The story of how our daughter came into the world is the stuff of family legend—mainly because I didn’t know I was having a baby until she was halfway here. And there you have it.
Now, I’d never thought of myself as an especially clueless woman. And it’s not like I was a naïve teenager; I was approaching 27 on the day I discovered my condition, and my husband was closing in on 34. We’d been married for nearly five years. In my defense, my early symptoms were quite mild and a previous professional diagnosis had indicated I might have trouble getting pregnant without medical intervention. Ironically, I’d gone to the doctor that April afternoon to discuss the possibility of fertility treatments, and it took about five minutes for him to determine there’d be no need.
My mother describes the moment we told her our big news as something out of an episode of I Love Lucy—me with big, surprised eyes and Scott talking in quick, confused, broken English.
Four short months later, I sat on my sofa listening intently to the clues my body was giving me: Was that a contraction? Was today the day? I’d misinterpreted the signs once before; I’d be damned if I’d also be one of those women who went to the ER complaining of food poisoning only to watch a baby come shooting out. Nope. I just knew my doctor had written somewhere on my chart too stupid to be a parent, and if I messed this part up they’d never let me take the baby home from the hospital.
But there was a happy ending; the actual birth was smooth and uncomplicated, they did let me bring my adorable, big-eyed, baby girl home from the hospital, we raised her to young womanhood and sent her out into the world.
I like to think there are two births to celebrate on August 8th—a beautiful child was born, and so was a mother. I was transformed on that day.
Prior to my daughter’s birth, I thought of motherhood mostly in terms of the warm, fuzzy moments: lullabies sung and stories read and boo boos kissed all better. Those were the moments that made me feel like a mommy. What left me breathless was the intensity of motherhood, the absolute ferocity of my feelings regarding the child. Such depth of commitment, such intense worry, such absolute joy! Nothing else I’d felt before then came close. How many days since then have my first thoughts upon rising and my last thoughts before bed gone out to my offspring?
Motherhood filled the gaps in my relationship with my own mother. Suddenly I understood so many things that once I’d disregarded glibly! It also entered me into immediate sisterhood with other moms. It’s a sorority that spans not only the races, but the species as well. We know.
Moreover, becoming a mother made me want to be a better person! With little eyes on me and little ears nearby, there were bad habits to break and questionable behaviors to reform. I cleaned up my mouth, thought more carefully before expressing my opinions, gave consideration to the kind of environment to which this little person would be exposed. Motherhood affected my commitment to marriage, my approach to teaching, my cooking, my attention to the law, my community spirit, and my world view. It taught me to put the needs of others before my own, to empathize, to sympathize, and to think outwardly rather than inwardly. In other words, motherhood is molecular. Ask any mom.
Twenty-four years have passed. A son was born 21 years ago and reaffirmed all that I’d learned from having a daughter. And I’m still learning from motherhood. Even though we bring children into the world with the goal of one day launching them out into it, when the time comes it’s harder than might be expected. The hands-off-and-mouth-shut stage of motherhood is no easier than the stages that came before. But it’s every bit as joyful! Again, ask any mom.