December 24, 2009

A Frozen Woman by Annie Ernaux

I usually write a short note on the side of my blog for my thoughts on books that I have read, but this book deserves some discussion. This book touched me because I could relate to it on such an emotional level and it helped me discover I am not alone in the world when it comes to having complete feelings of inadequacies and guilt as a mother who wants more to life than being a mother and a wife.

When my son was born I had no idea what to do with a baby, let alone a baby boy. My husband left for Europe when my son was one month old and I was all alone for two and a half months. I had never taken an interest in children and rarely babysat as a child; I just didn't enjoy children. I would like to have been able to say that I instantly felt maternal when he was born, but I didn't. The adjustment from being a young married woman who was able to do what she wanted when she wanted to, to a mother raising her child alone while her husband was at sea was incredibly daunting. I began to resent my child and hated myself for doing so. I kept these thoughts to myself and even edited my words with my doctor (for fear of what she would think of me) before I was put on medication for post-partum depression.

The medication made me feel better, and the thought that whatever I was lacking was just hormonal made me feel much better about myself as well. But what if it wasn't post-partum? What if it wasn't chemical? What if I lack a gene that makes me maternal and makes me want to live for my children? Looking back I wonder if I ever had post-partum. I am beginning to think that I am just not like all the other mothers in the world who are completely content with living their lives for their families. I can't do it. It is just not in me. Maybe I am selfish. No, I know I am selfish. But if I try to keep it to myself and act like I think I should, I might go insane.

I stopped taking medication shortly before becoming pregnant with my second child. The trapped feeling I felt with my first did not occur with my second. I think this was because she was hospitalized shortly after she was born and this devastated me. I felt so fortunate that she ended up being ok that I was almost jarred into feeling maternal. But my need for me-time came back hard and fast.

For almost five years I have cleaned the house, worked, gone to school, made meals, grocery shopped, paid the bills and reared my children and I have left very little for myself. I do not take anything away from my husband. I have been very fortunate to have a husband who helps me as much as he does, though he is messier than both my kids put together.

Last year I hit the breaking point. Me won out. I began reading obsessively and writing and venturing into a world outside of my family. I love it there, but the guilt is tremendous. It also coincided with me joining the Regular Force military and returning to school to take nursing.

Almost everyone I know are model mothers. They play, they do crafts, take their kids everywhere, etc... I feel like I had no business having children and that I don't measure up. My mother told me how selfish I was for returning to school and how my family has to come first. This is true, but what is wrong with wanting more? What is wrong with being Sara and not Jane's mother or John's wife?

A Frozen Woman is about a woman growing from childhood into adulthood and her struggle to conform with the traditional roles of a wife and mother, and how hollow she feels trying to stifle herself into fitting in with this convention. I loved this book because I know I am not alone and that living for yourself as well as your family does not make you horrible, just challenged. It does not mean you love your children any less, even it others might make this assumption.

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