DON’T BE SELFISH, MOTHERHOOD GIVES A WOMAN’S LIFE MEANING

By: Gazzmine Wilkins
Common side effects of a child-bearing person in their peak fertility years: baby fever, parental lectures, therapy to repair relationship to parents, therapy to repair relationship to self, self-educating, learning that this is the first time in recorded history that we do not have to commodify our bodies by having children to survive, existential crises, gender studies, Feminist philosophies, trying to find a partner who understands, trying to be convinced to procreate, existential dread, dread.
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Womanhood scares me.

The funny thing is, I wanted my period to come. I wanted it to come so bad that I faked it. I took a Revlon red nail polish from my mom’s makeup bag and painted the cotton of my underwear. Dripped a little on the floor. As if it were so much blood coming so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to run to the toilet. I called my mom to my room and just stood up and showed her the red spot on the carpet.  I remember being suddenly embarrassed. Wait, no! This isn’t what I wanted! I didn’t know she would look at me like that! She showed me how to place a pad in my underwear and make the wings stick. Stayfree, the brand of pads. Ironic how I would be chained to pink-taxed pads the next forty-some-odd years.

Of course, my dad was weird about it—I was ten years old and “menstruating.” He gave me a side hug and asked if I was OK. I hated my mom for telling him. Rather, I hated him for making it known that he knew. This was the first of many shifts widening the space between him and me. Who else knew? My aunt gave me a Hello Kitty backpack for becoming a woman. Was that what I was? A 10-year-old woman? This was not the attention I thought I wanted. I wanted to be like Karla, the first girl in my class to get a period. She had a little blue purse she kept her pads in along with a dozen lip glosses, butterfly hair clips, and Britney Spears’ HitClips. I wanted to look like her, dangly earrings, budding chest, and all. I wanted to be excused from class to go lie down in the nurse’s office. I wanted the girls to crowd around and ask me questions. “Do you have hair down there?” “Is the blood hot?” “Can you have a baby now?” “Do the boys know?” I started growing hair everywhere and no one cared until they did. When someone in class pointed out my hairy underarms and laughed, I cried to my mom until she shaved me, a task she would do every other week for the next year and a half until I learned to do it myself.

I got my period for real the next year. We had just watched videos in class about our changing bodies Friday. I started my period that Saturday and felt oddly calm about it.

Common side effects of the end of girlhood:

low self-esteem, new body awareness, noticing calories in food, drinking Slim Fasts, binge eating late at night, considering bulimia, considering anorexia, trying and failing at both, buying plunge push-up bras, daily full-body shaving, stealing thongs, Diet Cokes, wanting to die, writing the note and everything then chickening out, deciding to cut oneself instead, watching lots of rom-coms, using heating pads, having blood-stained underwear, pants, sheets, towels, shrinking oneself so much that you forget who you are anymore.

Womanhood scares me.

Women are unique in that we know we are destined for pain. Sure, everyone goes through pain but not everyone knows when. Not everyone will schedule their lives around their pain. I look at my mother’s body, how the skin of her stomach stretches like kneaded dough, the evidence of absence, the evidence of pain. I wonder if it is all worth it. Saint-like, she says, “I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.” I tell my dad how I don’t want my body to change in a way that makes it harder for me to love it, impossible even. “That’s selfish of you,” he says.

How does a mother explain to their daughter what they will be up against? If I were a mother, what would I tell my daughter?

Even though you are only ten years old now, every few weeks you do not get pregnant your uterus will contract to shed its lining. You will bloat, cramp, bleed anywhere from 3-7 days. This will happen every month for the next forty years. If you happen to get pregnant, then you may experience nausea and vomiting during the first trimester. Expect your breasts to be tender and your areolas to darken. Don’t worry if you feel faint or dizzy often—this is normal—your body is producing more blood vessels. It could lead to bleeding gums or nosebleeds. As your uterus expands, back pain is common. You will have Braxton Hicks contractions (at least you’ll get a preview of the pain to come). Your feet and hips will expand and may or may not return to their original sizes. Oh! And how could I forget the inevitable stretch marks! Varicose veins and hemorrhoids are also common. More difficulty breathing. Trouble sleeping. When it’s time for the little fucker to finally be born, your vagina will dilate to a massive ten centimeters. Your vagina will be as wide as a honeydew melon. As if this weren’t enough, the contractions are period cramps times 100. 

Nothing could really prepare you for pushing another being out of your body. But your body does the seemingly impossible. Mother and child are somewhat healthy, somewhat traumatized. And I totally forgot about the afterbirth—placenta and other tissues. If you are not careful, then you could get a doctor who gives you a Husband Stitch because your body just hasn’t been through enough already. You’ll bleed for 4-6 weeks after birth. Your period will come back the next month and the shitshow starts all over again! 

What if you don’t want to get pregnant? There’re always condoms (98% effective) or birth control (91% effective). But men always complain about condoms. They don’t feel as good. OK, birth control it is then. What about the side effects? Weight gain, blood clots, stroke, DEATH. Better than an unwanted pregnancy. Who knows what the abortion laws will be by the time you grow up. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘At least menopause will bring some relief.’ WRONG. Before menopause even begins, there’s perimenopause to think about. You can look forward to irregular periods, weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, hair loss, decreased sex drive, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression, mood swings, bladder control issues, and memory loss (at least you’ll forget all the pain you’ve been through… maybe…hopefully). At last sweet, sweet menopause. Sure, your vagina will never be how it was again, but at least you’re not hurting anymore.

