By Dara Ekanger
My 3-year-old little boy is peacefully sleeping, all tired out after a long day of chasing birds and racing his tricycle around the park. My unborn daughter is, for the moment, calmly floating in her warm waterbed—awaiting the day when she too will enter the world and sabotage her big brother’s “king of the hill” status.
Looking back on my life, I’m amazed at where I am today. I have to ask myself: “How on earth did I get here?”
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a mother—to put it mildly. In fact, many can recall my emphatic statements that I would “never have kids.” In high school, if someone asked me to babysit, my scripted reply was, “If you can’t find anybody else, call me back.” I didn’t actually dislike children, but I planned to go to college, live overseas, get married, and find a job. Though other people seemed to be able to fit children in amongst similar activities, I certainly didn’t plan on fitting them into mine.
I’m not sure why my resistance was so strong. For thousands of years people have been having children (obviously, or the human race would have died out by now). I had a great childhood and terrific, loving parents. My own mother’s primary goal as a child was to grow up and be a mommy, and she hoped the same for me. She loved her job as a stay-at-home parent. As a little girl I remember she bought me dolls, tried to get me to play house, and talked about my future children. But I refused to succumb to her subtle nudging. Kids just weren’t in the picture for me.
Years passed. I graduated from college, lived overseas, and got a good job. Then, I fell in love with a man who wanted a family. “Yeah, well, okay,” I grudgingly consented during one courtship conversation. “I guess someday, possibly, we might have kids.”
That was just about the last we talked about children while we were dating. The subject never really came up again, and I figured I was safe. But once the ring was on the finger, children worked their way into no less than one conversation a day … and I’m quite sure I did not bring up the subject.
My husband was not alone in his new-found fascination with babies. I quickly learned that when you are a newlywed, every friend or family member you talk to is required to inquire about pending child-bearing plans on a regular basis. I think it’s an unwritten law of the cosmos … a lot like gravity.
“But not yet,” I would reply to their questions. “We don’t have the money … Hubby’s not done with law school … We don’t have a house.” There was always an excuse.
When it came right down to it, however, my excuses had nothing to do with my resistance to having children. The actual resistance was based on one simple thing: absolute terror. I was terrified of pregnancy and childbirth. I was terrified of giving up my thoroughly enjoyable life for the complete unknown. I was terrified that I couldn’t be as good of a mother as mine had been. And I was terrified that I would be stuck dedicating the next 18 years to someone I didn’t really like all that much.
Life has a way of helping us face our greatest fears whether we want to or not. After four years of marriage, a plus sign appeared in the window of a little plastic stick. I was pregnant.
My family and friends were thrilled. I was shocked—and in denial—but I tried to be positive and focus on everyone else’s joy. That got me by … for about a week.
I then entered a stage of pregnancy that only one in 400 women gets to experience: hyperemesis gravidarum, which is Latin for “gravity won’t hold the food in your stomach.” After four months of nausea, vomiting, weight loss, dehydration, hospitalizations, and more drugs than any pregnant woman is supposed to have, the fog started to lift, and I began to believe that I might actually survive.
I told my husband this was it, however. If he wanted another kid, he’d have to get another wife.
The rest of the pregnancy progressed smoothly and I was a model expectant mother. I read everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy. I exercised twice a week, ate exactly what I was supposed to, and attended Bradley childbirth classes in anticipation of a completely natural childbirth. My husband carried on one-sided conversations with my expanding middle, and eventually the little squirt started responding to his voice with appropriate kicks and twists. Life was getting better.
I never enjoyed pregnancy like some mothers, but I thought I was over the biggest hurdle. By seven months, things were going much better. I had forgiven the little guy (and even the big guy) for causing so much trauma in the first four months. I was even starting to look forward to the arrival of our son. Gradually, I began to picture myself in the role of a parent—and for the first time, it didn’t freak me out.
