Betty Duffy

***

Monday, April 4, 2011

Changing my mind.

Ten years ago, I almost got a Master's degree. With a semester to go--my on-the-job training--I dropped out to make goo-goo eyes at my firstborn son. A year later, I tried again to finish, and once again dropped out, to make goo-goo eyes at my second born. My advisor became frustrated with me, asking, "When is it going to be YOUR turn?" which I suppose meant, "When are you going to pay attention to yourself for a change?"

But I was very in tune with myself. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.

I thought I might go back eventually. It was a mild irritation to have that semester just hanging there, unfinished in my consciousness. But those credits expired after seven years, and that was the end of that. It wasn't a career I was crazy about--which might have contributed to my moderate feelings about finishing--but also, these babies I was having, kept changing my mind about what I thought I wanted.

Over the past couple years, as my youngest got a little bigger, and no new ones moved into his spot, I found myself with time on my hands and I started to think about grad school again. Not about finishing the old degree, but about starting a new one--doing an MFA--meeting writers, making connections, improving my skills, and giving myself the impetus to finish something really good.

I made a little deal with myself that IF I should find myself pregnant again with a sixth child, I would do the opposite of what I did in those earlier years of motherhood, and reward myself with Grad School. It would be my prize for being so generous with God. And also would affirm in my mind the idea that I am not putting off my life indefinitely.

But no babies came. I waited two years, which might not sound like a long time to wait for a pregancy that may or may not ever come. But it's the longest I've ever gone without getting pregnant, and it was starting to look like our family was complete. So I inched outward a little, and enrolled in a community writing course at the local college.

I. LOVED. IT.

I loved the assignments. I loved the feedback. I loved feeling as though I were taking steps towards a dream. I loved having a set time to get dressed and leave my house each week. I loved my professor and my classmates. And I thought, heck--why wait to get pregnant for this reward? I'm going to enroll in the Master's Program now!

I downloaded the application materials. I talked to friends who are enrolled in the program. I had my husband's approval. All systems were go.

Then I got pregnant. It's funny how this works on me. Maybe other women don't feel this way about having babies--but I called Pedge on my way home from my last community class in which I'd been a lackluster participant, and asked why it is that I've lost interest, once again, in these projects I've built up in my mind. Is it that I'm chicken? I'm afraid of failure, and having babies is away of excusing myself from trying? Am I just morning sick? Do I harbor some deep-seated anti-feminist notion that I don't deserve further education? Why do these things that were so important and exciting to me just a month ago, suddenly feel so trivial?

Pedge put into words for me what I had begun to sense, but felt sort of stupid saying, since at the time I was only a few weeks along: "You really are a different person than you were two weeks ago. You're now a mother of six. It's completely unknown territory to you and it makes perfect sense that you would want to move other things out of the way so that you have room to become the person you are going to be."

And it doesn't mean I'll never go get that MFA, or nurture anything other than children--but for now there really is nothing else I want to do but allow myself to mother this child.

My high school orchestra once played Max Bruch's Romanze for Viola Op. 85, and in order to help us understand the piece, our conductor said it reminded her of the intense love affair between a mother and child. She stood on the conductor's podium cradling an air baby in her hands as though it were the Holy Grail. I babysat for her kids at the time, and, true, they were very sweet kids, but I could not for the life of me understand what she was talking about. Intense love affair? With a baby?

But it begins with that positive pregnancy test, and it grows in intensity with each passing day. Or at least until they get a little older and start to annoy you (only half joking). People who are not in on this love affair cannot understand it. They may become frustrated by your lack of ambition. But contrary to appearances, you are NOT putting your life on hold. You're doing exactly what you want to do.

48 comments:

The Cottage Child said...

"People who are not in on this love affair cannot understand it."

Let me count the ways...

I love the one program where the credits don't expire. So selfish.

Homeboy McCoy said...

The MFA can wait. You'll have more life experience and wisdom to draw from. And start your novel now so you'll have something to workshop when you do go in and get it. An old prof told me, "the MFA is where you finish a novel, not start one."

I did my MFA with a bunch of early twenty-somethings fresh out of their undergrad. All they wrote about were the trivial issues concerning early twenty-somethings fresh out of their undergrad. That was no fun to read and critique.

Sally Thomas said...

I did exactly the same thing. Defended my thesis (mine was an MFA) and everything -- just never finished sorting out the details, and then the time got away from me, and here we are.

