When the Most Beautiful Thing About Motherhood Is Also the Most Painful

I’ve taken many roles in the past, with work that allowed me to live in offbeat places that I never in my wildest dreams would imagine visiting, to meet people who became my mentors and lifelong friends, and to simply, be me: that hippie-ish, nature-loving me. All along I thought to work in community development was fulfilling enough — not until I became a mom.

No other job has been more fulfilling, beautiful, and at times, ethereal, than motherhood. It changed and continue to change my life so much that my child-free life seems so far away and out of reach. It feels like I’m now living in a different lifetime because despite seeing, feeling, hearing, and touching the same people, things, and places, everything feels new. It’s like walking in the same room yet seeing the room differently.

I am sure many moms agree with me that it’s easy to get super-duper involved in a baby’s life with their big, curious, jovial eyes, big heads relative to their bodies, dopey movements, funny noises, and laughs on the littlest of things. Seriously, on days when things are pleasant, which means when the baby is not too demanding, all I ever want is to lounge all day with Raia around. But there are also those demanding days with meltdowns, nappy blowouts, and food messes happening all at the same time that all I ever want is a five-minute break to hold myself together again. Despite these ups and downs though, ever since Raia came along, there was not one night that I went to sleep ungrateful for my day.

Given the level of commitment involved in being a mom, I know I have to take care of myself now even more than when I was still child-free. Taking care of myself also means making a conscious decision to set an environment where Raia knows her place in our relationship. Honestly, this proves to be a challenge given how cute babies can be! But I love Raia and I respect her, and because of these, I don’t make her the center of my universe. I acknowledge that I’m allowed to guide her and to grow with her, but she is still her own person.

For the past 2.5 million years (if we want to consider all Homo species) or 200,000 years (if we only consider Homo sapiens), our ancestors have evolved into choosing their kin: the idea of “family” wasn’t hinged on biology but affinity. Our modern idea of a nuclear and extended family is an incredibly recent phenomenon when compared to our history as a species. 

I’m not discounting the importance of our modern-day idea of family, though. But I don’t believe in putting pressure and expectations on my family to be this and that. Like me, every member of my family has a life of his/her own. What right do I have to impose my dreams on someone else? This modern life, though, seems to have wired us into believing that we own our family. We own our children. We own our husband/wife/partner. In much the same way that we own our house. We own our pets. We own our clothes. We own the food in our fridge. Heck, we even own all the plants within our yard.

That’s why I rarely ever say “my child” unless I’ve already overused Raia’s name in one sentence. It feels weird and I don’t exactly see her as “my child.” To me, Raia is a part of our family, community, and the world, as seen in how my family and friends support us in every way they can; how our neighbors come in to check on us; how we don’t have to sew, mine, sow, harvest, or raise an animal, credits to industrialization and globalization, to wear clothes, eat, drink, take a shower, drive to where we need to go, and feel warm and comfy at night. We can go with our regular lives simply by consuming what others have produced. So just like me and anybody else in the world, Raia is a part of these small and big circles.

The idea of ownership is something that I still need to deal with now that I have a child. See that: “I have a child.” When we’re wired to “owning,” it’s hard to fathom the idea that I don’t own this child. The Universe may have chosen me to be Raia’s mom and I may have given birth to her, but despite all the sacrifices and investments made, I don’t own her. And even though I continue to put so much time, effort, and energy to raising her who, as evolution dictates, is far too unready to come out of my womb and so she’s going to depend on me for some time, that still doesn’t increase my chances of owning her.

There is a tendency to correlate ownership with protection, and modern life has left us with no other choice but to put these two together. Modern life has made it close to impossible for us not to put passwords in our accounts, to put our money in the bank, to lock our house when we leave, or to leave our children unattended in the park.

And yet evolutionarily speaking, ownership is something unnatural to our species. I’m guessing its artificial nature is what’s made us and continue to make us ill-adapted to it. We had to adapt the best way we could amidst the agricultural and industrial revolutions, both of which made ownership a way of life for us. These revolutions made us want to own people, places, things, and animals if we are to seal our present and future, even if sealing the future is in essence, impossible.

I am allergic to the idea of ownership yet here I am, living in a city, holding on to my possessions, living and non-living. I don’t buy the idea but I can’t get away from it, too, because I grew up and will most likely continue to live within civilization’s walls. I have no idea how to identify plants and their many uses, how to gather them, how to hunt, how to sleep in the forest without a tent, how to live without a supply of safe drinking water in tow, and how to sense floral, faunal, geological, and climatological languages. For short, I won’t even last one day in the forest if I were to turn my back on this civilized life. In some minute ways, though, my view towards ownership spills out, like how I view relationships (if you want to go, then effin’ go), and how I don’t feel as bad when someone loses or breaks my stuff.

I acknowledge that many of my values will get challenged, like how many of these have already been shaken and beaten up ever since Raia came along. I can’t even imagine a life without my first and only child — no more kids or I’d go crazy — so it’s but natural to want to protect, support, and love her in every way I can. Maybe I am allergic to ownership because I primed myself into being allergic to it, wanting to avoid the sorrows that go with clutching a little too tightly to things I hold dear. Or maybe I am being realistic, knowing that everything in this world is impermanent.

Motherhood is such a beautiful thing, and I thank the Universe for the opportunity to be Raia’s mom. But I also know that no matter how much I protect, support, and love her with every single breathing moment of my life on Earth, I don’t own her. And that’s what makes this parenthood journey so beautiful yet so painful… For the first time, I never knew I can love a person so much, yet in the end, I still can’t own her.

As also seen on Medium.

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