I was never a great babysitter. in high school, I much rather would have been spending my summers working for Kilgore’s Pharmacy’s side businesses than taking part in any form of nannying (shout out, Snow Cone Alley and Plant Shack!). I believe “under my skin” is the phrase that best describes where children in my care would typically end up.
Here’s a picture of me around my Snow Cone Alley days…eating a blooming onion.
I wasn’t the pre-teen at family reunions asking to hold the twins and sitting with the adults at the dinner table. I was outside convincing all the kids around my age to come along for adventures in the barn and on the farm equipment or to take part in plays that I was both writing and directing.
I have always been bossy, not parental. Somewhat caring, not nurturing.
I love to throw a party but have to #werk to remember to be a host. It is actual effort for me to tap into my southern heritage and remember to offer guests a glass of water (bless her heart, they say).
Those sweet eCards that spam your Facebook now like to remind us that a woman becomes a mother when she conceives, a man becomes a father when he holds his baby for the first time. Pardon me for poopooing on these gender role expectations, but in my case this was not so.
My whole pregnancy felt surreal at best. There’s a baby in there? It’s part me and part him? It will come into the world? I am to be one of its caretakers?
I did not feel immediately maternal.
I don’t think that all people experience the same thing I did. I whole heartedly believe that there are some men and women in the world who are born with parental instincts. They have been mothers and fathers, in one way or another, their whole lives…searching for someone to nurture, to hold, to raise. I am thankful for this lot of you because I’m certain, for one, that you helped raise me. But, for two, you’ve become my litmus test for knowing what action to take with my own son when and if my motherly instincts haven’t caught up.
WWMD is the bracelet I wear around my arm now…What Would a Mom Do? (JK, but what if…would you wear it? Would you pay me for it? Dibs.)
What I’m trying to say is that I know you exist and I’m grateful.
What I would also like to say is that I know that my breed exists too. We’re the ones that are still waiting to feel like parents long after labor or adoption. The ones that would never quite consider themselves “kid people” unless that kid was their own or in a group of a specific few others…maybe not even then? The ones that have a hard time not talking to 4-year olds like they’re your buddies…not your little buddies…your friends, your peers, small adults if you will.
I think we bring our own strengths to the world, but I think we’re also hesitant to share this reality out loud (especially as women in this culture) because it makes us feel…defective? What chip did they forget to install inside of our mushy mom hearts that makes some of this stuff not entirely natural?
I waited my whole pregnancy to feel like a mom, but figured that if that eCard wasn’t correct, maybe it would come through for me in the “way it does for dads.” Maybe I would become a mom when I held my baby for the first time.
My emotions were likely compromised on the flip side of my two-day long labor. I was tired and hungry and fresh out of surgery when I saw my son for the first time and…whereas I thought my heart would explode into a millions fairies filled with love and world peace in that moment…I looked at him and thought, “That one’s ours?…I should…probably feed him, no?”
It didn’t help that he looked even less assured and comfortable than I was…
Luke and I went to a movie when our baby was a month old and for an hour it felt like it was still just the two of us in life together–incredibly disorienting but also not. We traveled to Galveston when he was four months old and, at that point, I just didn’t feel the distance. My dad said we’d have to fight hard to have anything else to talk about on dates and we just…didn’t…at first.
I have worried on more than 75 different occasions that I’m not “feeling the right feelings” when it comes to parenting. Naturally, guilt has followed.
But now, nine months into motherhood and a year and a half out from conception, I am able to shed most of this specific guilt and see this truth more clearly: I am becoming a momma like I became most significant things in my life…gradually, and through trial and error, and eventually with confidence and conviction.
It wasn’t when the test read positive. It wasn’t when I first nursed him out of the OR.
It was when he looked up from his bottle and grabbed my chin at the end of a hard day and rubbed it back and forth with his soft, tiny thumb. It was when he sat up in his crib and whimpered “meh-ma, meh-ma” for the first time. It’s the nights that I hold him long after he’s fed and fallen asleep, and I let myself cry (hard) because I am so overwhelmed by his life and the fact that I get to be such a unique part of it. It’s how he’s grafted into this family and I don’t even know when it happened but there is a big void when he’s gone. My hand flies up at the girgly threat of spit-up and I want him to feel loved and challenged and known with every drop of blood coursing through these limbs of mine that wrestle him into pajama pants every night.
I miss him when he sleeps.
I talk to him in the car like he can answer me, excited for the season when he can tell me about his time away.
I am unable right now to fully wrap my mind around this impossible existence of being someone’s mama. He is simultaneously entirely mine, and entirely us, and entirely other…his own being, wholly new to the world, ready to discover and be discovered as we all have done and also as no one else has ever done. I have never felt so fully creator and spectator all at the same time in my entire life.
I am finding myself saturated with this almost uneasy level of undomesticated care, protection, connection, and love for someone I didn’t know a year ago and I helped…to make? In and amongst all of the very real questions, lack of sleep, irritability, and heaviness that is postpartum, lies this kinetic energy slowly building inside of me on behalf of this bundle of humanity I call my son.
(Check out how I made sure he was fed and clothed and in his carseat LIKE A MOM WOULD DO.)
Motherhood wasn’t automatic. And in a lot of ways it still isn’t natural. But it is evolving and deepening while all of the competencies it takes to fulfill this role as parent are also finding their way into my skill set…slowly, surely. With them comes confidence. And with confidence comes a new thing which I now feel I can call instinct.
Britney Lee writes and runs Milk Drunk Blog where this article was originally published. Click here to view original.