Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mother In Me

I've been reading a book called "The Maternal is Political," an inspiring collection of essays by writers about motherhood and social change.
"If my life as the mother of three children has taught me one thing, it's that there is no more powerful political act than mothering," wrote editor Shari Macdonald Strong in her book's introduction.
It made me think back to the days before I became a mom. I was covering social issues for a daily newspaper -- a beat I'd launched because stories about child welfare and poverty and domestic violence rarely got any press. I wrote about emaciated toddlers and babies born brain-damaged to glue-sniffing moms. About little ones shuttled between six foster homes by the time they turned two. I made sure the stories landed on the front page. Maybe, somehow, it would help.
Then I got pregnant. As every new mother discovers, there's something about a pregnant belly that prompts lots of unsolicited advice. One common theme was this: "You won't be able to write about child abuse when your son is born. It will be too hard," people warned. I wondered if they were right.
My beautiful, brown-eyed son arrived on an early-summer day almost 14 years ago, initiating me into heady, exhausting new motherhood. Ten months of maternity leave whizzed by and too soon it was time to go back to work.
My editor called just before my return to suggest I switch to a new beat, partly to fill a gap and partly because she assumed I would want a change. 
My reaction was more mother-lion than rational: I was furious. How could she even think about getting rid of the beat?
That was the moment I knew -- becoming a mother had deepened not eradicated my commitment to telling these stories. Having a baby had schooled me, moment by moment, in the absolute vulnerability of new life: cupping my hand against the tender spot on my son's fuzzy head; answering his fierce cries of hunger; rocking him for hours when nothing else could comfort.
My editor chocked up my emotional reaction to maternal hormones and gave me back the beat. 
(Photo: by Alexis O'Connor)

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