Photo: My friend brought me a sand dollar from California. Had to put it under the macro lens!
A snow storm was forecast for Ursa Major’s due date, so after my visit to listen to his heart rate (they monitored me closely because of my blood pressure), my doctor made the decision: “go home and pack your bags!”
I remember feeling elation when the words were said. I absolutely hated being pregnant. I had serious morning sickness for the entirety of the pregnancy (I lost weight instead of gaining), the joint pain and the aches were miserable… the transformation was shocking and not terribly fun and, frankly, being pregnant far away from family made it less appealing. No fun babyshowers. No brunches with girlfriends. No old wives tales with beloved women of the family. It was just me in Massachusetts, teaching while pregnant, homesick and unhappy. So when my awesome gynecologist (who just happened to be Black, one of few shining lights for the process) said it was time, I was delighted. I went home, let The Husband know, and started gathering stuff for the hospital bag.
Parents magazine had sent me my checklist months ago, of course, and I followed it to the letter. Birthing plan? Birthing ball? Nursing bra? Slippers? Check, check, check. Two special onesies to bring the little guy home in? Oh yes, check. We’d special-ordered ours from the University of Maryland. A little baby Terrapin was on the front of it. Branded a Marylander from the start. This is an important Mom thing to do.
The Husband came home, got some stuff for himself, took the suitcase to the car and then came back up to our little one-bedroom apartment to get me. That apartment was expensive as hell, but it was in a new-build community and had central air, right across from a T-station in a beautiful suburban community. We were two professionals signing up for an apartment that two professionals could afford. We’d signed the lease before we found out we were pregnant. The two events must have happened a week or so apart.
The Husband was in the middle of finishing his dissertation and was in the middle of looking for his next job. I was at the end of my teaching career. We were probably more broke than we wanted to admit. We were young and smart and stupid.
I don’t know if that’s the reason why I started sobbing on my way out the door. Probably not. Maybe. But I was sobbing. The Husband came back to get me and I was a mess, standing in the middle of that beautiful apartment, sobbing.
“What if we’ve made a terrible mistake? What if this is a horrible idea? What if I’ve ruined our lives forever?”
(What if I’m not cut out for this? What if I’m a horrible mother? What if I am simply not up to the task? What if I fail?)
The Husband, ever a man of facts, ever a man of few words, shrugged. There was nothing we could do about it now. We were hours away from parenthood. If the answer to any of those questions was “yes,” there was nothing to be done. He stood in front of me, frowning. And I cried and cried.
In many ways, those first days of motherhood would confirm some of my fears. Major’s birth was fine and I practically danced to the recovering room (“Miss, we’ll wheel you upstairs. You really should rest.” “Are you kidding me? I’m not pregnant anymore! I could fly up there!”). But we had a hard time breast feeding. He wouldn’t latch, the well-meaning nurses wouldn’t leave me alone (and wouldn’t stop touching me). It took 3 days for my milk to come in. They put him on formula when they thought he wasn’t peeing enough (we changed a diaper on our own that we swore was wet, but they didn’t believe us)… I was frustrated and exhausted, he was hungry and confused… and when we got home, it didn’t get any better. In my exhaustion and frustration, through his tears and screaming, I hated motherhood. Hated it.
It took my mom coming up here with my sister some two days later to help me. She scolded me that it wasn’t his fault that he wasn’t latching. She bestowed on me some much-needed absolution, too: it wasn’t my fault he wasn’t latching. We had to find each other. We weren’t connected anymore, so we needed to reconnect in a different way. “This is really basic. It only gets more complicated from here,” she told me. “Get it together. This is your life now.”
In some ways, I have never forgiven myself for those first hard days. In the quiet moments, when it’s me and him, or when he’s growling in anger, or when he’s playing by himself, I wonder if my selling myself short laid a poor foundation for him. Will my frustration in those early, freezing nights in January come back to haunt him? Will he forgive me for being so unprepared, so unwelcoming of him? Did he know how terrified I was? Did he wonder if he’d been placed in the wrong hands?
These are the questions of a mother who still wonders… who still feels so woefully unprepared. Every day presents a new challenge, a new worry. And yes, there is plenty of joy, lots of blessings for which I am thankful. But motherhood is a long game, one with lots of uncertainty. The outcome is unpredictable, though we know that the decisions made in these formative years can reverberate for a lifetime.
And that’s where my Quiet Thoughts are today, as Mother’s Day comes yet again. Yeah, ok, brunch, flowers, cute little bookmarks made in school, but… I’m thinking about a fundamental truth that I’ll always keep with me: for all that I am today, and all the ways that I’ve grown, I hope I can make up for the woman I was in those early days and those wee hours when I was frustrated and terrified, flailing and failing. And I hope he’ll continue to forgive me, because I will never be perfect.
It’s the Friday before Mother’s Day, Dear Reader. If you are a mother, I appreciate you. If you have a mother, I hope you appreciate her. If your mother has passed to the world beyond, I send my prayers. I have never had so many feelings about this silly holiday as I do right now, here in the full-intensity of motherhood, with two young boys who I love beyond measure. If you are where I am, I hope you practice a little self-care this weekend. Amid the celebration and congratulations from those around you, I hope that you take a moment to look yourself in the mirror and give yourself a little credit. You are amazing. What you do matters.
On this Friday, chilly and with a nor’easter at the doorstep, I have wishes for you, Dear Reader. I wish you a little time to practice some silence: to be you, as you are, right at this moment. Take a little time to reconnect with that voice in your head. Give yourself a chance to reevaluate your trajectory. Who are you, Dear Reader? Are you who you want to be? How do you want to be different tomorrow? I wish you the joy of hugs and kisses from the people you love. I wish you the pleasure of a good movie, great television or a better book, a time to escape into a world not your own. I wish you something hot off the grill, custom made just for you. I wish you fresh, warm air and sunny blue skies, a little bit of music on the breeze and the freedom to linger in it all. This world is beautiful. Savor it, Dear Reader.
And when it’s all over and you are alone again, I wish you the opportunity to appreciate your infinite beauty. You are profoundly loved, near and far, for all of the wonderful things that you bring to the world. Because you choose to give a little bit of yourself every day, you have earned the admiration of many and the gratitude of more. I wish you a bit of time to acknowledge just how much you give and just how much that matters. Keep shining brightly, Dear Reader. Keep doing great things for the world.
Happy Mother’s Day to you Mothers. Happy Friday to all you Dear Readers. You are all loved and appreciated. Thank you for spending another week with me.
Until Monday, laugh loudly, reach out, care sincerely, shine brightly, and take care.