I’ve felt the weight of a growing life inside my body — heavier through each trimester, as this small human gained body mass and limbs. Until one day I was housing a full-size newborn and his entire living quarters, feeling the pressure of gravity on my hips as I waddled to the bathroom … again. (My bladder felt the weight of motherhood, too).
When he was finally on the outside, 7 pounds of pure loveliness, the weight not only redistributed, it seemed to magnify.
I’ve carried a 9-pound baby in a 10-pound car seat, with three packed bags slung over my shoulders, with a full baby swing in one hand and a Boppy pillow draped around my neck. Have you pushed a double stroller? Have you rocked a 20-pound child, up and down, shushing and consoling, and felt your lower back tense under the weight? (I knew about prenatal vitamins and healthy eating, but no one told me to prep my muscles, too.) I’ve carried loads I never thought I could, just to avoid waking a sleeping child.
I’ve felt the weight of exhaustion settling in my eye sockets.
I know the weight of a breast pump sucking milk out of my body as I worked long hours away from my new infant, and how my heart felt anchored down with heavy guilt and doubt. Every day I’d drop him off at daycare — his eyes just opening for the day, focusing on a mother waving goodbye. I’d come home just as his dad was bathing and prepping for bedtime. His eyes fluttered closed, clutching my shirt, as if to say, It’s you! You weren’t a dream! Don’t leave me, please! (That’s the kind of weight that’ll fracture your beating heart, believe me. So much that I quit my job four months later.)
Why, though? Why does parenting come with such a remarkable and tangible weight to it?
Maybe it’s the denser emotions (fear, paranoia, doubt, anxiety) that seem to be par for the course of raising a new life in this unpredictable, impermanent world. That first season of motherhood, especially, when the air is thick with exhaustion and ear-piercing screams.
Or maybe it’s an accumulation of all the things we carry: The growing bodies. The impossibly heavy baby gear. Our kids’ heartache and disappointment, which we carry along with our own. (There comes a time when a kiss won’t fix all — another realization that weighs on us.) We carry the memories their brains were too young to retain and hold on tight for both of us. We carry all of the firsts (some of the lasts). We carry the former versions of our children — their past interests, personality quirks, speech impediments — in our hearts, the only place they still live. We carry swelling love and joy. The pressing weight of sleep deprivation. The word “mommy” can even weigh on our identities, too, consuming other people’s perception of who we should be and what we should be doing.
Maybe that distinct weight of motherhood never fully goes away — it simply shifts from physical weight to emotional. Inside to outside to inside, again. It’s the weight of responsibility. It’s the things we carry in our arms and hearts and never-quieting brains.
Motherhood is heavy stuff, man. Physically, philosophically, all of it.
And I’ve never felt stronger.