‘I’ll breastfeed, but only until I go back to work.’
‘This baby will have her own bed, in her own room.’
‘Of course I’ll leave the baby with other people.’
‘I’m having a midwife, but I'm giving birth in the hospital.’
‘I’m fine with my baby taking a bottle or a soother.’
‘Babies cry. It’s not going to stress me out too much.’
‘My life and my relationship with my husband will always come first.’
‘I’m not going to be one of those mothers.’
It’s true – I said all of those things. Some of them I said while I was pregnant with my first, and some I said long before pregnancy was a hope or dream for Chris and me. And at the time, flush with the bravado of the child-free and sleep-fat, I actually believed those things.
I would state these things with surety, with conviction and with judgment. Of course, I was not (yet) judging myself, but those other mothers; my sister and her friends – and some of my own friends – who spent an hour putting their kids to sleep while I waited for their return downstairs, bored and irritated; who wore their babies like barnacles and never. ever. left them at home; who were always and forever whipping out their boobs for kids who seemed already old enough to undo their mother’s goddam bra themselves.
I didn’t get it.
And for every piece of ‘knowledge’ I offered others about my own impending role as a mother, I was handed some back - for every, ‘I am not sharing my bed with my kid.’ There was a, ‘Never say never.’ handed back.
For every, ‘I am not giving up my life just because I have a baby.’ Lobbed into the air, there was a, ‘Wait until you experience sleep deprivation.’ Sent back.
For every, ‘That will never be me,’ there was a, ‘You’ll see.’
As my belly got bigger, my resolve that I knew everything there was to know about being a parent became shaky. My stubbornness sprang a slow leak, but as it deflated, my courage, my confidence and my excitement grew. I began to think that maybe both the parent and the child would be happier if I tried to stop thinking in terms of I won't, and replaced it with, I can.
And then my sister gave me a copy of Spiritual Midwifery, and I thought, I can do this.
And then Chris and I attended an info night on home births, and I thought I can do this.
And then I was in labour, and I thought, I can do this.
And then my baby was born, and I looked at her, and I said, I can do this.
There was no more thought of organization and compartmentalization and we-wills and we- won’ts. There was no more talk of plans. In fact, I wanted it quiet. I wanted it silent so I could listen to my tiny new baby as she told me everything I needed to know about being her mother.
She slept with us, her first night in our world, and every night after that for almost three years. She drank from my breast for more than two years. I was with her constantly, not leaving her in the care of anyone besides her father until she was over six months old. The first time I ever heard her cry for more than a spec of a moment was at the doctor's at two months old, and I cried with her. I made her baby food from scratch, and got upset when I couldn’t find organic sweet potatoes. Everything made sense.
And when I had my second daughter, the joy of her arrival compounded by the loss of my father mere weeks before, I never even thought twice about having two babies in my bed; I simply moved over to make room. I now had two barnacles.
My need for my children is often as great as their need for me.
I had to give up many things when I became a mother, most significantly, control, followed soon after by guilt, selfishness and a flat stomach. Some days it is easier to accept the (at least temporary) loss of these things than others. But in giving up each of these things, I seem to have made room for something that has served me much better as a parent:
Quite by accident, I learned to trust myself, my children, their needs, my desires.
Quite by accident, and with gratitude, I have become one of those mothers.