Baby! Or: the crossing of the return threshold

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On Sunday, I had a baby. Internet, meet my daughter, Miss Molly B.

When I was pregnant, my editor told me that having children was like an awesome fantasy novel–a long, exhausting, frequently dirty, but ultimately amazing journey. I feel like childbirth is sort of like returning from a fantasy kingdom. You’ve been transformed by your journey through the wardrobe; for you, a whole lifetime has passed. But in England, life goes on as it always has, untouched by the magic that’s working its way inside of you.

I had my daughter at home, assisted by my husband, my best friend, and my tremendous care providers. It is difficult to talk about the experience. It was long, exhausting, definitely dirty, but also absolutely magical.

The truth is, I’d long feared parenthood, pregnancy, and especially childbirth. If you’ve read Starglass, this might not surprise you–some of Terra’s fears about natural reproduction were my own fears. That the process represents the ultimate lack of control. That it might break her body. That it would mean she could never see her dreams to fruition. I learned these things from the society around me, from the screaming women giving birth in sitcom elevators and the comments people made about their own reproductive choices: “I can’t have children. I’m too selfish for that. I want a career.” I found myself saying those things, too. Until I read the following on Ursula Le Guin’s website, and found myself reconsidering these positions:

I love living almost as well as I love writing.

It was tough trying to keep writing while bringing up three kids, but my husband was totally in it with me, and so it worked out fine. Le Guins’ Rule: One person cannot do two fulltime jobs, but two persons can do three fulltime jobs — if they honestly share the work.

The idea that you need an ivory tower to write in, that if you have babies you can’t have books, that artists are somehow exempt from the dirty work of life — rubbish.

(Which isn’t to say that the choice that was right for me is right for you; certainly, what’s dystopian about the reproductive landscape of the Asherah isn’t only that its people are disconnected from the natural order but that all people have their reproductive choices made for them–out of obligation, not out of their true desires. Pregnancy and childbirth and most of all parenthood are not something that should ever be forced on anyone.)

When I realized I did, in fact, want both babies and books, the fear initially remained. The truth is, I’ve never been a very strong person physically. I was geeky and awkward as a kid–picked last in gym class, as the cliche goes. I run strange. I am self-conscious and never liked challenging myself physically, because I was sure I would fail. I was a wimp. A crybaby. How would I ever have a child? How could I ever conquer one of the hardest physical challenges known to womankind?

It turns out that you just do. You draw on an inner strength that you never knew you had. You meet the pain head on, and then you barrel through it. This process was far, far harder than anything else I’ve done–including writing books–but that apex, that moment of separation and individuation and birth and baby–was also far more rewarding.

I feel empowered, honestly. I feel in awe of womankind, of all women and the choices they make. Hard choices. Hard-won victories. One thing I’ve wondered, over and over again, in the days since is “How has society ever believed women to be anything but strong?” and “How did I ever believe myself to be weak?”

I fear this post is getting away from me. So much does these days, as I’m sitting in bed mending with my tiny bean of a daughter beside me. There’s so much I have to teach her–so many new, clean mornings we’ve yet to face. But I know that together, we can be strong. There will be moments of doubt, sure, but I know that locked inside every woman is a Narnia, if she only knows where and how to look.

PhoebeBaby! Or: the crossing of the return threshold