And I really don't regret it. I was young enough when I was in grad school, and not-in-touch-with-myself enough, that I actually had to get over the experience (though it wasn't bad as these things go) in order to have a fruitful couple of "really-writing" years in England in the gap between my older and younger set of children.

I do have the frustration of simply not having uninterrupted time actually to write (or I tell myself that. Really I should disable my internet access. That would do wonders for my attention span, maybe). This has been a grueling year, though good in many ways, and the writing has suffered. I'd really rather the writing suffered than actual people, now that I think of it, which does help put things in perspective . . .

Anyway, many, many congratulations. In your shoes, I would not want to do anything else but mother a baby, either.

Owen said...

A) I miss the cow lady in the header

B) Mega good post!

C) It inspired a pro-life memory which I plunked down here.

D) MFA - My Family Ark

Anonymous said...

In my own new baby fog, I must have missed the announcement. Congratulations on another little one and all the changes he/she will bring!

Meredith

Katarina said...

Congratulations !!!

Iam struggling with the exact opposite problem - too much ambition

Catherine said...

I just found out I'm pregnant with my second baby, and I feel like I have achieved something amazing. I want to go to my 10 year high school reunion and brag "I'm going to be a mother of TWO! What have you done with your life?"

Which, of course, they would just find weird and confusing. I also don't understand why no one is throwing me a party. Come on, people! Mother of TWO!!!
lol

Karen E. said...

What a beautiful post.

I left college one semester short of a degree for a different reason (spiritual despair is less fun than a baby, but, hey, we're all on different journeys) and once marriage and babies *were* in place, I experienced the same strange beauty, purpose and focus you've described so perfectly.

BettyDuffy said...

Congrats Catherine! If I knew you IRL, I'd throw you a party.

Katrina, I've been there too.

Meredith, Congratulations on your little one! Hope all went well with delivery etc. No complications from the diabetes? You didn't miss an announcement--this sort of is one.

Owen,
A) I needed a little change.
B) Thanks
C) Enjoyed this
D) Mom's Fat Again


Sally,
"Uninterrupted time to write"--yes, that's sort of what I was going for. I don't know why I thought that if I paid for the time to write, I'd be more likely to honor it. But you're right, I'd probably have more time if I got some of that blocking software on my computer.

Homeboy Mc Coy,
Love the line in Jane Eyre:
St John:"What will you do with all your fine accomplishments?"
Jane: "They'll keep until they're wanted."

We will probably put the kids through college before we consider another pleasure degree for Mom. But it's fun to think about being the wise old granny in an MFA program.

Cottage Child,
Amen

mrsdarwin said...

Congrats, Betty! I'm amused by your advisor's assumption that making goo-goo eyes at baby was sheer drudgery. As if writing is fun and cathartic all the time.

And not only are you doing what you want to do, but what you are doing is needed. It is essential, and that's more than can be said of most novels.

I'm still cracking up at Homeboy McCoy's description of the early-twenty-something novelists and their oeuvre.

entropy said...

Congratulations, Betty! We're expecting our #6 too!

And good for you for not being embarrassed that you just want to grow this new life inside you and pushing the shame onto those that just don't understand. I tend to do the opposite.

Kristy L Weber said...

Contrats!!! Miss you!

Peter and Nancy said...

Many congratulations on your latest work of art! There is something singleminded especially about those first months nursing and watching as your little person grows from only your milk. Miraculous!
Nancy

Calah said...

Oh, Betty, congratulations!

I was rejected from the MFA program at UNLV after being assured that I was a shoo-in. It was quite a shock, but then I got pregnant right away after my second child. (Also quite a shock.) I was pretty angry with God about the whole thing, because it didn't fit into my five-year plan, but now I'm discovering that my five-year plan sucked. This one is much better.

The idea of returning to school when my children are older is very attractive to me as well. I think it would make for more interesting writing.

Anyway, congratulations, again.

Julia said...

Wonderful news!

As for the writing, you don't need an MFA to do that. Write, get feedback, keep backup files, and God will work it out. You can't go wrong if you're trusting him to show him how to use your gifts.

Jamie said...

Congrats!

Mary Poppins NOT said...

Okay, I have tried twice to relate a similarity in my life experience, but Google keeps losing it. Apparently I should just say, yes, I understand completely. You are a terrific writer, and thank you for sharing your talent. AND, finally, many congratulations! New life is such a miracle!

Kimberlie said...

