The Summer I Set Myself, a Mom, Free
By Elisabet Liminyana Vico
It wasn’t my decision to experience motherhood as an adventure by myself, but there I was, a new mom and newly separated. I was in my early thirties and an international grad student while working in a university, I was on my own with a baby in a foreign country.
People around tried to comfort me. They kept saying that even with the pain, the situation was favorable since I could keep a baby after all. The brokenness had a bright side. When did people stop asking me how I was feeling, to ask me how happy I was feeling? Well, I loved my daughter, but I wasn’t happy. I felt alone and like a failure. What I couldn’t imagine was how often I was going to continue experiencing these feelings.
The baby came in the worst moment of my existence. I wanted other people’s lives. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to have a break. I wanted to disappear. I didn’t want to have to be anyone’s mom.
At that time, some of my friends were trying different methods of assisted reproduction. In all the cases they wanted to be moms, but they didn’t have a man in their lives. The guilt started then, when I had something I always wanted to have, a daughter, and the others didn’t. The baby came in the worst moment of my existence. I wanted other people’s lives. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to have a break. I wanted to disappear. I didn’t want to have to be anyone’s mom.
People kept saying: “There is never a perfect moment for having a baby.” I started to feel sorry for all the women in the world that had no choice but to have kids when they weren’t ready for them. How could I complain? Even if my pregnancy wasn’t planned, it was desired. I was supposed to have a partner to share it with. At least my daughter had a dad who wanted to support her. I was a highly educated woman developing my career. I wasn’t a teenager in the Global South. I wasn’t pregnant because of a rape. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t rejected by society or my family. I wasn’t running away from a war conflict. I wasn’t a mom of many with another one in its way, wondering how to feed my children. Was I a spoiled privileged woman soaking in my own self-created pity party? I was emotionally low, and the guilt was exponentially growing all the way along.
I found it interesting that other women seek motherhood to fulfill challenging aspects of their lives. They had babies because they wanted to save a relationship. Others weren’t fully happy with their professional careers. Others wanted to make their parents happy. Young women who used pregnancy as a way of getting out of their parents’ homes. Women that believed a baby will complete them. They opted for motherhood to liberate themselves of family, failure, etc. But what were the positive points of these options? I was unable to approach motherhood in a constructive way.
Since I became a mom, the responsibilities of the new baby were mainly mine. It wasn’t just a bad break up. It was the fact of having to be the main person of a totally dependent little one. From sadness to frustration, to anger, to desperation, while being a mom without a break. I understood how unfair life could be, but also how powerfully inequality impacts emotions. Again, the privilege, the blindness toward other people’s pain.
At some point, I thought the guilt will go away when I’m on my feet again. I wanted to believe the light at the end of the tunnel was going to dissipate many bad feelings. I was going to be stronger or someone better, as many cheap philosophies you tend to listen to when you are in a weak moment suggest. “I Will Survive” was my top song. And in fact I was surviving, but at some point I needed to live too.
I tried very hard to move on, to live. My daughter started daycare. That was crucial for me. I expected to have more time for myself. I met teachers and parents. My hope was that entering a mom’s network was going to bring support and comfort. It did sometimes, and some others were unbelievably unpleasant. I didn’t know you had to compete to be a mom. I didn’t want to. From the “organic” ingredients for the latest baby’s best recipes, to the afternoon baby massages… Was I supposed to show off motherhood? Moms told me what was best for my daughter, and how many things I was doing wrong. Everyone was telling me that I wasn’t succeeding as a mom. I was fed up. I started to believe my incompetence as a mother was well known.
My family background didn’t help. My mom was a dedicated house wife, developing her dream job, which was to have a family. I grew up in a very neat house with two hot, homemade meals a day. I couldn’t offer this to my kid. It wasn’t an option. I knew I wasn’t going to be a better woman or mom for following or not following traditions or new trends related to taking care of my daughter. I hold a Women Studies diploma. I thought I was ready to rationalize the role of being a mom. Maybe I was. But I wasn’t ready to deal with the endless uncertainty.
Looking back, I wasn’t a happy mom because I wasn’t a happy person. I didn’t know how to live.
I had so many doubts: Was I doing it wrong for cooking spaghetti over and over because my daughter ate it well? Should I send my two year old to sleep without eating much because she rejected veggies? Was I creating a healthy parental relationship with my little one? Should I sleep one less hour to clean the stains of the baby clothes that the washing machine didn’t take away? Was I authoritative or compassionate enough as a mom? Was I calling the pediatrician at urgent care too often? What did I do to keep the family from staying together? Did I do well when I moved away and created some distance from my ex? Could I be the present father my daughter didn’t have? Did my daughter need all these toys for Christmas? Was I a terrible parent for letting my daughter watch YouTube videos all the afternoon long to be able to catch up with laundry? Was I intellectually stimulating my daughter enough? Are her shoes too small already and hurting her? Did I really listen to my daughter crying for 20 minutes at bed time while I was having a shower? Did I disappointed my professors when I didn’t continue with my PhD? Was I thinking too much on myself? Was I a good mom? Was my ex-husband questioning himself at all? Am I the only one who has responsibilities toward the kid? Is all the fear just on me?
