For Women’s History Month, I’m devoting all my posts to things for women, about women, and spotlighting women. As motherhood is a unique experience commonly associated with womanhood and one that certainly defines a lot of things for anyone identifying as female, I thought I’d start here.
I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I was never one of those people that considered being childless by choice—except for that one phase in college when I was pretty sure I should be a nun, and I’m not Catholic. I’d always seen my life as pretty standard—married, children, job. In high school, (you know because 30 seems elderly when you are 16) I had this idea that I should marry at 20 and have a baby by 23 so I could be a young and cool mom. Funny how things turn out.
When I did not have a serious boyfriend to accomplish lofty goals with by age 21, the aforementioned plan was laid aside to die. Many would argue that marrying young and committing to that life is a lot to ask of a young woman who could be doing so many other things, but that was really what I wanted. I’ve never been one to want a field of boyfriends; my easily wounded (and slow to heal) heart just wanted it’s one person—my lobster (thank you Phoebe Buffay).
But life has a funny way of taking our best laid plans and turning them upside down while God chuckles on the side. So short story—met husband at 21. Engaged at 22. Married at 23. Mother at 24. Second child at 27. Mortgage at 28. The end. Well clearly not the end, but as you can see, things went some kind of way and yet I wouldn’t change a thing, even if my 20s were entirely spent in a state of being overwhelmed and shell shocked.
I remember watching this show about babies and giving birth on TLC (before its content got all gypsy weddings, sister wives, and Duggars). It was about six weeks after our late November wedding; I was new to the area and sending out resumés. Instead of watching the show and wondering “if,” the idea was framed with a solid “when.” I thought we had a good three to four years before such things, though I remember kind of wishing our time was now. Because all that stuff was high theoretical that point in time.
Well….by the middle of March I was feeling like I was going die because something was definitely off. I was convinced there was no way I could be pregnant (hey kids—birth control is most effective when used 100% of the time. Ok? 100%), so surely, I had contracted something that was slowly killing me from the inside. I’d never skipped my period. Ever. But you know, I still didn’t believe pregnancy was a possibility (denial, denial).
My friend was about four months along in her own pregnancy and when I told her things had gone wonky in my world, she gave me a leftover unused prego test. I took it one fateful morning, and after the recommended time needed for the results to reveal themselves, I looked. I believe I was looking for a + sign. But I could only make out what I was certain was a – sign. So, I left the test in the bathroom and went about my business certain that maybe newlywedhood had just thrown me off temporarily. Ha ha ha.
When I went to throw away the test, I looked and saw a faint + sign. But somehow in my mind that registered as, “well it’s been sitting here a while, so the pee has seeped in and changed the sign to positive.” But still, I wasn’t pregnant. (Oh, sheesh girl, what I would tell that silly bride today).
Another month rolls by and another test is taken, which actually is negative again. Meanwhile I start a new job that I absolutely loathe, start feeling worse and worse (crying on the metro, dry heaving from the smells of the people on the metro). Finally, I decide to see an OB/GYN, because why not?
I cried in the waiting room while they got my paperwork together. When I sat down, my giddy husband asked what the doctor said, and when the words “She says I’m most likely pregnant,” tumbled out, so did the tears—from terror. He on the other hand was very pleased—with himself and the world.
We weren’t ready for this. Bleh apartment in a sketchy neighborhood, a job I hated and wanted to get out of but now felt trapped in, still adjusting to life in a new place I wasn’t sold on yet; and now we were going to be parents.
I was nearly 11 weeks along when I got my first ultrasound. All of the sudden the screen lit up with this image of a bouncy alien baby with E.T. eyes and a giant noggin. She was hyper—using my uterus as a trampoline and waving arm “nubbins” to say hello. The E.T. eyes were looking right at us as if to say, “Yeah, I’m real. See you soon suckas!”
Nausea, migraines, a gestational diabetes scare (I like that super sweet orange soda they give to be honest), horrific stretch marks, a whole lot of swelling, and husband that was so weirdly confident in our parenting abilities he said we didn’t need the birthing classes.
So, on November 6, 1999, I aced the birthing test without studying. But with drugs. And the drugs were good.
I wish I could say motherhood washed over me and made me whole the moment my child took leave of my body. The love was there. The pride that we made this pretty little thing was there. The sense of doing everything that needed to be done to care for her was there. I would feed, change, bathe, sleep, repeat.
But the ensuing 21 years of raising said child and the brother that followed have exposed my weaknesses. Anxiety and worry have always won out over reveling in the present. Motherhood opens you up and leaves you raw and exposed, and yet you don’t always know. And yes, the life of a child goes by very, very fast.
But motherhood—as it is brought to you through your own womb or that of someone else—is otherworldly. You look back at a grown child and think, “my word, this child has survived under my care.” And that’s where you come face to face with the grace of God. This job of bringing a life to the world through your own. This is the unexpected journey of twists and turns, boring stretches of the mundane; anger and sadness, hollowness and fullness and eventually the wistfulness that settles in when they finally walk toward a dorm building and so very, very far away from you.
It is all of it then. All of it now. All of what is still yet to come.
This post and exclusive content is also available on my podcast The WiloPod on Spotify.