Nevertheless, I was getting huge. Having started as a 5’7” string bean, the additional 45 pounds stood out like a sore … tummy. Although my exceptional size (coupled with my mother having had two large babies and the possibility that I too might have a whopper) once fueled my childbirth fears, even my weight could be explained away. “Oh, I think the baby will only be about eight pounds,” my midwife lied. And I was content to believe her.
Eventually, eight days past “D” day and after three days of unrelenting, unmedicated, unproductive, yet “natural” back labor, I ended up with the one thing I had been sure I would avoid—a c-section. When my new son was finally pulled out, the doctor exclaimed, “Look at the size of that head!” Apparently, the extra pounds were all baby. My “little” guy weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces. Starting life in size 6-month clothes, he never looked back.
Recovery was slow, but steady. I was proud of my super-sized child, but didn’t feel that instant bonding that many mothers talk about. Even my mother noticed I talked about him as “the baby” rather than calling him “my son” or even by his name. I fed him, changed him, rocked him—but more from a sense of duty than any attachment.
Slowly, the weeks passed. I learned to interpret his cries. We got the feeding, napping, and diaper-thing figured out. I learned that he loved motion. I learned that my husband was a great father and that, lo and behold, I was a good mother. No one could soothe a fussy Brent like mommy could. Yes … mommy. I was someone’s mommy, and, amazingly, it was starting to feel right.
After a few months, the “bonding” between mother and child cemented. I saw my mom’s prodding me toward motherhood in a different light. She hadn’t been working to force me into her mold; she was just trying to insure that I didn’t miss out on the great joy she had experienced.
When someone is expecting a baby, well-meaning friends and family often talk about how much your life will change. Any idiot knows to prepare for midnight feedings, exhaustion, and endless laundry for the first few months. But the changes that most impacted my journey to motherhood, no one told me to expect.
No one told me my entire body would shudder in pain when nurses stuck a needle into my baby’s head during an emergency hospitalization for some unidentified virus.
No one told me I would verbally bite the head off of a complete stranger who decided to light up a cigarette right next to my 6-month-old.
No one told me that suffocating panic would overwhelm me when my one-year old managed to wander outside while I went to the other room for “just a second.”
No one told me the gut-wrenching guilt I would feel when I accidentally pinched a fold of his chubby little neck in the car seat latch.
No one told me of the thrill of hearing a garbled, “wabamaba, wabamaba” accompanied by wild gesticulations toward a fat green watermelon.
No one told me that snuggling up for story time with my pajama-clad 2-year-old would be heaven on earth.
No one told me that deep philosophical questions from a curious 3-year-old would cause me to re-evaluate life and my attitude toward it.
No one told me of the sense of sheer joy that would envelope me when my little Brent said, “I love you, Mommy!” for the first time.
The transformational success of my initial foray into motherhood inspired me to try it again. They say no two pregnancies are alike, but the first five months of this second-time-around were a not-so-instant replay of the first-time-around. I’m (mostly) past all of that now, and our little girl is scheduled to arrive by c-section on May 26.
I can’t wait to meet her. I can’t wait to see the world through her eyes. I can’t wait to experience anew the wonder of helping to bring a new being into the world—this time without the uncertainty, hesitation, or reluctance that wasted my energy the first time.
Life is different now. It’s better, richer, filled with exactly the things that make life special: joy, pain, wonder, compassion, sorrow, beauty, pure love … For all of my fear and trepidation, motherhood has not robbed me of anything valuable (a little selfishness, a few hours of sleep, and a small fortune in diapers, perhaps), but has given me more than I ever imagined: a greater care and concern for children everywhere, a deeper appreciation for the vastness of life, and the honor of being responsible for two precious human lives.
This Mother’s Day, if you have children, take a few minutes to think about the incredible treasures they are and how they have enriched your life. Whether you have children or not, when you’re signing that Mother’s Day card for your own mom, include a few personal words thanking the woman who gave you life. She may not have been perfect and she won’t be around forever, but her legacy through you will carry on.
What could ever be more worthwhile?
Dara Ekanger is Senior Editor for Molly Green Magazine. Her baby Brent is now 12 years old.