It changes you, being a mother. When my son was just days old, I remember looking at him and thinking, “Oh, I would kill anyone who put you in danger. That’s a new feeling.” You think you could never harm another person, until one day you wake up and you’re The Punisher, except your family is alive and you think a lot about snack options. People like to think of mothers as caring and we are, but it is a mistake to think we are safe. These are not easy thoughts to have at 4 a.m.
I’m a writer. I write science fiction because I love it. For years growing up I would watch Star Trek: The Next Generation every night at 7 o’clock. I think it was because caring, responsible people were navigating the terrifyingly unknown. I found their consistent virtue in the face of danger comforting. I still do. (Also, Beverly Crusher and Jean Luc Picard forever.) It was in my twenties that I found the courage to talk about my love of space stories and, even more, to write my own. Now I write short stories and novels about confronting the frontier of our understanding. Inevitably, they end up being about confronting something in myself.
When my son was born, he wouldn’t sleep unless I held him in my arms. Putting him down resulted in unrelenting shrieks, but I was afraid of falling asleep while I held his tiny body. Night after night I held my boy in the crook of one arm and my glowing e-reader in the other. My son still needed so much from me physically, but science fiction and fantasy books gave my mind space to roam while my body did its work of comfort and nourishing.
The Rivers of London novels by Ben Aaronovitch and Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell are detectives meet seedy, magical underbelly stories so similar to each other that I would sometimes confuse what happened in which world. But it didn’t matter: they’re both about ghosts and fairies and murder and they’re both so rich in the texture of London and crime solving that I devoured them. Planetfall by Emma Newman took me to a faraway world in a story as much about the future (what Newman envisions for 3D printing is actually thrilling) as it was about how the human mind deals with the past. Among Others by Jo Walton is a fantasy book that’s really a love letter to science fiction. I read the first paragraph, swore, then completely rewrote the beginning of my first book. That’s how beautiful her writing is. It wasn’t that these books spoke to my life as a mother specifically, but the stakes and passion contained in them felt so true to the life I was living.
So much of science fiction is about the tension that exists when we have technology to do amazing things, and yet we are still just sacks of meat and blood. It’s weird and it is familiar. When I became a mother I went from thinking of my body as something I had control over to something that left me bewildered. Fairly shy and reserved, I didn’t wear v-neck shirts until I was twenty-two. Breastfeeding, the exposure of what had always been hidden and an overactive letdown (milk went everywhere), left me feeling like an R-rated Mr. Bean short. A rare condition sometimes referred to as dysphoric letdown (also the name of my Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness-era Smashing Pumpkins cover band) caused a wave of terrible emotion to wash over me every time I nursed. These issues righted themselves within weeks, but there are few things that make you feel as helpless as the inability to control your own body. Sometimes the best way to accept the raw nature of our bodies is to juxtapose them with the ultra-modern world we imagine in our future.
In September of this year, my water broke six weeks early and our baby girl was breech. That Wednesday, I was at my weekly checkup asking the nurse practitioner to reassure me, yet again, that it was okay to take Tums for my heartburn. On Thursday, I was in the hospital hooked up to an IV pumping me full of antibiotics and enough magnesium to make me see double, and getting steroid shots in my butt. Three days later she came into the world through my sliced open abdomen and as her cries filled the room we laughed with joy. I’m healed and our little one is a force of nature in footie pajamas. But there were hours when I lay in the hospital bed thinking, “Not that long ago, this would have been a very dangerous situation. Not that long ago, we could be dead.”
This job, parenthood, is so hard and so scary. I create worlds where heroines save themselves and others, not because my life is something dull from which to escape, but because it is so full of terror and bravery that I need a way to explain it. To communicate what I really feel.
Being my children’s mother is such a tremendous honor. But it’s an honor so rarely given words to, other than toasts at weddings, or the “hey” spoken over two sleeping children to your spouse on the other side of the couch, a “hey” you hope somehow communicates the feeling that you made this together, that you two have created worlds, that here they lay between you like the potential energy of stars, and, Do you feel it too? Do you feel the power of what we have done together? Reading fantasy and science fiction allows me to say, “Yes. That’s just how I feel.” And writing lets me communicate it in my own way, to try to create an experience as powerful as the one I’m living.
Be proud of what you have lived through, mother. This life absolutely does change you. There is so much more on the hook. So many possibilities to imagine. Space cruisers to pilot at naptime. Exploding suns to save after the last cheek is kissed goodnight. Love to replenish as if from a bottomless anomaly while you sleep inches from the ones who have your heart and you all spin through space in a dance of chaos and perfection.