Pregnancy, for me, was so great. I felt great, I was relaxed and happy. A sense of peace enveloped me, like somehow I was doing what I was put on this earth to do. It was a time of giant bowls of ice cream, and watching seasons one through three of “Alias” so that I would be caught up when season four premiered.
I had a job that involved a lot of standing, so my down time included a lot of putting my feet up and feeling happy and enjoying my heightened sense of taste. I did nightly relaxation exercises, propped up on pillows in bed. I listened to the enthusiastic purring of my cat (RIP, Dangerkitty) as she curled up against my absurdly pregnant belly. And I assumed that this inner peace would continue post-partum.
Oh, friends, I was so wrong. After Oliver was born, yes, I loved him to bits. Yes, I spent hours just staring at him. Yes, I loved him, I cannot emphasize this enough.
What I didn’t expect was the anger. See, while some women become mothers and they soften around the edges and settle into a peaceful life with the baby, in some of us motherhood unlocks a well of anger we did not know existed. I call it “maternal rage,” and for me, it is totally a thing.
Suddenly the world seemed like a really shitty place from which I had to protect my newborn son. It was as if every strong emotion I was capable of feeling bubbled up to the surface.
I wasn’t angry at my baby, but I was angry about my baby, if that makes any sense. I felt anger over breastfeeding every two hours (but I was determined to do it nonetheless). I was angry that I sometimes felt ambivalent about my own child. I was angry that I had no family to help me when my baby wouldn't stop crying and I just needed a break. I was angry that I had to stay home with him all day and never had time for myself. At the same time, I was angry that in the U.S., it is nearly impossible to raise a family on one income, which meant I would have to get a full-time job. I wanted to stay home with my baby, and I also didn’t, so the conflict itself made me mad, too.
And little things, things that never bothered me before, suddenly irritated me: the frequency with which Seth would do the dishes (almost never), people who cut me off on the freeway, the fact that our landlord refused to install a window air-conditioning unit in our elderly neighbor’s apartment. I was keenly aware of my surroundings at all times when I was out with Oliver, certain that someone was going to snatch him out of his stroller. I felt like a protector, not only of myself and my child, but of my home and our neighbors. Mama bear, indeed.
My friend Melanie, who is an actress and therefore keeps her emotions at the surface at all times, once said that if her child were murdered, she would fully kill the person who did it, prison time and/or death sentence be damned. Her reasoning was that without her daughter, her life would have no purpose or meaning, so who cares? It would be worth it to deliver justice. At the time, I agreed with her 100 percent. Oliver was less than two years old, and my maternal rage was in full force. Of course I would exact revenge on anyone who harmed my child. Of course I would, without a second thought.
By the time Oliver was about four years old I felt like myself again. Still feeling protective, but no longer convinced that something horrible might happen to him at any moment. But that maternal rage is still there in the core of me, burning on low, available for me to call upon should I ever need it.
I count myself among the parents who would beat her child’s molester to death, like that father in Texas did earlier this year. I too, might set my daughter’s rapist on fire, like the woman in Spain a few years ago. I understand how these parents were driven to do these things, because I might do the same if confronted with the same situations.
These actions go against my non-confrontational, pacifist nature. I am anti-war. I’m anti-death-penalty, for a number of reasons. But I can tell you that my first instinct would be to retaliate against anyone who abused or harmed my kid. Emily has talked about having sympathy for sex offenders because they have a sickness, and while intellectually I can understand this point of view, the mama bear in me cannot abide anyone hurting a child. My gut instinct says, “an eye for an eye.”
These days, my maternal rage is on such a low simmer that I don’t know if I could do it. I might want to fully revenge murder someone who harmed my child, or set fire to my child’s rapist, but I don’t know if I would actually carry out the deed. Like every parent, I hope to never find out. (If I ever set a man on fire, someone please delete this post, thanks.)
Somer's on Twitter @somersherwood