Comedy writer Jessi Klein reflects on the disorienting experience of new motherhood
Before she became a mom, comic, writer and actor, Jessi Klein remembers hearing people say how completely motherhood would change her life. She listened, but she didn't really fully understand what they meant until her son was born.
"There's just no way to comprehend how completely your old identity vanishes," Klein says. "All of the things you do on a daily or minute-to-minute basis — the clothes you wear, the way you think of yourself — it just all kind of has to explode away, because the baby/child [is] so all encompassing."
Klein served as head writer of the Comedy Central series Inside Amy Schumer, and is now the showrunner for the Showtimes series I Love That for You. In her new collection of personal essays, I'll Show Myself Out, she writes about the joys and struggles of motherhood.
Klein says that she loves her son, now 6, beyond anything else in the world — and yet, she also acknowledges how tough being a mom is.
"It feels like one of the biggest cultural taboos is to say that you've had a second thought about being a mother, or honestly, even to just to talk about the hard stuff," she says. "But yeah, of course, there are those moments where you're like, 'I can't believe I've gotten myself into this.'"
On having a child at age 39
After I got married, I ended up kind of doing a couple of tests to check my fertility status because I was having a bit of a career moment, and I was like, if I do become a mom, I'm going to leave it till the last possible moment, like, maybe when I'm 50 or something. And then the tests revealed that I actually had, like, half an egg left, and it wasn't going to be easy and I needed to go through all this fertility stuff. As soon as I found out that I might not be able to have a child, I really went into a spiral about it and I just wanted to have one.
On the physical discomfort and disorientation of birth
I was lucky on a variety of fronts, you know, the privilege of good health care and all of that stuff. I didn't have an especially difficult labor, relatively speaking. It was uneventful, which is like the best thing you can say about a labor. But, that doesn't mean it wasn't still pushing a human out of my vagina.
It's a very intense recovery even under pretty decent circumstances. Some people really do come out of it quite injured in terms of tearing and other kinds of complications that can go wrong. But the minimum is that your body is freaking out, as your hormones kind of overnight turn upside down. You don't have a person in your body anymore; they're now on the outside. Your breasts are insanely swollen. You're trying to figure out how to breastfeed.
I remember a moment when I looked down at my stomach right after, like within an hour after giving birth. And I just remember I was like, what is this? I looked at my skin; it was this crazy texture. It looked like basketball skin, like, sort of puckered. And then you just are bleeding for so long. You can't go to the bathroom, and you're in pain and you're bleeding. And that's for many weeks. And again, that wasn't a particularly difficult birth.
On struggling to accept how her body has changed
On the one hand, you want to sort of be body pos and accept it, and [be] like, "This is gorgeous, the amazing thing my body did." But I was almost 40 when I gave birth. So I've lived 39 years in America knowing what I'm supposed to look like to be acceptable and my postpartum body wasn't it. But I've never looked the same. I'm very lucky to be healthy and I exercise. But a person grew inside of me, and I just don't have the same body anymore. It's a real shift that I think about every day.
On caring and apologizing less
One of the things I really cherish about becoming a mother is that you're so busy, you're keeping a person alive. And it does give you this kind of no "Fs-left-to-give" vibe about your life. And a lot of that vanity — trying to make nice with other people in certain ways, like having to apologize for things — you just kind of stop doing that. And that feels, in some ways, like a superpower.
On the tensions in a marriage that a new baby can create
There's an old saying that like when a new baby is born, it's like a bomb goes off in your in your house and in your marriage. The baseline thing that's going on is no one's sleeping and that is like one of the primary forms of military torture that exists, sleep deprivation. No one is at their best, just because you are so tired. And then there's also just the stresses of having to be learning all the time. Everyone's out of their element of what they're doing. I think for us also just the number of things that exist minute to minute to fight about sort of multiply exponentially.
On what she loves about motherhood
My son is such a funny, sweet, just endlessly surprising, smart boy. I do feel so lucky to be his mom. One of the things that I really do love is the things that he does that make me laugh. Especially now at 6, you really get into "Kids Say the Darndest Things" territory.
Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Laurel Dalrymple adapted it for the Web.