This is a story about motherhood. Last May, I gave birth to my first child. He is almost ready to walk and learning how to throw a proper tantrum.
This morning, I was in the middle of a meeting when the phone rang. It was the daycare director asking me to come pick you up because your temperature was at 101.4. I told her, “I’ll be right there,” packed up my bag, talked to my colleagues, called the pediatrician’s office to make a same-day appointment, and ran out of there. I didn’t relax until I got you to the clinic and the nurse practitioner examined you and said, “looks like a simple stomach bug, lots of rest and some probiotics might help.”
It’s the fifth time you’ve been sick since starting daycare in January. The first was another simple stomach bug, the second was a common cold, the third was something scary but not too serious called RSV, and the fourth was a double ear infection. The double ear infection was the nastiest of all. You screamed and cried out in pain throughout the night, waking up every two to three hours. Once, I finally fell asleep after soothing and rocking you to sleep. I dreamt that I was cooking a lobster in the oven, except the lobster was screaming and crying out in pain. When I got it out of the oven, the lobster turned out to be you! Sure enough, I startled awake to the sound of your screams and cries. What a nightmare, what a scare! You are not even one and you’ve been sick nearly half the time you’ve been alive.
They say that the motherhood penalty is real, and it costs women $16,000 a year in lost wages. I don’t know how they came up with that number. I know your daycare costs me about that in one year. I have no clue what wages I lost for being your mother. I don’t know how I would begin to put a number on all the other prices I’ve paid to bring you to life.
Ever since I became pregnant with you, my body hasn’t been the same. One hundred spidery stretch marks on my belly, hips, and thighs. From childbirth, a constant tight soreness in each joint. Blue and purple veins on my breasts. Producing breastmilk for you these past eleven months, I’ve been feeling foggy and scattered under the influence of breastfeeding hormones. Or maybe it’s the lack of sleep that did it. I have not had a real good night’s sleep since May 3rd, 2018, your birthday.
Time for self has become a scarce resource since I became your mother. I have no time to read, no time to write, no time to wander around, no time for movies, not really. Most of the time, I feel as if I am running after one thing and then another, trying to run our lives smoothly so you can have a safe, healthy, and happy childhood. My relationship with your father has changed as well. We still love each other a lot, but there simply is no time for the two of us. At the end of the day and the week, both of us are completely drained from work, housework, and taking care of you.
I can’t remember the last time I had peace of mind. I know I had a substantial amount of worry about the world even before you came into my life. Now that you’re here, I am worried about you all day, every day. I worry about all the harms of the world. I worry about gun violence. I worry about abusive childcare providers. I worry about racism. I worry about your future self-esteem. I worry about this and that disaster striking you. How can I get you out of harm’s way?
I feel guilty because I know all this worrying is not wise. Instead of worrying about this and that, I should be fully present and cherish my time with you right here, right now. Our lives will pass us by too quickly, and then I’ll regret my excessive worrying. I worry about worrying too much.
Such are the prices of motherhood. It blows my mind that for every living being that ever breathed on this earth, some female creature paid the price to bring them forth. I, too, paid a price for daring to be your mother, but you, my child, are priceless. The twinkle in your eyes when you wake up in the morning and find me next to you. The burst of joy in your giggles when I lift you up and fly you through the air. The softness of your cuddle when you hug me with your pudgy arms, filling me with so much hope. I love you, beautiful child. May you be protected from al the harms of the world. May you be strong, conscious, and brave enough to stop yourself and anybody else from harming others. And may I always remember how precious, unique, and priceless you are, throughout the time we have together in this life.
By: Nayoung Kim, written for Renegade Ada Cheng’s monthly storytelling show, Pour One Out at Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago.