500 Words or Less

by Catherine Mueller Melwani
PAAL Contribution Rep, NYC


Below is a first response to this impossible writing prompt:

In 500 words or less, please share your story about becoming a mother. Was there anything about your experience that defies conventions? And what aspects were the most important, meaningful or difficult for you?


It is 630am.  My son is exhaling warm milk breath on my face, his clammy hands traveling my body without destination. Sensation is the goal, like a blind person in the movies.

Agooookkkkkkkhhhhh, he says, with delight in his eyes.

As of this March writing, I have been a mother for four months and seventeen days. My journey here was atypical. When I knew motherhood was wanted and within reach it was a daily pull, pulsing under my skin and behind my eyes. It became an urgent secret, too terrifying to even utter aloud lest it pass me by, continuing to bestow blessings on others but not me.  

I never thought you could be this selfless, my husband says to me, intending a compliment.

I needed to yearn in myself for the necessary duality that is motherhood: an awareness of self paired with an equally strong awareness of another. Different from spousal partnership which comes with its own kind of duality, this level of responsibility and care surpasses all others. At night, when he wakes with Tiny Tiger Cries to nurse or because he cannot yet roll without face-planting into a surface or he is hot or cold or wet or lonely, my frustration passes quickly. He is just doing what babies do and cannot help himself. He will have a lifetime of helping himself. It is our job as parents to teach him how. For now, he is living in a world of immediacy and I must too. It is this extreme imbalance that I dreaded, this forgoing of future and past, the anchors of identity, worrying I would disappear. I still worry about this, but not enough to stop me from doing it.

I thought singing to him and breastfeeding would be intuitive, but they took practice. Every time he falls asleep in my arms I feel triumphant.

Childbirth obliterated my pelvic floor and rendered me more physically and emotionally fragile than anyone expected, including myself. But it also yielded the single most powerful act my body and spirit had ever committed: BIRTH. I became in a way I had only hoped for, a mid-life arrival.

There are many more details to this evolution, involving the 52nd Street Project, South Africa, graduate school, marriage and a progressive growing up and out of myself while simultaneously embracing more of myself.  

Although I have lost things like sleep, the ability to stop the flow of urine, a favorite hat, the stroller rain cover, and countless well-crafted sentences, motherhood has ignited in me a newfound ferocity regarding the boundaried sacredness of my little family’s life, as well as a heightened awareness of our society’s hypocritical celebration of mothers while simultaneously disregarding them in areas of health, employment, recovery and societal/cultural access, acknowledgment, amenity and courtesy.

I’ve noticed that we make the same faces when we cry. We sleep and stretch in the same positions.

I have never been looked at with love the way I am looked at by my son.

500 Words or Less


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Catherine Mueller Melwani, PAAL Contribution Rep

Catherine Mueller Melwani is an Interdisciplinary Artist, Actor/Creator and Educator based in NYC. Founder/Director of The Institute for Collaboration and Play (www.ifcap.org). Past teaching includes Adjunct/Guest Faculty/Guest Director at Pace University, Marymount Manhattan College, Middlebury, Drew University. Performance work: The Public Theater, Ars Nova, The Orchard Project, Dixon Place (select list) and many national network commercials. MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, Goddard College. Delighted and exhausted mother to Arjun George Melwani, born in October, 2016. www.mywonderchamber.com.

For more info on how we’re changing work environment for parents, check out PAALtheatre.com

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