Congratulations Betty!
I am reminded of my mother-in-law as I read this post. She got her RN when she was just out of high school then married a doctor. She had four children that she stayed home to raise and did a great job doing so. When my husband was heading off to college, she enrolled to get her BSN, finished that, and as my husband was entering grad school, she graduated with a Master's degree in Counseling. Pretty impressive for a woman who was in her late 50's!

Also, my husband and I were living in WI after adopting our second child, and we decided to move back to where my parents live because, "that way we can have free babysitting." Ha! The day we moved our things into our house was the day my mother officially began fulfilling her dream of getting a college degree. She's been so busy, we hardly see her.

I mention these stories as much for myself (my own unfulfilled PhD dream) as for you. My mother was 61 when she started college. There is plenty of time!

Kimberlie said...

I meant to say "Congratulations on your pregnancy!" Didn't want you to think I got confused and thought you were doing the MFA.

Mary Poppins NOT said...

I made my eaten comments regarding my similar situation into it's own post, if you are interested. Again, congratulation!

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes! I've experienced this with each of my pregnancies. I am an RN and have wavered in going back to work. But sure enough, with every pregnancy, I just want to stay home. It's nice to know that others out there have 'changed their minds!!' Congratulations!

JMB said...

Congratulations! I think it's hard to be creative when you're doing the creating!

Kimberlee said...

Congratulations on your new love affair (and for having your heart in the right place). Deo Gratias!

NC Sue said...

Personally, I think it's wonderful that you know yourself and respect yourself enough to follow your heart... the heart that God created full of love for your family.

I wish you the best with this pregnancy, and with the years to come.

Congratulations.

Karen E. said...

I came back because I realized that I was so busy being bowled over by and relating to the *way* you wrote about your news that I neglected to congratulate you on the news itself -- many congrats on Baby #6!

Young Mom said...

Congratulations! I'm just discovering child rearing as the love affair it is, and simultaneously realizing that I am not just a baby machine like I was told I had to be. I am loving this stage of life, and looking forward to when I have the chance to develope more of who I am.

Pat said...

Congratulations! You are following your mother's heart! For me it was going back to teach part time when my youngest was in school. Then-out of nowhere- I was expecting my 7th! With no hesitation I quit work to be at home with that wonderful child, and I have always been grateful to have been able to do that. Now that he is in college, I am back in college, too. (he and I do everything together-ha, ha). There is a season for everything. Enjoy the new one--what a gift!

Dobrovits Family said...

Congrats from a fellow mom of six....
Who was going to go back to practicing law full -time...
Until she and hubby discerned a call to adopt baby #7, from Eastern Europe, with some special needs...

You never know what adventure God is going to set you out on if you arebopen to His will...

But it will be better than you could have ever come up with by yourself!!

Janet said...

Congratulations. What a beautiful post. Oh, that love affair. When my son (now almost 5) was a baby, I thought continually of any future baby with scorn, jealous for him of these other children who would come and take his spot as the baby. Now that I have my number 2, I am in my love affair with her and have to keep him from whacking her on the head. And I currently am jealous of the oldest for having been the only and for the next new baby - whenever he may come.

Louise said...

Betty, this is my first time commenting, but I am an avid reader of your blog. Congratulations on being a mother of six! What a beautiful way to announce your pregnancy.
I just had my first baby last year, and I think that describing our relationship as an "intense love affair" is absolutely accurate.
I loved reading this post!

BettyDuffy said...

Wow, Everyone, Thanks for all the kind wishes and blessings! I so appreciate it.

Sally Thomas said...

You know what I keep telling myself, too re the "uninterrupted time" thing," is that now is the time to take notes.

I mean, it's a long note-taking time, right? It started 18 years ago, and God willing, I have another 11 to go before my last child is out of the house -- and I know she's my last child, which is a little sad, but also not without the silver lining of having some occasional quiet to look forward to, maybe.

Anyway, when I get frustrated with the novel chapters that don't go anywhere and the poems I'm not pushing to finish, I have to tell myself that at least I've got them in the bank. When the time comes -- and this is all on the assumption that God does not have some other idea in mind, of course, as well He might -- I've got stuff to pull out. I have a world of story starters, essay germinators, poetry seeds, and so on, and surely I can find something to do with some of it.

