No Going Back
There’s no going back—once you become a mother.
There’s no unseeing every child as your own.
You cannot bandage your aching heart as you watch a child in pain.
That second glass of wine will never taste as good.
You’ll never sleep soundly again.
Fireworks will send shockwaves of anxiety through your body, and local news will keep you up all night.
Your body never be the same—once firm, now soft pillow for rest.
And you won’t be able to stop a smile from tugging at your lips when you see a child learn something new.
You’ll never have dry eyes when you hear the story of a baby’s first breath, a child’s triumph over adversity.
You’ll never think twice about opening your arms to hug a child who needs a little extra love.
Because there’s no going back—once you become a mother.
And thank God for that.
An icy gust burned his weather-beaten cheeks. Under his dark complexion, redness poked through. Like a ripe berry drooping on a low bush nearly touching the ground. Up and down the asphalt he walked. Up and down. Zigzagging between traffic. Shoulders sore. Nails brittle. Bits and pieces of last night’s dinner caught between the hairs on his chin. It had still been hot when the BMW driver threw it out of his car. A crinkled up fast-food bag, soaked in grease. But the chicken sandwich was half-eaten. And it tasted good.
Just like the other greasy piece of meat someone threw at him the day before. It was always like that. Rain or shine. Snow or sleet. Brittle winds or suffocating humidity. Every day was the same. Every day he was worn down just a little more. Life was mundane, even when it was utterly unpredictable.
He wanted to be anywhere but there. A beach in the Caribbean. He remembered life before. It was easy. Carefree. He owned a hotel, ironically. Was never alone either. There was always a beautiful, tan woman hanging on his arm.
But even then every day was the same.
Wake up before dawn to the sound of a piercing alarm. Hear birds chirping on palm tree branches outside the window. Drink two cups of coffee. Eat a quick breakfast. Out to the office. Keep the numbers out of the red. Keep the customers happy. Schmooze all day and night. Eat so much it hurts. Drink so much it hurts. And do it all over the next day under the burning, tropical sun.
Now, he woke up because he never really slept. The blaring sound of car horns all night kept him grazing just above the surface. Pigeons cooed above him, perching on viaduct beams. He sipped water from dirt-covered bottles. Nibbled on granola bars he’d been hoarding. Out to the streets. Keep inside the yellow line. Keep the drivers sympathetic. Beg all day and all night. Eat so little it hurts. Drink so little it hurts. And do it all over the next day under the angry, cloudy skies.
Because life was mundane, even when it was utterly unpredictable.
I love you so much it hurts.
I feel the immense weight of my love for you. It pushes me down. It crushes me.
What will I do when you grow up? Who will I become?
I might shrivel up and die.
Because I feel we are still just one being. My heart still beats in synch with yours.
But we were never just one, were we? Three hearts. Three brains. You were always your own beings. I just kept you safe inside me.
I can’t do that any longer and it terrifies me. How will I keep you safe now? Keep you safe forever?
Sometimes, at night, when you’re asleep, and your father is nowhere nearby, I cry. But I don’t have time to cry alone in bed. I need the sleep too desperately. Instead, I cry while doing other things. Being a productive mom. I cry while washing bottles. While scrubbing the floor. Folding laundry.
I cry because I love you. And the weight of my love is immense. Like trying to understand the vastness of the universe, I can’t comprehend my love for you. It mixes with sorrow—knowledge that my love won’t keep you from the cruelty of the world. Or from leaving me one day.
And though it hurts so bad, I still love you so much. It crushes me, this immense weight. This love for you.
I might just shrivel up and die.
Golden hour never looked so beautiful, she thought as warm, ginger sunlight haloed around the emerald firs and cobalt waters of Puget Sound. In the distance, snow-peaked mountains jutted into the sky.
She was the lone person sitting on the rocky shoreline that evening. She only had twenty minutes or so before she’d have to leave to meet the girls for cocktails at some expensive downtown restaurant. She’d forgotten the name, and had vowed not to look at her phone until the sun had set. Not even to take a photo. She didn’t have much storage left anyway from all the drunken shenanigans that weekend she had felt compelled to record. Just a bunch of moms gone wild—a reunion weekend with her college sorority sisters—women who were all married with children, bogged down by stressful jobs and never-ending piles of laundry, who needed a few carefree days pretending they didn’t have any responsibilities.
But she wasn’t a very good actress, and she’d left her days of make believe behind her. It was hard to pretend to be carefree, even when she’d flown halfway across the country to the stunning Pacific Northwest, surrounded by natural splendor and manmade novelties. All the artisanal chocolate, richly brewed coffee, and indulgent cheeses didn’t do the job she’d expected them to; she still couldn’t shake this feeling that had settled deep within her bones.
