“Will this hurt?” I was terrified of the giant needle poised over my calf.
The doctor pulled out the rest of her Hostel-like tools of trade. “You might feel some discomfort, but no pain.”
My reprieve was short-lived; within seconds, the doctor had inserted a catheter into my collapsed vein and pumped it full of lasers. My screams reverberated off the sonogram equipment, the anesthetic needles, the blood-stained gauze.
After it was over, as I limped toward the door, the doctor looked at me with disdain. “Most women who have this procedure don’t complain. Didn’t you give birth? This pain doesn’t compare to that.”
Since when did childbirth become the pain threshold for women? Apparently, if we’ve survived through the worst, everything else will feel like cake: tooth extractions, broken bones, shredded ligaments, a dashed appendix. I can see the paramedics now:
“Sorry about that gunshot wound, ma’am. But hey, you had an episiotomy, so your smoking shoulder should feel like a warm hug.”
As mothers, we are expected, nay, required to suffer and sacrifice in the name of parenting. It’s a badge of honor to have our bodies rended in unthinkable ways, to be torn, bloated, sliced open and put back together. We shoot dagger-eyes at the playgroup mom who brags about her ten minutes of pain-free labor, while patting ourselves on the back for surviving excruciating pain for days, weeks, months, sans drugs. Because feeling our pain makes us stronger, or some bullshit like that. And that’s only the physical part…
Recently, my husband and I binge-watched the Netflix show Stranger Things. In between bursts of nostalgia (“I had that rotary phone! My haircut was awful, too! I had that Evil Dead poster!”), what I was most struck by was Winona Ryder’s character. The mom of a missing boy, she stops at nothing to ensure her son’s safe return. At one point, convinced her missing son is communicating with her by messing with the lights in her home, she runs screaming from what is clearly a haunted house trying to kill her.
And then she goes back.
She knows the only way she can reach her son is to subject herself to the Poltergeist-esque monsters tearing through her walls and racking up her electricity bill. My husband turned to me after the scene ended.
“Now that’s what I call maternal love.”
“Nope,” I shot back. “That’s craziness. A demon from another dimension is literally shredding her walls. Going back inside was stupid.”
Was I a terrible mom because I would’ve gotten the hell out of Dodge the minute my ouija board wall told me to “run?”
We are expected to be warriors, to bravely battle monsters, to sacrifice our dreams, bodies, and psyches to protect our children. I’m supposed to want to be with my children 24-7, and to resent my job that keeps me away from them. To forsake sleep, clean up vomit, soothe, entertain, prepare. To lose myself completely in the combat of motherhood.
Sometimes I don’t want to be a warrior.
This past summer, my daughter wanted to play outside. Despite the record-breaking heat, we trekked to a local park, with tons of grass and zero trees. I stood in a shadeless field with my daughter, allowing her to sit in my slightly-cooler shadow. As she played with her bubbles, the sun blazed on my face, soaked my shirt, and burned the backs of my knees.
Dotted through the field were other mothers, like wilting warrior flowers, taking the brunt of the heat so their children could have a shady spot. Why didn’t we stay indoors today? Or find a nice air-conditioned movie theater or museum to while away the day? Our children wanted to play in the park, and we wanted to give our children a special day. A special 95-degree heatstroke day.
Another battle I wish I could have sat out.
Someday, I want my daughters to look back at me, not as a self-sacrificing martyr whose very essence was obliterated the minute her uterus contracted, but as a fallible, real person. They’ll know that I met their needs without always exceeding them. That I was terrible at parts of parenthood. They’ll see that I loved my job as a teacher, and I won’t have to qualify my desire to work by saying “well at least I got to spend summers with my kids.” I wanted both. I had both. Sort of.
The truth: if I was Winona Ryder, I MIGHT go back into my haunted house to look for my kid. Reluctantly. I’d probably complain about it a lot afterwards (“Remember when that creature from the Upside Down destroyed my drywall? Finish your carrots.”) But I sure as hell would call for back-up more potent than a rotary phone and Christmas lights before I set foot inside again.
No warrior should enter battle alone.