Sunday, August 19, 2007

Maternal desire

The universe is much too small to hold
Your longing for a lover and a child
Virginal, Nissim Ezekiel

I remember reading this poem when I was about 15 and being struck by the power of those words. I thought then that the poet was exaggerating to make a point. Years later though, the words seem more meaningful and true.

A lot has been said about sexual desire in a woman and among other things, the women's lib movement helped women recognize and give expression to this desire. A lot has been said about maternal desire too - mostly in corny sentimental movies (Amma sentiment) and such. Women themselves are not aware of the force of this desire till they have a child or at least till they decide they want one. It's no wonder then that the women's lib movement with its heavy emphasis on career and independence seems to view childbearing and childrearing as intrusions that must be dealt with as little inconvenience as possible (daycare, nannies, forcing husband to take care). But what about the very real desire that women have to care for their babies? This unexplained 'maternal desire' that somehow gets in the way?

I've been kind of thinking about this since I started reading a book called "Maternal Desire" (duh!) by Daphne de Marneffe. I've not gotten past the introduction though, mainly because there are too many other things I am trying to read at the same time.

Whats the point I am trying to make here? Quite a few different ones if I had the time or the mental energy to coherently present it all...The entire issue of career, choices and motherhood is always a charged topic especially to one already prone to angst and uncertainty like I am. But I'll leave that for another day.

Seen from the maternal desire perspective, my friend's comments on my birthday (See prev post) don't seem weird at all. Actually they never seemed weird since I've been there. Irritating perhaps, but perfectly normal. There was a time when it seemed that I may not have children and I do remember getting envious when I read stories of child abuse and such. "How come those CREEPS get to have multiple kids?"

Of course I went through this only for a few months. I imagine this gets worse and worse as time goes by till you can't look at any baby or any parent without feeling faintly resentful. And then there is the feeling of somehow being a sub-woman, not on par with the other 'fertile' women out there that comes up - regardless of whatever else you may have accomplished. But now that I am pregnant, do I think any lesser of the women who for one reason or another cannot be? Heck, no!! But the obsession and the worries and fears are such an integral part of the mindset of a woman who wants to conceive but cannot.

I read an excerpt from "Waiting for Daisy" by Peggy Orenstein a couple of months ago in the Oprah Magazine. The online version of the article can be found here. I was amazed at her candor and horrified at the hell she went through to get pregnant - a self-imposed hell that seemed inevitable and necessary from her point of view. Its a happy ending - she did get pregnant - but she did go through hell. Was it all worth it?

Towards the end of the article she says:

Sometimes, sitting at a miniature table, covered in Play-Doh and reading 'Where's Spot?' for the 30-zillionth time, I don't recognize myself -- and that's not a bad thing: Identity, I've learned, can be sliced many ways, and there is gain with every loss. Even so. Becoming a parent can't give me back the time -- the entire second half of my 30s -- that was obliterated by obsession. It doesn't compensate for the inattention to my career, for my self-inflicted torment, for the stress I put on my marriage. Steven and I may never reclaim the ease of our pre-infertility days. All we can do is move forward -- tenderly, kindly, with mutual forgiveness. And with the knowledge that our love for each other has never, ever flagged.

1 comment:

Restless said...

when i first read the poem, i loved reciting it out slowly, softly.

but the last two lines, the reaction was something on the lines of 'eh?'

only now have i, kind of, realised that they may have been conveying something more than i was capable of comprehending back then.

well, getting old may not be as barren as i thought.