The truth is that the worst question came a couple of years later. Looking back, I wasn’t a happy mom because I wasn’t a happy person. I didn’t know how to live. I was surviving, and I didn’t enjoy the first two years of my daughter’s life. I saw her as a burden that someone left me, while my ex was happily enjoying a bachelor life. And everyone told me how “the best part of my life was to be a mom.” How could I be a good mom if I couldn’t celebrate my daughter’s life? I couldn’t appreciate a single day for a long time.
Enough is enough. One day I found myself telling another mom: “If my daughter is clean, is fed and breathes, I’ve reached my daily goal.”
When I rescued my dog I was in a great of moment of my life. Newly married, with a new academic project, I moved to the U.S. I wanted to expand the family, and I felt over the moon with that puppy. Everything was laughs and social media pics. Walks with friends in nature and funny videos. How come I didn’t want to participate in social media at all when I had a baby? Wasn’t the idea that I was supposed to be an annoying mom sharing too many baby pics? My family and many friends were in another country. They were constantly requesting them. I was mean to them. The only thing I wanted was to be left alone. I had a baby, I had to breastfeed, I had to change her, I couldn’t sleep… I hated my life, and I didn’t want to show it. Wasn’t social media there to show how great your life is? I wasn’t feeling like I had something good. Even more, I hated how passionate I was with my dog when I rescued her, and how hard was to enjoy my baby.
Enough is enough. One day I found myself telling another mom: “If my daughter is clean, is fed and breathes, I’ve reached my daily goal.” Why was I giving so much power to others, even if they were mainly women, about how to experience motherhood? Was there just one way to experience it? I finally got it. Guilt was used as a patriarchal tool for women’s social control. While questioning myself, I wasn’t making decisions toward my wellness. I lived under fear. Whatever my practices were, I was going to face disapproval. I was easily manipulated, and I wasn’t socially or intellectually challenging anything at all. In fact, I was perpetuating the eternal unsatisfactory motherhood experience for women, by reproducing the topics. Oh no! I realized I was learning to be a front-line soldier for the social consensus. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t innocent of all the “mistakes” I was exposing my daughter to. I was the bad one, the one that was going to be responsible of all the future traumas of my baby. We, the moms, we were responsible for out children becoming criminal adults. I didn’t know how to raise a kid to be a good citizen. I was failing every day. In order to fix it all, I had to sacrifice my life to be a good mom.
I came out. Strongly. Fearless. I sent an email to my old PhD advisor back at home, and I asked him if I had a place to continue with my old program, the one I left ten years ago to have an international teaching experience. Me! The failed academic that changed career paths because I wasn’t good enough anymore to do something great. The answer was yes, I was very welcome back. An old journalist peer offered to sponsor me for the first year of the PhD, paying my tuition. Really? Was it that easy to be valid again? Was I a good mom for entering into the senseless grad school and full-time working world? Stop it! Maybe this is not the moment, she is so little. No way, you must do it. Isn’t it the most important job of the world, to be a mom? Wait! Who tells you what kind of mom you have to be? Never again! Who asked you to choose between your professional career and being a good mom? The power is to be aware, and know I am.
Empowering myself was a life-changing moment. That summer, I left my daughter with her dad for six weeks. I went to my Alma Matter to develop research toward my PhD in the archives. My daughter benefited from spending a long period with her dad for the first time. They improved their relationship, which is so beneficial for my baby girl. Even more, since I wasn’t nearby, I felt like he really enjoyed being dad without any pressure.
People were quite judgmental many times. They wondered how I could leave my daughter behind. The truth is that I never did. I chose to show her you continue fighting for what you want even if things are difficult. I chose to finish my education, which satisfies me. I chose to negotiate a more equal sharing of the parenthood with my ex, which is fair. I chose to come back home, to myself, to my people, to recreate old good times, to reconnect with my roots and find myself again. I chose to have a break from my selfless life. I chose myself, as I expect her to choose to live her life in her own terms.
Elisabet Liminyana Vico received her M.A in Pedagogy at the University Level (2005), and has done research toward a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities (MA equivalent, 2005), with a specialty in contemporary literature in the University of Girona. She graduated in Catalan Sign Language in 2003 by the Association of Hearing Disabled of Catalonia (section of Girona). She has a BA in Catalan Philology and another in Spanish Philology (both 2004, University of Girona). She was a lecturer in Didactics of Catalan Language and Literature for Children, and then started and developed Catalan studies for the Instituto Cervantes in Leeds, England (2005-2008) and at the University of Leeds (2006-2009). She combined the teaching of Catalan and Spanish at the Instituto Cervantes of Leeds, as well as at the Instituto Cervantes of Algiers (North Africa), and at the Metropolitan University of Leeds (2008-2009). From 2009, she was coordinating and instructing the Catalan program at UF, where she received a Master in Arts in Mass Communication, with specialty in Journalism, as well as two Graduate Certificates: one in Women’s Studies and one in Latin American Studies. Her field of interest is literary journalism, with a focus in women’s journalism in the early twentieth century Catalonia, and the social construction of modernity. Currently, she is doing a PhD on Cultural Heritage at the University of Girona, continuing the research on literary journalism. Also, she is a Spanish, Journalism and Drama teacher at Palm Bay Academy Middle School in Florida. At the same time, she continues active as a journalist by directing and presenting her radio program “Café Town”, for XGeneration Radio. This is her first collaboration for The Renaissance Women, and she hopes there will be many more to come.