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I get a regular email about the progress of this, my first pregnancy, and what symptoms to expect with each progressing week. You know you’re getting down the wire when the only thing written for the week is, “your water could break at any time, don’t be embarrassed if it happens in public…” Yes, motherhood is upon me. In fact, I will certainly be a mother by this Mother’s Day. Actually, if that email is true, I could be a mother before I finish writing this article.
And it’s only now, with this new stage of life looming so near, that I realize all the false paradigms and assumptions that I have harbored about motherhood all my life.
It reminds me a bit of the feeling of falling in love. People and songs and movies and poetry had told me about what that would be like, but there were certain things I just didn’t know until I could experience a bit of it myself. And when I found this wonderful guy who I would soon call ‘husband’ and I could finally be settled about it, I was shocked by how much space was freed up in my brain. Without knowing it, finding that person had crowded up my mental space even in areas that I wouldn’t associate with relationships. The influence of that search or sometimes my resistance to the influence of it, had found its way into everything from how I made school and professional decisions to how much make-up I wore or did not wear to the grocery store. It was a relief to be free of it.
In the same way, without realizing it, my brain has been clouded with certain anxieties, assumptions, paradigms, judgments and fears about motherhood whose influence I didn’t even see until the growing bump in my belly forced me to challenge them.
Here are just a few:
My child will be a miniature version of myself
I can point to the exact date this paradigm went out the window because it’s printed all over each ultrasound photo. When we were deciding what our timing should be for having children, I always pictured myself rocking a little girl to sleep under the soft light of a nursery lamp. Whether I consciously acknowledged it or not, I thought my ushering a little girl through little girlhood was inevitable because that’s the only kind of childhood with which I have personal experience. Yes, she would be my little gal pal and I could teach her all about what I’ve learned to this point in life. And she’d get the lessons right away because she’d be just like me and we’d love the same things and want to learn the same things and I’d be just ahead of her on a similar path and I’d basically get to watch someone relive the best parts of my own childhood and know how to protect her from the rest.
I didn’t know I had any of these thoughts until, at 21 weeks along, the chipper ultrasound tech finally got the miraculous little person—whose brain and spine and heart and waving fingers we’d already been examining with happy, baited breath—to be a tiny bit less modest with leg placement and she said,
“Anyone want to take a guess what it is?”
I’m not sure how anyone can go through an ultrasound like this one and keep it a surprise, because no one with even a cursory glance at the screen could’ve thought my firstborn-to-be was anything but a boy.
Yes, I’ve got a son on the way. And silly as it sounds, my first thought was, “how does my female body even know how to make a boy?” But then, how does my body know how to make a beautiful brain or that little beating heart or the fingers that have already garnered him the nickname “Knuckles” Scoresby? It’s all a miracle.
And despite a near constant flood of jokes about the ways he’ll inevitably be a little clone of my husband with fire-starting skills, a pocket knife never far away and at least three cowlicks to keep his hair from ever looking tamed, I know that he’s still as likely to come out with my traits as my husband’s. After all, I’m as solidly an iteration of my father as I am of my mother. But more likely than that, he’ll come out his own person altogether and though I always knew that would be the case with our children, I didn’t realize how much I thought I’d get a near copy of myself until I saw that he couldn’t be.
My greatest accomplishments would have to happen before I became a mother
Perhaps it is a product of being swarmed by social media posts that tout a 15-year-old who’s invented a way to clean the plastic out of the ocean or the entrepreneur that made his first million by 23 or the actress nominated for three Oscars before her 25th birthday, but I think I’ve been haunted by a sense that if I didn’t “make it” before motherhood than I’d never make it.
What does “making it” mean to me? I’m not even sure. It’s not necessarily that I expected to have fame and fortune, but I have struggled with a sometimes unacknowledged, but deep-seated fear that if people didn’t know what I could do as an actress and a writer and respect it enough to come seeking me out before I brought children into the picture, then those dreams would just have to die. It seemed impossible to continue to fight to be seen and heard and pull at the coat sleeves of the right people once someone little is simultaneously tugging at your pant leg from below.
Without knowing it, I set an artificial deadline for myself. I stumbled through my twenties frantically searching (mostly in vain) for certain kinds of professional advancement hoping that I could collect the right accolades while my talent was still “astonishing for one so young” rather than “about what we’d expect from someone with your experience.”
But now that I will have a baby boy in my arms sometime in the next two weeks and I know that’s not enough time for my big breakthrough to come, I realize that the creative life should be a marathon, not a sprint. Like the feeling of freed up space in my mind once I found my guy, I feel a profound sense of relief and freedom at realizing that I’m going to be a mother and I know that I’m not yet even wise enough to have accomplished my greatest work or said my most important piece.
