I’ve been pondering on something since getting pregnant. All the way through pregnancy, birth, maternity leave, and returning to work, I’ve felt things I had never felt before. The feelings I felt were so strong and new that I couldn’t describe them. But countless, infinite mothers before me have felt the same things. So why don’t these feelings have names?
- The strangeness of being pregnant is just called “feeling pregnant”.
- The simultaneous agony and excitement of contractions is just called “pain”.
- The feeling of purpose associated with finally pushing is just called “satisfying”.
- The attachment you feel to your newborn baby is just called “love” or “bonding”.
- The confusion, haziness and worry you feel when you’re just finding your feet at home is just called “anxiety”.
- The complete exhaustion of having a newborn is just called “being tired”.
- The determination you feel to give your baby the best of everything is just called “being protective”.
- The joy you feel when you see your baby accomplish something new is just called “pride”.
- And the painful, physical longing you experience in your entire body when you leave your baby at daycare for the first time is just called “missing your baby”.
The names we use to describe these feelings do no justice to the actual experiences. Words have the ability to carry feelings with them, and they often do so successfully. But the connotations of the words we use to describe the mothering experience are nowhere near the power of the experiences themselves.
Because we don’t have a separate set of “feeling-words” for motherhood, we have to share those words with other life experiences, as if they’re the same thing. The feelings of motherhood are nothing like the rest of life, and those words feel empty and inadequate – like placeholders for feelings with no names, words we use by default because there is nothing better.
I feel like my vocabulary fails me when I try to explain motherhood. The only time I can even come close is when I get tongue tied talking about it with another mother and she says, “I know.”
And she does. She does know.