She watched the surf roll in, bubbling water over smooth rocks. Over and over. After enough time, the slow tumble of water would wear away the rock. Wear it down to pebbles. Over and over.
Fleeting pleasures couldn’t wash away her weariness. Over and over.
As the sun sank lower into the sky, ever inching toward that deep blue horizon line, an ethereal glow illuminated seagulls circling above her, harassing each other with their high-pitched squawks. They scattered as soon as an enormous bald eagle intimidated them with his majesty. Plop! Nearby, harbor seals were swallowed up by water, bobbing up and down, watching the sunset alongside her.
She was never alone, was she? Not even on this supposedly relaxing trip. (It was not at all relaxing; one of her Type A friends had planned out every minute of that weekend.) Even when she’d travelled to the ends of the earth in search of solace, she was joined by coastal riff raff. She thought she’d heard the seals call out to her. “Mom! Mom! Mom!” That seagull over there—it sounded just like her husband asking what was for dinner.
What would it feel like to be carefree again?
A shot of adrenaline pierced her heart. Was that what she though it was? Her eyes darted to the spot where water had spouted from the ocean like a geyser.
Yes! It was!
Light glimmered against smooth, black hide. Fwwiisssshhhhhhh. Again, water sprayed toward the heavens. This time she caught it—a majestic orca, swimming gracefully in the bay. It dipped under water and rolled, its white spots visible against the sunset’s rays. Its dorsal fin became a silhouette, like the fir trees and mountains, as the hot pink sun began to be swallowed by the horizon.
The word rang through her head as she watched the magical creature. To be free in vast waters—what was that like?
No needy kids clawing you, lazy husband shirking chores, slobbery dog nipping your toes. Instead, free to glide alone through refreshing Pacific Northwest waters. No incessant work emails, their chimes waking you from sleep like some sort of torture. Instead, free to explore underwater realms.
This life, this life of hers, was not as she’d imagined it would be. In another life, she was living in Oregon tending to her vineyard, selling spicy Pinots to local restaurants. In another life, she was a free woman. A single woman. Maybe she gallivanted with a rugged wine-connoisseur boyfriend who cultivated the winery with her.
Fwwiisssshhhhhhh. Another breath of air shook her from her fantasy. Fwwiisssshhhhhhh. Then another. Fwwiisssshhhhhhh.
Three more shiny, black and white bodies momentarily rose above water, joining the first orca.
She laughed to herself. Even this killer whale couldn’t be left alone. Did this orca feel like she did—seeking respite from her overwhelming life?
Her sorority sister friends had each separately confided in her their own miseries. Insecurities. Failings. Had she been so self-absorbed that she thought she was the only one who ever felt worn down and depressed? As if she was so important. More important.
This spark of solidarity rose in her as she witnessed her original orca join his friends. Together, they swam synchronized dances as the sun dipped lower and lower. The seagulls were gone now; the bald eagle perched on an alder branch at the shore; the seals bobbed silently. Everyone watched the orcas plunge and whirl, dip and jump.
It was breathtaking.
They played together, exploding through pink and orange rays that sparkled against ocean water. It reminded her of Lisa Frank art—so colorful, so dreamlike.
Her original orca moved quicker, seemingly delighting in his large yet nimble body. He was rejoicing while sunlight waned and moonlight waxed. What had made him so happy? Was it his pod?
Was it that he was no longer alone?
Then, another fwwiisssshhhhhhh caught her attention. This one was smaller. Sweeter. She watched as a miniature orca swam beside her original friend. The original orca nuzzled his head against his calf.
Her head. Her calf.
The orca was a female. A mother. Just like her.
She felt her eyes sting. Yes, of course. Of course she was a mother. Of course she had a pod. And why would she truly want to be alone? The sunset was so much more beautiful when it was enjoyed beside others.
Memories washed over her. The birth of her first baby. And her second. And her third. Sweet little babes, like the calf who glided alongside her mother. She thought of her wedding day. Of college graduation.
She had just needed a little break. A little alone time. A moment of solace to remind her how much she loved her life.
In one gulp, the sun was finally swallowed by the horizon, leaving amethyst and cherry streaks in its wake. The orcas took one last breath, then dipped below the serene waters, disappearing with the sun.
Taking one last look at the dark water, which now reflected moonlight, she deeply inhaled, deeply exhaled. Life is beautiful and miserable all in the same breath. And we are lucky if we are never left alone.
In a February blizzard, I traveled down US-30 on a Greyhound bus. Headphones blared Vampire Weekend, stared out the window as a white-out enveloped us.
When I got to you, your Valentine's gift sat on a chipped dormitory desk. A Ben Folds CD, a box of Russel Stover chocolate, a single CVS rose.
We couldn't go anywhere, and that's exactly what we'd wished for. Tangled up in bedsheets with you, I imagined our future.