Meanwhile, motherhood as note-taking stage is pretty rich. It can be easy to forget that the marinade makes things better, especially on the days when you think you're drowning in it, but there you go: not drowning but marinating. Which also sounds . . . like someone's going to eat you, which is not the effect I was going for, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

Woo-hoo! Congratulations from a law school dropout who is doing just wants she wants to be doing.

Sarahndipity said...

Wow, this post is awesome! I'm also a writer, and I thought I wanted to get an MFA right out of college. I got married and had a baby instead, and I had to go back to work full-time at a job I didn’t like too much, and the MFA just didn’t seem very practical.

Now I’m 31, working part-time, and expecting my third, and I completely understand what you mean by the love affair with your baby. I have found that my desire for an MFA has waned with each baby. I’ve also found other ways to nurture my writing. I got into a free poetry class taught by an Iowa Writer’s Workshop grad at a local university while I was expecting my first, and that was a great experience. I was also in a writer’s group for 2 or 3 years when I only had one child. And I’ve read a lot of poetry over the years. I really think my poetry has improved a lot since college – I’m embarrassed to re-read the stuff I wrote in college now! I’ve even been published in a few places. So I’ve managed to improve my writing in other ways, and at this point I’m not sure if I’ll ever go for the MFA, because all I really want to do is write, not teach.

I’m lucky, though, that I live in the DC area, and there’s this great place called the Writer’s Center that teaches poetry and fiction writing classes. Taking several classes there is much cheaper than an MFA, and the classes are taught by established writers. That’s something I’d like to do when my kids are older or grown.

It’s funny, when I just had one child, I was feeling pretty desperate to write more, and maybe get an MFA, and travel more and go out more and do all the things that are hard to do with kids. But with each child, these desires have waned somewhat, and I’ve learned to relax more. The time will come to do these things. It’s natural to want to focus more on the baby at this season of life. That’s what I really want to do right now.

Oh, and congrats on your baby!!

Melanie B said...

Congratulations! I love the way you buried the baby announcement. I had to go back to re-read that to be sure you really were talking about a new baby and not reflecting on your last one.

I was on fire with a book idea until Anthony came along and then suddenly... I didn't change my mind exactly but it doesn't seem quite as much of a burning issue. I'll get back to it one of these days. Right now I'm too much in love with a snorting sniffling little guy with dark eyes and a big bald patch.

karyn said...

I finished my Master's Program and then started having babies soon after and so have never "used" the degree. But college and working and such don't hold a candle to being a mother.

Super congratulations! I hope your pregnancy is "contagious". I so want another one but my husband has been really good at NFP lately :(

Anonymous said...

wow, I am so glad to see this post. 10 yrs ago I also did not finish my last semester of student teaching, because I had the opportunity to adopt my daughter, and couldn't afford to parent a child with no income (student teaching is a full time job with no pay). I often feel like kicking myself because I didn't complete that degree and threw a lot of money down the drain getting it, but -- I have my daughter!!!!!!

TS said...

Congratulations BD! Awesome news. And "mother of six" has an awesome ring to it.

Ashley said...

Congratulations!

Lizzie said...

So many congratulations Betty. Hurrah for LIFE! Such a beautiful post too reflecting on the potency of motherhood...I hope you're not too exhausted and can enjoy this precious time of growing a whole new little soul. I'll keep you in my prayers.

E said...

This is so beautiful. I had to wait for 6 years to be a mother due to infertility and find motherhood more satisfying than any job or degree. Thanks for putting to words how motherhood is the ultimate calling.

SKS said...

Beautiful.

Congratulations on the little one. I got a little dizzy at your announcement because you know what this means for me, right?

xo, Sharon
(still a mom of 5, for now!)

Val said...

You're halfway to a dozen!!!!
Congrats!!

Another Pollyanna thought...the more kids you have the more interesting your writing is. :)

TheSeeker said...

I yearn for that mother-child bond with an intensity that punctuates my life. I may never be able to be pregnant, but I will be a mother one way or another. I don't fully understand obviously, but my heart flies soars with yours. You're not a coward--this makes you more brave to follow your heart and your chosen life. Not that it excludes a degree later :-)

kate said...

Mother of five here - I returned to school for my MA in theology when my youngest was in 2nd grade - you CAN have it all - just not all at once.

And - I totally agree about the love affair with my babies. Now I can't wait for the grandbabies.

nicole said...

Congratulations! Life with six has been a grand adventure for us. :)

nayhee said...

Congratulations, that is great news!

Tania @ Larger Family Life said...

What a wonderful post!