by Erika Ray
Does it shock you that I was a dramatic child? Probably not. I assumed that Big Life Moments would bring big changes. When I walked up to them, the lights would start to burn, angels would sing, I’d tremble as I walked through the glow, and I’d emerge a different person. A little better. A little wiser.
My first experience with a Big Life Moment was when I finally worked up the nerve to shave my legs. Mom gave me permission and I was ready (one of the last in my class). I clutched my cheap pink razor and headed towards the shower. I didn’t actually hear a choir as I took the first stroke, but I figured I’d emerge the bathroom as a full-fledge girl. I didn’t. I was the same kid but with shiny legs and a few knicks. The let-down didn’t stop me from assuming my Big Life Moments were waiting. Perhaps the Leg-Shaving incident wasn’t big enough. I assumed I hear those pretty singers and bask in the light once I had my first kiss, got my period, entered high school, college, had sex, got a job, etc. I waited. And was constantly reminded the each event left me the same, but with more responsibility. But I had one more Big Life Moment. One that women swore would happen. Vowed on their lives, I’d instantly emerge from the glow a different woman. They were wrong and their mistake could have been damaging. I don’t blame them because I’m not like the majority of women.
I was never the type of woman who had to have children. I didn’t have names picked out. I never envisioned my life with kids. The thought terrified me. My mom joked that one day I’d have kids and turn into a complete Earth Mom. I laughed at her folly. I was never gung-ho kids, but I married a man who was gung-ho Fatherhood. Over lots of wine, I expressed my concerns about not being Enough of a woman to have children and my mom said, “You’ll be fine. Every woman worries about that. Once you get pregnant something changes.” I trust my Mom on all matters of kids so I took the leap into unprotected sex.
The stick turned pink. The next stick actually said, “Pregnant.” And I felt sick with fear. What had I done? I didn’t feel different. I felt worried that my Big Life Moment was going to be a colossal fuck up. Weeks went by and I felt no change minus the lack of coffee and alcohol. Maybe when I heard the heartbeat, I’d feel like a Mother. Nope. Maybe once my belly popped? I’d see a change in my body and I’d have to feel motherly towards this life in my belly. Nope. Absolutely when I saw the ultrasound and they gave us the sex, I’d feel some sort of bond to this child? Nope. When he moved, surely? “Gas” never stirred up motherly feelings. Poking an actual arm or butt had to do it. Not even close. While I loved being pregnant, I never felt a burn in my soul for the baby. I did exactly what I was supposed to do, but I felt like a freak. Let’s be honest, carrying a child is freakish. And with no close friends who had been pregnant, I felt extra freakish at the bars with my big belly present as I soaked in all the non-parent activities before he popped out. I had expressed my concerns to my Mother and MIL. They both said some version of, “Wait until you have him. They put him in your arms and life changes.”
One night, I had a contraction. And I knew this was it. I was stepping up to my Biggest Life Moment. I pushed and pushed until out he came. They put him on my chest and a wave of relief spread over me. I was thrilled to have this 9 lbs. 1 oz. kid not stuck in my crotch, but where was the undying love? He was physically hefty, but that love was supposed to be crushing. I waited patiently. Maybe too much was happening around me to fully feel it. The nurses were happy. My mothers were basking in the glow of birth. My husband was beaming with the love for his son, but I was only thrilled that I still had a little juice left in the epidural. They let me hold him as I was wheeled down to our room. People smiled and said “Congrats.” I felt like I was in a prank show. Any second, someone would pounce and say, “Just kidding. You aren’t a Mom. Go back home. Rest up and hit the bars with your pals.” I would have believed them.
When we got to the room, the nurses would ask questions about my son. I looked to my Moms for answers. Why weren’t they asking them? Yes, I pushed him out, but where was the knowledge I was promised? I skipped reading books because my favorite veteran Moms said the books were worthless. The afterbirth was supposed to have my knowledge. I was just as confused about motherhood as when I chucked my birth control pills. Other mothers called to say congrats and asked, “The instant love is crazy. Isn’t it?” I said what they wanted to hear, but I was a fraud. My newborn seemed like an extra on a set. Any second, the crew was going to roll in his twin to take over. Someone would call, “Cut!” and we could go home to our regular life. But they didn’t. Instead they woke me up to nurse. Thankfully, he nursed very well. And during those feedings, I told Coop my plan. I whispered:
Look, kid. I have no clue what I’m doing. I figured I just know when you came out. I figured I just feel it. So here’s my promise to you. I swear that I will do whatever it takes to become a good Mom. You just have to give me some time. Deal?
I took his gurgles as a newborn Yes and we started our lives. I wish I could say that conversation made life easier. That would be romantic. But it took me time to become a Mother. Early on when people pointed out my ease of things, it stung. My ease for choosing and fully trusting daycare. My ease of over-nights away from my newborn. My ease at weekends or a week “off.” That ease made me different to some Mothers. It made me a Bad mom to some. However, that type of ease is Me and railing against it would be detrimental to my children’s well-being.
I’m forever grateful that seven years ago, I wasn’t reading blogs about Motherhood. If I did, I would have seen in print how different I was as a woman who had just become a mother. I know that reading those blogs would have crushed my soul. I would have neurotically worried about my journey. A very small part of me is happy we were the first in our group of friends to have a child. No one to tell the instant joys of Motherhood or how a Mother should feel. But this part is small. Being the first was beyond difficult and I felt robbed more than anything. But there was no comparison, so that was sort of nice. No one to say, “Maybe you have PPD or the Baby Blues.” It wasn’t PPD. And hearing “Baby Blues” might have been the ok to punch them. Even when Coop nursed forever, never slept, and cried for hours, it wasn’t PPD. I was surviving.
Motherhood is being instantly slammed into a difficult, wildly exhausting, completely life alternating moment. And I had the same coping skills as I did a year before. Nothing was different. There was nothing quick or Hallmarky about my step into this Big Life Moment. Just like every other Big Life Moment prior, I emerged the same. It took me years to understand that this particular sameness meant a completely different experience from most new Moms. Other woman talked about feeling Mother Bearish from the heartbeat. They looked at their newborn with tears in their eyes. When the OB pulled their children from the womb, their love was instant and crushing. For years, I wondered why I wired differently. And a few times I wondered if that meant I wasn’t Mom enough.
Mothers aren’t the same. We parent differently. We express our love differently. Seven years ago, I was naive to assume that we all enter Motherhood the same. I entered into as myself. And for me, it took time. Gooey isn’t something I do easily. Gooey and Motherhood still seems odd to me. That’s for other Mothers. I finally learned an important lesson: there’s no cookie cutter version of the perfect Mother. Maybe you loved your daughter before she was even conceived. Maybe you first loved your son at 12 weeks when he belly laughed at your goofy voice. The fact is you love them more than you love your own soul. As Mothers, we have one common thread: the love for our children. We should stop getting tangled in our differences. Stop using them to define who’s a better Mom. Let’s use our purest commonality to remind the world of Our strength. Some people might be afraid if this type of power is ever harnessed.
And in my opinion, they should be.