Katie Mizell 




Mitski, Xiu Xiu:
Between the Breaths


Motherhood. I’m new to it.

And at the same time I have been a mother for eternity.

11 weeks in this world. 39 weeks in my womb. Infinity in my soul.

I thought I was prepared, as prepared as anyone could be, for the realities of motherhood but I couldn’t have been. Nothing can make you ready for the moment you have such fragile perfection in your arms. And thank god for that, because if I had known I never would have done it. It’s too frightening, and too fulfilling, to dedicate yourself to caring for a new life.

Fulfilling because a missing piece of you has been found.

Frightening because you will lose everything that you were, and are.

When I was pregnant I pulled a tarot reading for myself, just out of curiosity, to see what might be coming my way. I remember the hand: Ace of Cups, The Devil, and The Tower. I fixated on The Tower because it symbolizes destruction. It scared me; the image of a massive pyre, burning in the night.

Because of that card I spent much of my pregnancy in fear. When the universe tells you that your pregnancy will destroy you, fear is a reasonable reaction. My pregnancy was high risk, was that what the card meant? Was my life in danger? Was my baby in danger? There were days when The Tower haunted me, and I knew I would fail somehow.

But Felix was born, my body recovered, and I thought maybe the cards were wrong. Then, a few weeks ago I remembered that card and realized just exactly how right it was.

The birth of my son did destroy me.

In motherhood I was torn down. Nothing of who I was before him remained in the wake of his arrival. I wasn’t Katie, wife and witch, I wasn’t the armchair comedian and book lover I remembered, I was only mommy. I felt so honored to be just that. I could see the flames of motherhood licking at my feet, burning away everything I was before. I wanted to drown in the warmth of it. I had lost my identity entirely.

I stared into the sleeping face of my son, marveled at the miracle of him, and then I laid him in his bassinet, and sat there remembering what it was to be Katie, with no baby at my breast.

Since that moment my faltering steps toward self-discovery haven’t taught me much about who I am. I regularly find myself back at the beginning, struggling to back away from the consuming warmth of mothering.

Every day I am faced with a choice: be a mother, or be wholly myself. Making the choice leaves me guilty every time. Either I feel like I’m neglecting my son, or I feel like I’m neglecting everything I am without him. I struggle to set him down, to allow myself to exist without the desperate connection we share. I see how easy it would be to let go of who I am and never look back.

But every so often there is a moment of balance, a single breath where I know myself as everything I was before and everything I am now. I cling to that moment, where I am not afraid, and I am not burning, and I am not lost. I hold my son tight. I hold that moment tight.  He knows who I am. I know who I am.