When I was pregnant, a friend of mine told me that her mother hadn’t been much into babies. She chuckled a bit as she recounted her mom’s comment, “I didn’t even like you until you were three.” In the midst of the mystery and sentiment of pregnancy, I had a hard time following her mother’s thinking. I mean, life was growing inside me – precious, beautiful, mysterious life! How could someone not like a baby?!? While I chuckled at the sentiment, I couldn’t quite grasp it, that is, until one actually showed up in my arms.
I suspect my inability to understand had something to do with the fact that I had not yet lost years of sleep, been puked on (and more!) multiple times, gained over 50 pounds, spent months nauseated, endured repeated bouts of mastitis, or tried to reason with a screaming 2 year who insisted on watching TV at 2 am. I also had not yet encountered the daunting challenge of quieting a screaming baby on a 20 hour flight, keeping fingers out of electrical sockets, short-changing engaging conversations with friends/husbands/mothers to clean up the box of cereal dumped on the floor.
To put it simply, I had no idea what was about to hit me. Thank God. I’m not sure I would have done it had I known. And now, over seven years after the initial blow (i.e. child #1), I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it. I have to admit that my journey to motherhood has been a bit slow-in-the-making. When I got pregnant, I wasn’t quite prepared for the challenge that the little-aliens-who-take-over-your-body-and-never-give-it-back present. I hesitate to even admit this, for I have friends who have struggled to get pregnant who would have loved to be in my position. While their plight has deeply increased my compassion for women who struggle to get pregnant, it does not change my own story.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids until about six months into my first pregnancy. I just wasn’t quite sure what I’d do with one. Part of me hoped some magic maternal gene would kick in the instant a kid popped out. That kind of happened, and yet it kind of didn’t too. Because of my stressful job as a high school teacher and the high cost of daycare where we lived, it made the most sense to stay home. I was ok with this decision for awhile. But then I started to get a bit *gasp* bored. I’d call my husband every hour at work. I’d watch bad TV (e.g. Jerry Springer, Judge Judy). In extremely slow moments, I’d even resort to cleaning.
Then God did something gracious. My husband accepted a job which required us to take over a 25% pay cut. The loss of salary required me to work – not for luxuries but necessities. Even stripped to the bone, we couldn’t pay for the bottom line bills. So, I got a job. And to my great surprise, I LOVED it. I’d practically dance out of the house. Granted, it was only about 10 hours a week, but those 10 hours brought a whole new level of sanity to my baby/toddler-weary brain.
I don’t share this in any fashion to denigrate full-time stay at home moms, just to show that it wasn’t working for me. (If anything, I have far MORE respect for women who can take the stress of staying home full-time.) As the years have passed, I’ve realized that part of my experience in the early years of my children’s lives was that I was still wrestling with the realities of becoming a mom. I was changing in ways I’d never changed, and it was hard. It was definitely a between time for me – between carefree young woman and responsible parent, between pretty-young-thing and chubby-young-mother, between barely awake and half asleep – that took time to settle into.
These days, I’m mostly settled into motherhood. It feels normal, right, even comfortable. I not only love, but also like my kids. Already, remembering those ‘adjustment years’ makes me slightly sentimental. They were years when, like so many points in life, I was unsure, confused. As I bumbled through the ups and downs of poop and nursing, tantrums and ‘do-it-myselfs’, sleepless nights and spluttered carrots (if you’ve ever tried to feed a baby anything orange while wearing a white shirt, you’ll know what I mean!), I learned a thing or two about perseverance, sacrifice, love that earn me the mama badge I now wear proudly. Paradoxically, it’s really more a source of humility than pride, for I see now how I was growing up with them. While I was raising them, they were teaching me – as much of a newbie mama as they were newborn baby – how to live.