And this is what I saw.
A February blizzard, in our cozy home. Me and you. And another two.
Tonight, our memories shake from the sky like silent snowflakes. So many. So perfect. Some glitter. Some sting. But when they reach each other, they melt together as one. Just a single blanket of history covering our lives.
You and me. Together. Forever. And that's exactly what we'd wished for.
A sliver of sunlight sneaks its way under the bedroom door, waking her. Beside her, a tiny, warm body stirs. She’d done it again. What all the judgmental experts say not to do; what the dogmatic breastfeeding activists say to do. She’s torn—she desperately needs sleep, but her heart breaks at the thought of letting her baby cry. She’s not sure how to fix it; it doesn’t matter anyway—she doesn’t have time to think about this issue. They’re up and at ‘em. And today will be a long one, just like the day before.
At noon, her mother arrives bearing lunch. “I never let you ‘cry it out,’” she says, her mouth turning into a grimace.
While her baby naps, she mindlessly scrolls through social media. Contradictory facts—or are they opinions?—are at war:
Train your baby to self-soothe. Babies can’t self-soothe! A baby needs to sleep in his own space. A baby needs to sleep near his mother! After six months, a baby doesn’t need to eat in the middle of the night. If a baby is hungry, nurse him!
Her Instagram timer goes off just as an email comes in. Her boss is asking for that presentation again. When will it be ready?
Guilt gnaws at her; anger chews alongside it. She wants a career. But she also wants to spend every moment snuggling her baby. She can’t have both, she knows.
When she trudges her way to the shower, she looks at her body. Not bad. But not great. She’s supposed to love these rolls, right? Or is she supposed to tone them?
“You really should sleep train,” her co-worker types to her over Slack. “Everybody does it.” The same co-worker brags, “I breastfed all of my kids until they were two. If you work hard enough, you can do it.”
“Where’s that presentation? It’s been seven months. Your brain is still foggy, eh?” Her boss’s email reads.
“Baby,” says her husband, coming up behind her. “I want you.” She tries not to recoil. It’s not that she doesn’t want him, it’s just… well, she doesn’t even know. She wants to be held and hold but wants to be completely left alone. She’s sweating and cold. She wonders why her hormones aren’t regulated yet.
Now, the sun has set. And after rocking him for forty minutes, her baby has finally fallen asleep in her arms. She lays him down in his crib like a stick of dynamite. When she crawls into her own bed next to her husband, he’s scrolling through work emails on his work phone. He sighs. But she sighs louder.
“I don’t know what I want, or what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be. I can’t be everything to everybody,” she says, a cartoon-sized tear plopping onto her pillow. “It’s so hard being a woman.”
He wipes it away. “It’s hard being a human.”
She grits her teeth. Men! But then she finally listens. To all his roles. To all his expectations. To all his feelings he never gets to feel.
“It’s hard being human,” she muses. “But it’s easier for some than others.”
He shrugs. “Easier is not the same as easy.”
She shrugs back. This time, a sliver of moonlight slices through a crack in the blinds. Her baby cries. It will be a long night, she thinks, just like the night before.
On Her Deathbed
Beeping from the heart monitor remains steady. She’s awake, mentally alert. She can see the faces of her loved ones surrounding her. She can feel the tears plop from their eyes onto her blanketed legs. Her children. Her grandchildren. Her sisters. Her husband. They all look upon her—their hands sending warmth to her hands, her arms.
It’s almost time now.
Knowing this day was coming, she’s been saying her goodbyes for days. She’s nearing the end.
They know she loves them. And she knows they love her. She’s told them a million times over the years.
She had always pictured this moment—on her deathbed. Her vision had come true: old, frail, at the end of having lived a long, joyous life. And she had been right.
It didn’t come as a shock to her, because she was often right, although her husband and sisters didn’t like to admit it much. It was true nonetheless.
When she was younger, a young mother, she would often stop her mind from wandering down a path of comparison by asking, “On your deathbed, will you look back and regret this choice or rejoice in this choice?” She knew she’d regret wasting time on the news. Wasting time scrolling. Wasting time flipping channels. She knew she’d regret wasting energy on being angry with others, wasting energy trying to please others. And she was right. She was also right that spending her days doing nothing but watching her young children play was not a waste of time. That she wouldn’t regret it on her deathbed.
“I’ll look back and be glad I stayed up all night rocking him to sleep. I’ll probably miss this time,” her younger self had thought.
Now, as she struggled to breathe, she mustered the strength to laugh. I was right, she thought. I’d give anything to go back to those simple days of holding my babies… playing with my kids.
Sure, she gave up a lucrative career. She missed the opportunity to make loads of money. And she never accomplished those career goals. Never won any awards. Her title remained the same for so long: Stay At Home Mom. She never got much praise from the outside world.
