Before my son was born, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of mother I would be. Was I a Kate-Spade-diaper-bag kind of mom? Not really. An organic-cloth-diaper kind of mom? Definitely not. (As it turned out, I am an Andy Warhol Bugaboo Chameleon-banana-print-stroller kind of mom. Stop me if you see me in the grocery store with that yellow beauty. I’m happy to talk to you about the features, because I talk about strollers a lot now.)
What I never worried about, though, was whether I would be a good mom, which I’d come to define quite simply as someone who loves her child. When my son was born, just before Christmas and after many hours of literal blood, sweat and tears, the doctor lay the swaddled, screaming package on my chest and my heart filled with… well, nothing much. I stared at his red face and my husband’s teary visage. “He’s so beautiful,” my husband stammered. “Yeah,” I managed. I was tired. I was confused. I was not sure how to embark on this adventure.
That first night, while I lay alone with the still-nameless tiny creature (well, not quite alone, my husband was snoring loudly in the recliner beside the hospital bed), I felt the initial trickle of a feeling I couldn’t label. It was a muddled mess of protectiveness, possessiveness, fear and wonder. Then he grabbed my finger and the emotion swelled.
As we relaxed into each other and learned each other’s rhythms (like how to breastfeed, which is the HARDEST of all hard things), my love for him became so overwhelming that I am like a pot constantly at risk of boiling over.
But I didn’t realize that all around me, my husband, my parents and my closest friends were issuing sighs of relief. I was nuzzling the baby’s neck one afternoon as my husband sat on the couch next to us, smiling. “It’s really good that you ended up being maternal,” he said. Pardon me?
How is it possible that the man who’d campaigned to have a child was worried I would, I don’t know, eat my baby like a rabid monster? He tried to explain. And I understand that I’m not really a hugger, that I didn’t have list of baby names when I was 7 years old, that I never dot my cursive letters with little hearts, but surely it was clear that I was cut out to be a mother, right?
Wrong. One after another, my best friends expressed happy surprise that I loved motherhood. My mom tried to hide her delight that I was embracing parenthood. Almost no one, it seemed, had much faith that I would transition from dry jokes to wet diapers.
It hasn’t been seamless. I won’t pretend that I don’t mourn the day I could shower without interruption or guilt. However, I am happy to throw the preconceptions about what makes a woman maternal in the face of every doubter. I haven’t changed: I still worry about what my purse says about me as a person and which glass of wine to order with lunch. But I have evolved—and I’ve tapped into a wellspring of love so primal that it scares me at times.
Case in point? A lifelong selfie-hater, I now lie in bed every morning and snap pics of myself with my infant son. I don’t Instagram them or show them to anyone (unless you ask, in which case I will spend seven hours showing you ALL of them), but I can’t resist documenting those early-hour cuddles when we are still hazy with sleep. Maybe I do it so that later, when he’s crying and I’m poop-smeared, I can remember those peaceful moments. Or maybe it’s so that I can see the love in our eyes.
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