With many friends having recently given birth, and more friends currently pregnant with their first child, it made me think: what's a good analogy for Motherhood? How would I describe it - could I describe it? Not about the quality of Motherhood, but more about the experience of it. To describe it to another woman is one thing, but will men ever really get it? (um, no, not likely.) Obviously, I only know about the first three months of Motherhood, but it's such an odd, all-encompassing, life-changing phenomenon. Nothing in this world is a good comparison.
(and for the record, I'm all about analogies. Back when I actually had a job, I used analogies with clients all the time. Maybe one day I'll tell you about my anti-depressant/bus driver analogy. It's a good one.)
But then I thought harder and realized, it must be like being launched into space. I mean, think about it. Some people have wanted to go to the moon since they were young. Some had absolutely no desire to go at all, but found themselves along for the ride. Some pay thousands and thousands of dollars to be accepted into the Space Program, only to find their application continually denied. Growing, up, you never once consider that you might not go to space - I mean, practically everyone in the world goes to space at some point or another. But there are days when you think, "Maybe space isn't for me. Maybe I wasn't meant to be an astronaut." Hell, I mean, you spent most of your life trying to not get into the space program that when you do want to join, you realize there are no guarantees.
But then the big day comes and you get a call from the Space Program with the good news: Congratulations! You've been accepted - you are going to become an astronaut! Suddenly, you have an official "launch date" and your whole life turns upside down. The only thing you can focus is on is when you'll be headed to the moon. You want to tell everyone but are nervous the launch date may be scrapped. You being to make lots of changes: your diet and your activity level are just a few. You devour every book about space you can get your hands on. You talk to fellow astronauts to try to get a feel for what their experience is/was like, and wonder what yours will be like, too. You attend every pre-launch meeting with trepidation and nervous excitement: is everything going according to plan? Do we need to bring in additional engineers to help with the launch? Is there anything you can do to become a better astronaut?
You count down the days until the launch. And along the way, you realize your relationships with other people are changing. Before becoming an astronaut, what seemed so important before your acceptance into the Space Program now seems trivial and unnecessary. You worry about finances, you worry about your health, and you worry about what kind of astronaut you will make, since going to space is a really, really big deal. You realize that 90% of your conversations with others revolve around your launch date. You feel very "one-note;" this bothers you but you feel powerless to change it, since nothing else holds your attention like a conversation about space. I mean, some people have to leave their jobs in anticipation of the launch. Going to space - even though you haven't left yet - has already completely changed your life.
And then, the big day comes. You realize that all of those emotions that you've pushed down for so long come right back up to the surface; you've spent the majority of your adult life telling yourself that you are fearless only to be brought to your knees with abject and very real terror. This is it: there's no going back. You are strapped into that rocket ship and there's a chance you might die. You trust the control center in Houston, but also know things can go wrong, and go wrong quickly. For the first time in a very long time, you realize you are very, very mortal and you have very little control over anything in this world. You start to rethink your connection with spirituality, religion, and God.
But then, you are there! A successful launch means more than you ever imagined; all of those terrified feelings are replaced with total euphoria and pure exhilaration. You did it! You made it! You are in space! You feel weightless and overjoyed, all at the same time. You've spent your entire life thinking about this singular moment, and now that it's here, it's bigger and more vivid than you ever could imagine. It's almost like it's more than your brain can handle. You are running on pure adrenaline at this point and you feel fairly certain this feeling will continue for the rest of your life.
But it doesn't. As day turns into night, and days turn into weeks, you realize that the adrenaline has worn off and you are exhausted from the volley of recent emotions. Some folks get a little nauseous; others are disoriented. Sleeping in space isn't anything like sleeping in your own warm bed. You have to be up almost constantly to keep the ship safe and in motion. You are not sure how a lot things in space work; the atmosphere is different, the food is different. Everything that you once knew for sure has changed. Even elementary things like showering and using the rest room are different. You keep telling yourself that this is all part of the learning curve, but secretly you wish you could just go back to what you know. You crave normalcy and familiarity, but are only left with uncertainty and newness. For someone who was so confident pre-Space, you hate the feeling of not knowing.
Everything seems like a really big deal during those first few weeks in space, too. When seemingly little things go wrong, it feels like a huge, scary emergency. You realize how very little you know; what does this lever do? You read about that in some book a few months ago, but now you can't remember. What about this knob? Or these valves? Why is everything so confusing? And with the lack of sleep and day-night disorientation, your mind isn't working quickly or accurately. You begin to dislike your space experience since you constantly feel like you don't know what you are doing. Houston is being as helpful as ever, but it's not like they are really living it with you. You start to wish you had experienced astronauts with you, right there in the shuttle. But you don't. It's just you. And it is very, very scary.
And while there is a good chance that everything is going to be okay, you can't help but think about other astronauts who have had, unfortunately, disastrous missions. Bad stuff does happen, and mistakes are made. You start to have a completely new and fresh appreciation for just how harrowing this space journey is; it seemed so easy and routine when you had two feet planted on the ground. Now...not so much. All bets are off.
Some people don't like being in space and want to go home. They look out the little round window of the space shuttle and long for their former existence. These people tend to get really sad and feel trapped. Others love it and never want to go home; they'd like to stay in space forever. One thing is pretty clear, however. After the first few weeks of being in space, when every single thought of every single day revolves around that current day and how you are going to survive space, you will think about something NOT related to space or space travel, and then it will hit you like a ton of bricks:
HOLY CRAP, I'M IN SPACE. HOW, EXACTLY, DID I END UP HERE?
It's only when you think about your former life do you realize just how different your current life is. Any semblence of your former life has melted away and now you're experiencing "the new normal." Because eventually the ship will land, you'll walk off the gangway to cheers and clapping, and you'll realize: I'm totally not the same person. Going to space was nothing and everything like I thought it would be. It was better and worse than imagined. And I'm a different person for it. I am a better person for it. I am stronger than I realized.
You'll look at your parents with a sense of awe and humility. They went to space thirty years ago and managed to survive. You'll look at your friends who have been to space and think, "Wow, I should have been so much more supportive. I had no idea going to space was so physically and emotionally taxing. I was a pretty crappy friend." You'll look at your partner differently, because while he has been on the journey with you, he remained safely in the control room while you experienced the physical aspects of space travel. You'll love him and hate him for this all at the same time.
And most of all, you'll be happy to be back home and in your "new normal." You'll get back into a routine and have processed your space-traveling emotions. You feel a little more confidence with space-related emergencies, since none of them actually brought down the ship. You might even be able to laugh about a few mishaps that occurred during your flight.
You'll feel a sense of accomplishment: you managed to survive the pre-Space program, you survived the launch, and you made it through the first three months of living in Space. You look back and think, "How did I do that? How did I not go completely batsh*t crazy while aboard that teeny-tiny space shuttle with only processed space food to eat and no sleep? How did I get through that?" You won't have any answers, but that's okay. Because the only thing to focus is on is that you survived.
For the time being, you are okay with remembering both the good and bad aspects of space travel. You are ready to take a few years off. At least, before the next flight.