Instead, she spent her days singing silly songs and blowing raspberries. Her hair was never very glamorous, and she was only able to squeeze in a few minutes for herself at the end of a long, tiring day.
But it was worth it.
Because on her deathbed, she didn’t regret a single moment. She wouldn’t have traded a kiss on her baby’s cheek for a big fat check. Money was meaningless. She wouldn’t have traded a day of doing nothing but watching her children play for an arbitrary writing award. It would have only collected dust.
She didn’t need the world to love her. She just wanted her family to.
And as she looked around the bright white, sterile hospital room, just as she was starting to drift away, she knew she’d accomplished the most important dreams she’d ever had.
I’ve gone soft.
You made me this way.
From my breasts to my belly, what once was firm is now pillowy.
But that ice hard heart has melted too.
Because of you.
Eyes that barely flinched before now flutter with tears when
I think of anything that reminds me of helpless you.
When I hear other mothers’ babies cry, my heart breaks.
When I see other mothers’ babies all grown up, I weep.
One day you’ll be too big for my arms too.
And when I hear of other mothers’ babies in pain, I crumble.
How can I help stop the hurt?
Save the world from pain?
I used to be hard. That was before.
Now I’ve gone soft.
And I’ll stay that way as long as I’m a mother... which is to say,
All We Ever Need
What was it like living through a pandemic? you’ll ask me one day. By then, I’ll probably forget most of this. I won’t remember the little details. I’ll only remember the feeling that stuck to my skin, penetrating my bones, rearranging my DNA to change me (and therefore you) on a cellular level.
I’ll tell you that your dad and I were lucky. We were safe in our cozy, little home with our verdant, little backyard in our friendly, little neighborhood, just minutes away from our loving family members. We were able to work and manage life remotely. I wrote a lot and read a lot, and your father and I created music together (your dad got really good at piano). We argued about your names (but you know who won in the end). We laughed a lot and worried a lot, and reevaluated our beliefs. We chose to remain optimistic, reminding ourselves that our moment in history was still far better than what most humans have endured. We confirmed how much we wanted you in our lives—how much we needed a little bit of chaos and a whole lot of noise, yet we felt lucky we had so much time alone with each other before our lives changed (for the better) forever.
But I hope I’ll tell you that the pandemic changed us and we changed the world for the better, too.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that everyone changed after the pandemic.
That we learned we’re doing too much and not being enough. That we suddenly understood so many of the material possessions and status symbols we’d been chasing our whole lives were worthless. That we realized we blindly follow politicians and corporations and media without thinking critically (so we stopped). That we grew to appreciate a simple hug, a walk around the block, someone delivering homemade dessert to our doorstep.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that companies began saying “thank you” to their employees; not through insincere advertisements showing smiling faces clapping for laborers, but by increasing workers’ salaries, providing health care, offering paid sick leave, allowing the work day to actually end by 5pm.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that the burden of solving the country’s financial issues was taken off the backs of the middle class. That we finally figured out how to fairly tax citizens so that everyone could afford a quality life. That we discovered no one should profit off worldwide death and suffering. And no one should be able to reach “trillionaire” status during a devastating recession.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that I gave and loved as much as I could. That I simplified my life even more than I already had. That I confirmed my own belief that all we need is the little things: family, friends, tasty meals and comforting drinks, good music and interesting books, time in nature, a few sparkly things (not too many), more sunny days than rainy days, a sense of humor. And an ability to see beyond the current situation, a strong faith in a promising tomorrow, and a determination to make it happen ourselves.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that in the end it was all OK because we had each other, and truly that’s all we ever need.
Part of Me
I must confess a secret: I love that I’ve got you all to myself, my babies. Call me greedy, but I’m glad no one else can feel your kicks and jabs, your ticklish wiggles and stop-me-in-my-tracks rolls. Everywhere I go, all day long, I feel you moving right along with me. I never feel alone.
I rejoice knowing where you are at all times, getting to choose what you’re eating and drinking. I know you’re safe and sound. One day, I won’t be privy to this information. One day, my sweets, I’ll have to let you go.
But for now, you rest (and are restless) safe inside my womb.
I’m twice as blessed because there are two of you. Knowing you’re keeping each other company, nestled snugly beside each other, overflows my heart with love, spilling tears from my eyes. I hope you’ll always be this close to each other. I hope you’ll always be this close to me.
From the moment I knew you twins existed, I’ve loved you deeply. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to carry both of you. No matter what, little ones, you’re a part of me. Science says your cells have merged with my cells, so even when you go, you’ll leave behind traces of your DNA.
We still have time together, my babies. And I’ll cherish every moment it’s just us three moving throughout the world as one.
But know that even once you enter this world, you’ll always be part of me.