After we give birth we often have to pinch ourselves to remind us that not only did we give birth to a beautiful, new life, we gave birth to a second new life — that of a mom!
Welcome to motherhood!
After 10 months of waiting, and three hours of pushing, the tiny baby was placed in my arms. She was so small. So beautiful. So perfect. As I looked into Torri’s bright blue eyes, I could hardly believe that she was real.
Then my husband said something startling, “I love you, Mom!”
Mom? “Oh my God,” I thought, “I’m a mom.” I’m a mom?
It was almost surreal. Sure, I knew having a baby made you a mother, and my husband and parents had bought me Mother’s Day cards while I was pregnant, but this was so different. I was actually somebody’s mom!
I guess the reason I was so surprised by this realization was because I didn’t feel like a mom. I was still young, and I had a great career that I didn’t intend to leave. I had big plans, and a bigger wish list of things I wanted and wanted to do.
On top of that, I didn’t have any intuition whatsoever. My instincts were always wrong, and pushing out a baby didn’t change that. I remembered how my mom knew everything, but I felt as though I knew nothing. “How do I know if the baby is getting enough to eat?” “How often should she poop?” “What is baby powder used for?” Yes, even the nurses knew I was clueless. How could I possibly be a mom?
Things got worse after we left the hospital. Everyone told me that babies have different cries for different needs — four years and two babies later I still haven’t figured that one out. Whenever Torri cried, I went through the same routine: check diaper, distract with a toy, hold and sing, offer food, sit on the floor and cry along because I had no idea what she needed. Eventually I decided to call it colic. Whether it actually was is still a mystery.
During the first few months, I assumed the role of mother without accepting the title. I felt more like a long-term babysitter. When I saw myself in the mirror, I still looked like a high school kid. Worse, I still felt like one! It was impossible for me to believe that I was a frumpy, old married woman with a kid of my own.
After three months, it was time for me to go back to work. I was excited to be guaranteed a shower, nice clothes and time as an individual rather than a mom. The week before my return, I talked with my boss and co-workers, and they were eager to have me back. I assured them that I was just as eager to come back. However, after the conversation, I looked at my angel asleep in her swing. Her tiny head bobbed with the motion, and she had the sweetest look of contentment on her face.
The next three days were the hardest and longest of my life. I was faced with the decision that I had ignored until now: Will I be Mom? Or will I be Me?
Prior to this, I had convinced myself that I could be both. Thousands of women had done it before me. It would be no problem.
Now I was looking beyond the others and into myself. “Could I do it?” “Am I strong enough to share my child so I could save my self?” As I looked at the tiny mass of human who was still unable to play or talk, I knew I was not ready to decide.
I called my office just two days before I was scheduled to return and asked for an extension. I bought myself another month. But instead of using the time wisely weighing the pros and cons, I refused to think about it.
“I have no choice,” I justified. “We did the math, and we can’t live without my income. I need to go back to work. That’s all there is to it.”
A month later, I showered and dressed, and then packed my daughter and her things into the car. I sobbed as I drove to the day care center, and bawled uncontrollably when I dropped her off. “Whatever you do, don’t love her!” I demanded of her caregivers. She was mine, and I wanted her to learn love from me — not paid strangers.
I tried to gather myself as I drove to work, but I didn’t succeed. When I arrived, I was a mess of makeup and tears. I was welcomed back and told how much I was missed, but I couldn’t help thinking of the one that I missed. When I finally had a moment alone, something I dreamed of for the past four months, I was lonely and sad.
Before leaving that evening, a supportive coworker told me that it would get easier. I hoped beyond hope that she was right.
However, after two months I was still unable to make it out the door of the day care without being reduced to tears. My misery was affecting my work, my mothering and my whole life. I became increasingly depressed, with feelings of complete worthlessness. I prayed and prayed for some sort of resolution, but my pleading seemed to go unheard and unanswered.
A few weeks later I had a dream. Torri and I were playing on the floor. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the smell of fresh cut grass filled the air. My husband came into the room with a huge smile and an arm full of flowers. “Happy Mother’s Day!” he said. “You are the greatest mom I know. I’m glad you put your self on hold to care for our child. I respect and love you more than I can ever say. You are my hero.” I woke crying. For the first time since my baby was born, I knew I was a mom.
I gave my two-weeks notice, but requested an earlier resignation. My boss could see that I was serious, so she allowed me to clean out my desk that day. I picked up my daughter from what was to be her last day at day care, and we drove home. I have been here ever since.
My birth as a mother was nearly as long and as painful as the birth of my child. But, in the same way a child cannot return to the womb, I will never go back to being anything but mom.