My grandmother is celebrating her 100th birthday next month and if I live to be her age, that means I still have 70+ years left to create and collaborate on and accomplish the things I need to in this life. You don’t realize how much time that really is until you understand that I was working on a “I’ve got like two years left to make something happen or else…” mentality.
It’s kind of like a pattern that I’ve seen cropping up among some friends of mine recently to make a “30 by 30” list. It’s basically a bucket list of things to do by age 30 and while it sounds fun and I love ticking off a checklist as much as (or possibly more than) the next guy, that implies that thirty is the end of something. It supposes that certain opportunities will dry up on a pre-determined day. But turning thirty is a beginning not an ending, and so is motherhood. And never in the history of the earth has opportunity been more ever-present and the ground as fertile for its growth at any age and stage as it is now.
Just by experiencing pregnancy, I feel my mind and perspective expanding so I can’t imagine how much more it will grow when this little somebody is here, in person, to teach me. By realizing that motherhood isn’t an end, but an enrichment and deepening of the next chapter, I feel like I’ve bought myself decades of work time and I can outlive and outwrite the rejection rather than be tripped up by it because I can just keep on walking and working and only I get to choose when I’m done.
Children are a hinderance to greater things
Before getting married, I always resented when people would joke about how “marriage is like a hot bath, once you get used to it, it’s not so hot anymore” or how the sure-fire way to make someone you admire into someone that irritates you, is to marry them. There is often a sense of condolences among the congratulations and that always rang untrue to my expectations and observations of what marriage could be. Now, nearly four years of marriage on, I stand by my skepticism of that sentiment and have found marriage to be just the happiest thing about life by a mile.
In the same vein, when new people learn of mine and my husband’s somewhat adventurous and a little eccentric lifestyle, they are quick to say, “well, say goodbye to all that when you have kids” or “aww, enjoy it now. We wish we had done more of that before all these kids came into the picture” or “I hope you like having that baby in there, because once he’s out here you won’t be able to do any of this stuff.” Now I fully understand that these people were not trying to offend and yet I’ve grown to resent the commiserations rather than cheerfulness that accompanies the public projection of life once children arrive.
Nonetheless, a part of me believed them.
I didn’t realize how much I believed them until I started attending a Zumba class at my local ward building a few months into my pregnancy. The cultural hall would fill with dancing mamas and their excited children and all the scattered toys the nursery room could provide. Nearly every song that came on saw someone leaving the floor at some point to tend to or find their child. One day in particular as I watched one mother, probably about my age, finally just pick up her child and continue the routine with him on her hip, I filled with admiration and respect for her and was disappointed to find that the thought felt like a departure from my default reaction to such a scene.
Yes, I could almost hear the echoed thoughts of a previous iteration of myself—one that hadn’t yet felt the tiny fluttering kicks of someone she already dearly loves—saying, “Look at her, she can’t do anything without a kid getting in the way.”
Now, I’ve always loved children. I’ve been an aunt since I was 11 and always felt enough like a child myself to look at these miniature adults as people and peers, but it was not until I had one of my own growing inside me that I realized they are entire universes.
I can’t believe I have the privilege of ushering this huge soul inside of a tiny person into the experience of mortal life. I can’t believe that I am about to be trusted with the task of loving him so much that no other place on the earth will be as secure and familiar to him as my heart and my home. All children just look different to me now and it is in the contrast that I realize that I didn’t always see them this way.
Yes, having children will, of necessity, change my life, but it’s a choice whether that change means the adventures end or you just add one more adventure buddy to the crew. I think we do a cultural disservice to ourselves by always talking about children as obstacles and stumbling blocks to an easier life rather than by travel companions towards a richer one.
When you’re young and have never had children, you don’t really believe the people that say it’ll be different when it’s your own kids. Or at least don’t understand them. I haven’t even given birth yet and so many things have already changed. I have no delusions that it will be a cake walk just because a different kind of love than I ever imagined is involved, but I realize now that I have honestly looked to motherhood with mostly dread, when all along I should’ve been looking to it with delight.
And so, I’ve made it to the end of this article without going into labor. And though I know when that day comes it will involve endurance and pain and exhaustion and sacrifice, I’m excited now for what comes after because the false paradigms that were casting long shadows on this next stage are beginning to fall away one by one leaving me with an eye toward a future that is bright with a little buddy that I can’t wait to meet.
Bonus: The nesting instinct turned out NOT to be a false assumption. Here’s the form mine took: