got our name from a woman & our game from a woman
A couple of weeks after Ligaya was born, my former editor at The Stranger called and invited me to be part of an evening of performances—dance, writing, music, drag—he was helping put together. All the pieces should be short (five minutes or less), he said, and inspired by Sheila Heti's new novel Motherhood which, to be totally reductive, is one woman's self-interrogation about whether or not to have children. Half of the artists performing would have kids, the others would have no kids. (At the time, he mentioned that they were having a hard time finding four artists with kids for the show. "Well, that tells you everything, doesn't it?," I replied caustically.) I said yes, because I needed a reason to write, to create something new. (As it turns out, I ended up cannibalizing a few images and a short section from my book—which actually originated in my first newsletter!—and sticking it in the middle of the things because it just felt right. Let me live!)
Three nights ago, having sent Noli off to spend the night with her grandparents, I put on my literal Mom Suit (a nursing-friendly black cotton romper with pockets) and Will and I and Ligaya left the house at 8 p.m. (unheard of!) and headed to a crowded, fire hazardy art gallery where I sweat a lot and drank warm white wine from a plastic cup, felt old, and read this piece. Ligaya (definitely the only kid, let alone baby, there) slept quietly on my chest the whole time. A professional baby. It was obvious to me from the start of the evening that I was that person—the "artist" who took the assignment completely literally. An accurate reflection of my current state of mind!
🤰🏾 🤰🏻 🤰🏾
got our name from a woman & our game from a woman
12 May 2018
We were all born. We all have a mother—someone who grew us, made us from nothing, inside their body. We all came into being inside a uterus. Two ovaries, a bladder, a clitoris, a cervix: these were our first neighbors.
I’ve always known, on some level, that my body, whether I used it to procreate or not, was built for the task. I was born to do this!
After years of ambivalence, I have been surprised and undone by how effortless it is to love a child, how easily they become part of the slipstream of your life. How the tedious repetitive work of caring for them—because it is without a doubt work—reveals its own mystifying beauty.
Motherhood has given my body a new layer of utility—producing the food to keep a person alive, a scent and warmth that comforts them as nothing else can. It has also given my purpose, something I never lacked, another dimension. Until I crossed its border, I was ignorant of the world motherhood brought me into. It’s a world from which I never want to return.
Since she was a baby, my older daughter has shown an instinctual curiosity about her body. During diaper changes, she would reach down, her little fingers exploring the area of her crotch. She would find her clitoris, hidden under the fleshy hood where her tiny labia meet, then rub, poke, and tickle it. It made her laugh. We encouraged her to touch herself and told her what these parts of her body were called: vulva, clitoris, vagina. We asked her what she was doing. “I touch my va-nina,” she replied. I want my daughters always to know that their parts are theirs alone. That right now we help them but ultimately they are for each of them to do with as they please. And that one day, when and only if they want, someone else can touch them there, too. I don’t want the workings of their bodies to ever be a mystery to them, something they don’t understand or look to others to feel complete. I don’t want them to be well into adulthood before they know how they like to be touched, how to ask someone for that. Becoming a mother may be one of our most culturally traditional acts, but it is also the place where we can break with our most limiting, oppressive traditions.
Our culture positions motherhood as a choice—between being one thing or another, an artist or a parent, freedom versus motherhood. It’s a familiar, insidious lie that perpetuates the belief that one side is better—and, therefore, that whichever side you choose or end up on, you will have lost something.
Why can’t we see that motherhood is, simply, life? Life just like trees and caterpillars and salmon and slime mold—all of which must reproduce—are life. The backdrop to everything, spawn or die. Motherhood is as common and, often, as boring as mud, but it is always necessary. It is worthy of every moment of contemplation, from every perspective.
Did you know that trees talk to each other through a vast underground network of fungi? You know that caterpillars turn into butterflies, but have you stopped to consider what it actually takes to dissolve into a sticky pile of your own fluids, rearrange your parts, and put yourself back together, mentally and physically—to emerge as something entirely new?
Mothers think about it nearly every day. A mom is an endless question.
You were born. A person became your mother. Ask yourself and then, if you’re able to, ask them: What was that like for you?
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p.s. My book comes out in just over two weeks!!! If you haven't yet, please smash this link to pre-order it from whatever online retailer you prefer. Also, if you live in Seattle, click right here to get tickets to my launch with Lindy West on June 13! Should be a fun night.