Friday, November 23, 2007

Mama bear

I think one reason I'm a fiction writer (in another nonpaying job) is that I've always loved to ask "what if." I take every real occasion and put myself in the other players' shoes, wondering what it would be like to experience, see, and react the way they do. I frequently daydream up scenarios with plenty of potential for drama and resolution: the marriage that almost dissolves, the loved one who goes missing (and I'm blamed for it!) and then is found in a climactic conclusion, the parents who die and leave me their orphan to raise (oh, the warming Hallmark moments).

Ever since having a baby, though, I cannot, will not, imagine my baby dying.

At some point or another, I've imagined every loved one in my life dying. It's not malicious; I usually cry, in fact, and then have to hide the tears in case someone asks me what's wrong and I have to say: "Oh, I was just imagining your funeral." I mostly just want to know what I'd do, how I'd feel, and make sure I could stand it. It's almost like practicing for the worst-case scenario, to help me get over my fears of death and also somehow to ensure that the scenarios I imagine now cannot happen. They're fiction, after all.

But Mikko's off limits. I can't watch TV shows where babies are in peril, because I can't put myself in those mothers' shoes. It would break my heart. And I can't listen to friends' stories of family secrets and tragedies, as heartless as it makes me seem to turn away. I glance at magazine articles about a death and turn the page after the first paragraph. Even statistics about car-crash deaths are enough to make me want to heave.

I knew that mothers were supposed to feel protective of their babies. I knew that it must have some hormonal basis, but I also thought it was probably part exaggeration, like those famous cravings in pregnancy. Probably expecting cravings makes you experience them or label them that way; every one wants a particular food at some time or other, and we all go through phases of eating the same food for a time, pregnant or no. I sort of thought maternal protectiveness must be along the same lines, a thin scientific basis overblown by generations of mothers explaining their obsessions with their own young.

Well, I don't care. If I'm manufacturing my own protectiveness, I guess it's still as real as a manufactured craving. For instance, during my pregnancy I wanted to eat pickles. I was going to fight it on the basis of its being far too stereotypical, but I decided just to go ahead with it, since I really did want them. So, whether these bonding, maternal-instinct feelings are chemical or psychological or what, I think they're worth embracing as a logical, evolved way to be a good parent.

And, see, I can talk about it calmly, but it doesn't feel calm to me. It feels primal. I expected to love my baby, but not in this all-consuming way. I expected to want to keep him from harm but not for it to feel so fierce.

Before you have a baby, other parents tell you, "Just you wait." I always hated that. But there's no escaping it, is there? Because there really is no substitute or explanation or description for this aching, maddening love.


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