled eggs in an effort to trick him into eating something other than pasta.

9. I hated my mother-in-law for lecturing him on potty training, for telling him, threateningly, when he is three years old that no one will like him because he smells bad, that he will never have friends if he continues to wear diapers.

10. I loved my mother-in-law for trying to comfort him, however inappropriately, after a little girl ignored him at his fifth birthday party, causing him to lie sadly on a towel next to the pool, his wet head buried in his arms. She said, in her heavily accented English: “Who cares about that girl? She is nothing compared to you. She is a bitch!”

11. When he told me, finally, after four months of fourth grade, that two boys who sat at his table in class were making fun of his tics, mocking him by mimicking them, I called his teacher and both of the boys’ mothers that very night, even though he had begged me not to tell anyone, ever.

12. I skimmed through most of Queen Bees and Wannabees, but pored carefully over the one chapter on boys.

13. When he attended the local elementary school, I would park across the street during recess to watch him play basketball or pickle or foursquare, reading his body language from across the grassy field for signs of engagement or isolation, insecurity or confidence.

14. I routinely threw away shorts and t-shirts, regardless of how comfortable or treasured, if they had a hole or a rip or a stain, wanting him always to be well dressed, presentable, respected.

15. With his first girlfriend, I would clean his room before they spent time together there, making sure the sheets were clean, condoms accessible in the nightstand drawer, and piles of sweaty clothes and dirty socks put away in the hamper.

16. I sometimes found his phone charging and checked his texts to see if there was something I should have been worried about.

17. I included “Drive carefully!” in my every goodbye to him because I needed a kind of talisman against accidents.

18. Outraged on his behalf, I assumed there was something wrong with the girl who didn’t want to go to prom with him.

19. When he came home late after a night out with friends and slipped quietly into the house in order not to disturb the rest of the family, I got up out of my warm bed to check from the hall window that his car was parked in the driveway and that he was safely home.

20. I stayed with my husband, I rejected the idea of divorce, I put up with the destruction of dreams, the breaking of trust, the constant feeling of being punched in the gut that is infidelity, for him.

21. When his father, his little brother, and I said our final goodbyes as we dropped him off at his college, I took a sedative in order to keep my emotions in check, to mute the anxiety that threatened to choke me. For weeks I kept the door of his room closed, not wanting to see it empty of him.

The truth is, motherhood is as much a burden as it is a joy.

After years of academic writing, Marianna Marlowe now focuses on creative nonfiction that explores the themes of motherhood, gender identity, and cultural hybridity. A fierce feminist who always planned on having daughters, she has learned to enjoy the challenges of raising two strong and sensitive sons.

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