A 24 year-old mother of three injected her children with heroin to make them sleep. The horror of this headline is enough to pull otherwise contented mothers into an abyss of despairing solidarity. Because we cannot un-see this evidence that our own kind, at this moment, are desperate, alone, unsupported, deranged. All humans are suffering deep wounds and fighting dark demons. We are winning and we are losing, fragile and gritty, attached and dynamic. No matter how disconnected we feel, we are forever members of the same universe, our joy and pain transmuting into frequencies that wrap the earth with love and fear.
Though I cannot imagine doing what this mother did, I know the ways she felt trapped, the impossibility of motherhood without a magical solution. Though I do not know the pain of her childhood that shut the doors in her heart, I know how it feels to have children who don’t fall asleep or stay asleep, and to be desperate in this way. I cannot understand what she did, and yet in a way, I do. How many steps are there between a mother feeling crazy and going crazy?
Her children live in foster care now. They are very young, very tender. Their struggles and their suffering have only begun. They have messes to untangle, a world to be-friend. Will they ever believe the universe to be a friendly place? Will they find adults for meaningful connection before it’s too late? Will they process the abuse or will they become addicted to whatever numbs the pain? Will they forgive or will they try to forget? Will they find God or will they find heroin?
Stories like this do not make me feel better about myself as a mother. Instead, I am humbled. How easy it is to lose everything, including your mind. I had and have good parents and still I struggle to parent my children to the best of my knowledge and abilities. I make mistakes while knowing they are mistakes. Did Ashlee Hutt know it was a mistake? Does she know now? Does the guilt eat her alive at night or is she beyond guilt? How did she get this way? Why is madness so common to parenthood? Reproducing seems like a basic component of being human, something that should be instinctual and natural, but for many of us, it doesn’t end up that way.
Why? The list is long and never-ending, but worth exploring because awareness always precedes change. Here are a few ways we’re getting tripped up:
- The decentralization of family. We are a transient species. Immigrating, Emigrating, following jobs and money and new experiences. We live without the village. We live in single family homes, in detached cocoons. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins are mostly too far away, or too busy, or too preoccupied to help regularly.
- The individualist perspective. America, founded on the individual’s right to the pursuit of happiness, raises us to value our individuality. We learn early to ask the question, “what is best for me?” a mentality that does not serve us well when we become parents and must learn selflessness on the fly. On the other hand, parents in collectivist cultures view themselves as members of a community first and foremost. They value their work as parents as it ensures the survival and progress of the citizenry.
- An unsupportive government. Mothers in the UK are required to take two weeks of maternity leave, and permitted to take up to a year. Ireland’s tax code gives generous breaks for children. In Denmark, day care is readily available and heavily subsidized. The Swedish government provides parents a monthly allowance to help with the costs of raising a child. Considering our vast wealth, the United States is famously stingy in our support of parents.
And still, despite the madness we are driven to, the desperate measures we take, the guilt we harbor, the sleep we lose, every sane parent I know agrees that above all, it’s always worth it. Which may be the craziest part of all.
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