Magazine article Working Mother

A Brief History of Guilt-Before and after Divorce

Magazine article Working Mother

A Brief History of Guilt-Before and after Divorce

Article excerpt

I wasn't big on guilt, self-reflection or granthose notions of unconditional love - until I had a baby. I'd always wanted to be a mother, yet once the delivery approached I became slightly uncomfortable with the idea of a baby to care for every day and every night forever, or at least for the grand foreseeable future. But we planned for the future, my husband and I. We planned our son, and with great good fortune, here he came. Born right alongside him was my maternal Guilt, screaming its infernal head off. It was the bonus of motherhood. It was like I'd had twins, only worse. Because there's no reward for Guilt, and I imagine there's great reward for twins.

My son floored me with the force of what I felt for him, the fierceness of it. I was taken, completely and utterly. I was almost afraid of the fullness of my love for him; I couldn't understand where he had come from. I'd forgotten my entire pregnancy. He seemed too perfect for that whole hullabaloo. I see now that this was in itself an engraved invitation to Guilt: I didn't entirely believe in myself as a mother, especially not at first. But it didn't mar the love; it was just a side effect of biology. I told myself I wouldn't let Guilt rule me. But I could feel it. It exists (there's no use pretending it doesn't).

The Beginning Guilt

Everything was going wonderfully. Our son was hale and sturdy. Theoretically, I'd be able to write and work from home, with quick solo errands out into the world. Pablo slept five hours a night. He was good-tempered, beautiful and magical, which of course increased Guilt. How could I deserve all of this at once?

I'll never forget the first day I drove away from my house, alone in the car. Pablo was 2 weeks old, and Guilt was a massive, leering physical presence in the passenger seat. With every passing moment, I knew every mile I drove was a ridiculous extravagance. What was it I needed to do again? Oh, right- I'd just needed some time to myself, to go to the store and pick up a few things. But Guilt was riding shotgun and saying, What are you doing? Get back home to that baby right now!

Being a coward, mostly, I caved. I ordered groceries online. I took my son with me on walks and bike paths. It was my privilege, really. Guilt ebbed. It waited in the wings for its next big opportunity. Then it came: The marriage fell apart. When Pablo was 2, I found myself abandoned and divorced. I felt cursed by frogs and locusts and evil godmothers.

The Middle Guilt

The millennium came and went, sweeping my marriage along with it into the dustbin of time. And I became a single mother. The High Priestess of Guilt. Now every move I made had the potential for gargantuan single-mother Guilt. Guilt had been my faithful companion from the beginning. But now I would absolutely require help. Child care, here we come.

When Pablo's name came up on the holy regalia waiting list at the hallowed halls of Wee Care in Mill Valley, I took whatever time they could give me. I took it greedily, and that created mushroomcloud Guilt. I'd needed the time to make money, so I thought Guilt wouldn't be able to touch me. But there it was: Why couldn't I write novels and breastfeed my son simultaneously? And scrub the floors as well, and change the litter box and juggle plates while weaving our clothes on a loom? Guilt wanted to know.

I took on child care, one day at a time, until I was up to four days of child care a week. Four whole days. Something swung into place. I finished my second book, and after several rejections it was finally placed with a publisher. …

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