Motherhood scares me.

I just know how hard it is. No one tells us girls that part. We are told how hard giving birth is, but no one tells us how hard parenting is. I look at my own life, my own mother. Sixteen when she had me. I can’t even imagine. Did anyone explain what was to come? Jailed baby daddy, poverty, another kid, strollers on the metro, another kid, endless hours waiting tables, having your oldest stay home watching her brothers, seeing her become a mother figure way too young. She feeds them and helps them with their homework, she cleans up after them, she is told it is OK to give them corporal punishment, she tries and watches them cower beneath her, she doesn’t feel like a sister or a mother. They all get whooped when dad comes home to a messy house even though they’re alone all day. They are 9, 7, and 6 years old. She grows indifferent, she hides in her closet and screams in her pillow. She’s not even a mother and already the role of caretaker has drained her. It is expected of her. She is the oldest. She is female. She is supposedly a natural-born caretaker, homemaker. It’s not too much to ask this of her. This is good practice for when she inevitably becomes a mother herself. What other choice do we have? Since we are out of options, so is she. We make the choice for her. Was it all bad? No—we snatched joy wherever we could find it and held it in our fists, but it would slip out the moment we relaxed our hands. Sunday dinners, rollercoaster rides at Astroworld, field trip chaperones—moments of escape. It could’ve been worse. Yes, it could have, but that doesn’t mean it was good. They did their best. Yes, they did their best, but that doesn’t mean it was good enough.

I’m afraid of not being good enough. I’m afraid of having to make hard choices not only for myself but for another human, one who looks to me for guidance. I’m afraid of pain. I’m afraid of having my body—the body I have begrudgingly forced myself to love—scarred, traumatized, stretched, and ripped. I’m afraid of once again inhabiting a body I hate. I’m afraid that if I decide not to have children that I will regret it in my old age.

“Who will take care of you?” asks my dad. “Everyone else you know will be too busy with their own lives to help you should anything happen.” I wonder if that was his deciding factor in having me. I am an insurance policy. A lifelong caretaker. I owe that for being born. But I didn’t ask to be born. If in the beginning, God asked my soul if it wanted to be trapped in a body subject to pain and death, then it would have said, no, thank you. Better to never exist. They try and convince me that life is worth it because of the potential for happiness, love. But those slip from my hands the moment I relax. And everything else overwhelms me. Can I subject this life to a being who, maybe, wouldn’t want it when they understood all that comes with it?

Common side effects of a child-bearing person in their peak fertility years:

baby fever, parental lectures, therapy to repair relationship to parents, therapy to repair relationship to self, self-educating, learning that this is the first time in recorded history that we do not have to commodify our bodies by having children to survive, existential crises, gender studies, Feminist philosophies, trying to find a partner who understands, trying to be convinced to procreate, existential dread, dread.

I dream of a motherhood that doesn’t scare me.

My water breaks while I’m with my mom getting pedicures. We leave unpolished. She holds my hand all the way to the car. The Carpenters play on the radio. It’s sunny out, but not hot, so we put the windows down. My mom has the stopwatch around her neck and times my contractions. 2 minutes apart. I want my daughter to be like my mom. Shy smile, freckles, easy to talk to, quick to say I’m sorry, so loving. My mom has looked forward to this since I was born. She wants to be there for me in a way that her own mother never was. It starts to mist as we enter the hospital. Our hair sticks to our temples. She still hasn’t let go of my hand. I feel the love circuit between our palms. I’m in pain, but it’s not unbearable at the moment. My mom helps me into the hospital gown and rests her hands on my belly and my daughter kicks. They love their grandma already. I am fully dilated and it’s time to push. My mom leads the breathing. I force air in and out of my body in a rhythm. I’m told to stop pushing and my daughter falls out of me. They’re placed on my chest, angry, still goopy. I have never felt so much love radiating from me and to me. My mom is crying and laughing—I’ve made one of her dreams come true.

I have enough money to raise my daughter with minimal limitations. They won’t be a latchkey kid. They won’t have adult responsibilities. They have the freedom to be a kid until the desire to grow-up blooms in them. They are allowed to explore and express themselves. They know that nothing they say or do will stop me from loving them. I have accomplished my goals, so there’s no need to pressure them into something they may not want to do for my sake. My mom and I discuss how to explain the unfairness of womanhood to my daughter. They listen, ready for the challenge. Ready to adjust to make themselves feel whole. They are never kidnapped, never harassed late at night, never roofied or raped, never touched in any way uncomfortable, never afraid to speak up, never afraid to learn and change their minds. I am my mom’s wildest dream. They far surpass my wildest dreams. If I decide to not have children, then this dream I’ve dreamt will be enough to sustain me until I awaken elsewhere.

Gazzmine Wilkins

Gazzmine Wilkins is a writer and educator living in Houston, TX. They have been published in Porter House Review, Texas Monthly, Coachella Review, and elsewhere.

Featured image by: Stefano Zocca

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