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.
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.
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?”
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.