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I Feel Like an Imposter Mom

Allison Hope has worked in communications and journalism for nearly 15 years, with clips at the Washington Post, Slate, New York Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, among others.

I keep waiting for my kid's ‘real mom’ to show up

Some people plan their whole lives to have a baby. Maybe they start with pushing their doll in a toy stroller as a kid. Maybe they have their baby nursery decor (oh, and their wedding dress) all picked out from the time they’re teenagers. Maybe they even have a folder or a Pinterest page with visuals to plot every planned rite of passage — right down to the linen patterns for the shower and a running list of baby names. Note: These folks often make these lists before they even have a partner. Sometimes, they have it all planned out before puberty.

I was not that kid.

Growing up, I was generally more interested in sports than playing house, and once I hit adolescence and realized I was a lesbian, having a kid seemed like something that was reserved for people "over there," not for me. I was told this over and over again: by the laws that didn’t include my kind of love or my kind of baby-making. I was told this by lawmakers and religious leaders who said I was unnatural. And I was discouraged even by those who were accepting and loved me, my parents included; they simply never asked about it. They assumed that the outcome of having a gay child was that she would never make them grandparents.

More: I Didn't Realize My Mom Was Clueless Until I Had a Kid

Then, a series of events — both personal and political, namely settling down with someone I loved and finally getting legally married to her — led me to "family planning," a concept I'd heretofore assumed would involve no more questions than, "Should we get one cat or two?"

But now, we have a baby. He's a beautiful and smart and funny little guy, and it’s all so incredibly strange and wonderful at the same time.

I never thought I would be a mom, so becoming one feels extra surreal. It feels like I'm waiting for my baby's real parents to come pick him up — or for someone to tell me I'm not really his mom. I keep thinking I’m the aunt, a role I’ve played time and time again with friends and family members who had babies. In fact, I had resigned myself to the role of perma-aunt — not unlike the eternal bridesmaid who accepts that she probably won’t ever get married herself — because I'd come to accept that I would never be a mom. I told myself this "fact" over and over again for so many years that when I finally did become a mom, I couldn’t believe it.

More: Where Is the Maternity-Wear for Queer Folks?

I look at my baby and feel the deepest kind of love possible. But there's a very real disconnect between that feeling and the knowledge that I’m his mom. Yes, I was pregnant with him and carried him for nine months (not that biology is what makes a parent; it's not). There's also something so comforting and familiar-looking about my son, probably because he looks kind of like me. And yet, still, I have trouble believing he’s mine.

When I’m pushing my son's stroller down the street, and passersby stop to admire him and tell me how cute he is, I feel uncomfortable saying thank you. Because, well, for one thing, isn't, "Thank you," a weird thing to say in that context in general, like someone just complimented your shoes? But also, I feel like I can’t take any credit at all for this cute baby. I almost want to say, “Thanks, but I’m just watching him while his mom goes into the store.”

Sometimes I look at my baby, and he looks back at me, and all I can think is, "When is he going to freak out and want his real mom?"

More: Tamera Mowry-Housley Gets Real About Parenting

But then when he cries and I pick him up and he calms right down, I realize I’m the one who can comfort him — because, spoiler: I’m the real mom. Who knew? Not me. It sounds so simple and so silly. Am I the only parent who has ever felt such imposter syndrome?

I know plenty of moms who own the mom title like a boss. I see them stride down the street with confidence, babies hanging out of carriers and off breasts and even slung under their arms like a football. They exude mom with every fiber of their being, maternal instinct oozing out of their pores. I watch in awe and envy.

I’m guessing the day will come when I feel like a true mom. I imagine there’s a threshold at which enough diapers have been changed and enough sleepy-eyed nighttime feedings have occurred and enough loving gazes have been given that it will somehow click, and I will be able to say with confidence and pride, “I am Mom.” Until that day, well, I'll be the best damn aunt this kid could ever have.

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