Surrender: to be consumed…

I’ve been mulling, mulling, mulling… over the conversation between Rachel and Sarah. I’ve gone back and forth about posting here.    But here it is, what I feel. Limited though it may be.

As a writer, my poetry/prose have mattered to me. Language has been a huge part of my life.  I have made sacrifices/compromises/choices to be able to write. I have defined myself by my writing.

But writing has never been WHO I AM. Writing is not more important than me. I am what matters in that relationship.  My writing has never eclipsed me. I don’t think it could.  Maybe it just  isn’t good enough, but I don’t think that’s it. My place in the world as a human has always felt bigger than my place in the world as a writer.  Writing is part of me.

If I could pick to have an extra year to live, or my writing would all be erased from the world, I’d have a hell of a year.

Well, guess what?  My children aren’t part of me.  I’m part of them. If I could choose one extra year, or magically make it as though the kids had never been born…

No contest.

Being a mother is bigger than being a person. For me. Just for me.  I cannot speak to what others feel as moms or writers or people.  I don’t judge them, really I don’t.  But for me… this is it. What life is.  Because this is the life I’ve lived.

I have some sense that when I had kids, I became diminished as a person myself, but that in shrinking, I also became far more than I ever had been before.

That is exactly what I was afraid of, before I had kids– being diminished, changing.  And it is the greatest transformation/gift/blessing of my life.  The alchemy of motherhood has been, for me, that what I feared most turned out to be the greatest boon.  The surrender and loss of self have been my single greatest joy.

If I knew then, as a non-mom, what it would be like to become a mom? If I could have seen a video of the inside of my head today? If the me-that-I-was could have glimpsed the nights of sleeping in vomit, the months of no-sleep and the lack of writing time and the lack of libido and the lack of time alone and the lack of showers and the weight gain and the chicken nuggets and the playdates and all of it…  I honestly don’t think I’d have had kids.

There. I said it. It’s true.

Because it was too big a sacrifice to make without knowing what it would be like to actually have the kids, emotionally.  The kid-having-joy was a currency I didn’t understand yet.

Parenting has been, for me, a surrender.  I’m glad I did it.  But it is a surrender, a consumption.

And this change is a hard one, because it leads to a supercession of identity.  That self feels less real/mature/vital than this self to me today.  Which (I think) makes moms sometimes feel like non-moms are somehow younger, less experienced. And that makes it really really really really hard to speak about honestly, from a position of equality.

I think that’s part of what troubles people about the conversation between Sarah and Rachel.  It’s like  a Jew and an evangelical Christian in interfaith dialogue.  In order for the Christian to be honest, they have to say, “You just haven’t seen what I’ve seen. You don’t know all I know.”  Even if they approach with sympathy/love, they approach in a condescending way, a postion of having gone beyond…

Meanwhile the Jew is going, “Rapture? You seem NUTS to me, wingnut. If that’s beyond, you can keep it!”

I’m glad Rachel and Sarah are talking about all of this. I’m saddened that people are hurt by their words.  But  this is my place in the conversation.  And for some reason I feel the need to claim it.

Also– I want to add that being a mom isn’t, for me, about biology.  It’s about surrender.  Adopted or biological.  For me the transformation is about surrender.  And if you’ve surrendered to something else– maybe to writing, or to your partner, or to a pet, or to a friendship so big it consumes you…  you may know what I’m saying…  If you, without having kids, would give up your life for someone else, you may have just gotten there another way.  I wish I could have ever been a friend/partner like that. I’m not.  That’s my limitation.

I was a VERY self involved person.  I still am.  But now I’m not the MOST important person in my universe.

I’m the third.  For better and for worse.

(and now I’m cringing as I hit send)

11 Responses to “Surrender: to be consumed…”

  1. Eva M Says:

    Yes, exactly! Being a parent means that the phrases “having kids has caused me more stress and anguish than any other aspect of my life” and “I would do it all again in a heartbeat” are not at all incompatible. Once you have kids, they become part of your life and your essence. That’s not to say that folks without kids are missing something, just that having kids means Big Change in one’s life. I’d be me if I hadn’t had kids, but I would be a different me.

  2. Julianna Baggott Says:

    Laurel -
    A beautiful reflection. Hard-won.
    Thank you for posting.

  3. dava Says:

    Thank you for posting the link to that conversation. It’s been in my head since I read it, too. I’m not exactly mulling, but it’s just there, just below the surface, and when I slow down to reflect…there it is again.

    When you and I met, we were undergrads in Rick Jackson’s poetry workshop. I had a hard time relating to most of the people in that class, probably because of the issues raised here. I already had two kids, a husband, and a shack of my very own. My priorities were different. Since I had a child at 19 then again at 21, I wasn’t grown up enough to consider the sacrifice and surrender parenting would entail. I just did what was necessary without thinking too much.

    The thing is, even though I know that having children has changed my perspective on oh so many things, it is almost impossible for me to identify myself as a mother first. This is not to say that for the last 17 years being a mother hasn’t been my first priority–it has been. But it has been the first of many important priorities.

    It bothers me that this conversation is necessary. It bothers me to think that fathers and non-fathers don’t need to talk about the difference. It bothers me that I can’t figure out how I feel about it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, though. It helps to know you’ve had to stop and think hard, too. I feel somehow wrong for not knowing what I think about it.

  4. Rachel Says:

    Thank you, Laurel.

    And there’s always a bed here (or several) for you.

  5. Kerry Clare Says:

    “Because it was too big a sacrifice to make without knowing what it would be like to actually have the kids, emotionally. The kid-having-joy was a currency I didn’t understand yet.”

    Yes, yes. It’s a currency I still don’t fully understand, as I spend my days these days covered in puke, my nights slept on or sucked on. But that I keep on with these days, and with relatively good humour, means that I’m getting a sense of that currency. And the sense I get is that the whole thing is overwhelming and impossible to wrangle into articulate thought even in my own head.

  6. ilana Says:

    I love this. Thanks, Laurel.

  7. Kelli Says:


    Great response. And very compassionate. Thank you.

  8. Ms. Yingling Says:

    My mother has always said “Wouldn’t sell you for a million; wouldn’t buy you for a dime”. I’m glad I’m not the only mother who wants to be a person ASIDE from having children. I adored your book, and having looked at your blog, I can see why. I will look forward to Penny Dreadful with GREAT interest.

  9. laurel Says:

    Dear everyone, thanks so much for your rseponses.

    Dava, I want to say that I was, when we knew each other, unable to comprehend your life. For this very reason. My world was pretty two dimensional and selfish back then. I’m so glad you wrote in, and I have so much respect/admiration for you (the now you and the then you too).

    I do think things are different for young mothers. My own mom didn’t get to *do* enough on her own before having kids, and I think that changed the equation for her. Her identity as a woman is now, in her middle years, changing her identity as a mom, and that’s so awesome to see. As she pursues travel, further education, new friendships, etc.

    I don’t mean to say that I KNOW how this worls for everyone. I can only speak for myself. And even then, I can only speak for myself SO FAR.

    You know?

  10. Katherine Says:


    Arrived at your blog due to geographical proximity (I live down the street from the Ormewood School) and fact that we’re both writers with young children south of 20… Diminishment, loss of self, tranformation… all things that somehow have found their way into my writing since motherhood (a state I too understood nothing of while younger). What an interesting and thoughtful post.

  11. Brian Pucket Says:

    Plus, another cool thing about being a mom is that it means you must have done it at least once. And that’s hot.

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