She was all I could think about. We didn’t say out loud that we were trying, but we stopped preventing with synthetic hormones two years prior, and there was still nothing to show for it. The lines were still singular. My body was still alone. I wasn’t infertile, and neither was he. We were young and healthy, so there were no reasons ... we just had to wait, and I was impatient.
Her nonexistence demanded my attention. There was a gaping hole where she was supposed to be. I couldn’t ignore it. I peed on a stick every single morning. I would examine each pregnancy test for hours after it dried. I would take them apart and hold them up to the sunlight streaming through my window. I felt stupid for wanting it so badly.
I got a call from my doctor that morning. All of my test results were normal. I had never been more dismantled by good news. I was in my workout clothes, and I hadn’t even started to sweat, but I already felt worn out. I just wanted a baby. I just wanted to know why it wasn’t working. I fell to the floor and after two years of failing, I let myself feel the shame for it. I shook and cried and was angry with God. I slammed my fists into the beige carpet and let everything leave me until I felt as empty as I was inside. That day felt like a dead end.
The second line appeared faint and uncertain 27 days after that heap of sorrow on the living room floor in my sports bra. While in a frenzy of cooking sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, I hid in the laundry room and told my husband in secret. His family watched the muffled Macy’s Day Parade in the background, oblivious to our entire world shifting while we stood in front of the washer. We were shocked and relieved. Dizzy with contradicting emotions. We finally felt heard, but afraid that it would be taken away from us. We celebrated, anyway, with a feast. I ate seven helpings of green bean casserole, and I hate green bean casserole. We couldn’t keep it to ourselves, and through sobs, told everyone we loved that Thanksgiving day. We shouted it from the rooftops on Christmas. It was foggy outside, and there wasn’t much under the tree. I already had everything I had ever wanted because of the road that laid at our feet.
I heard her heart beating for the first time when she was the size of a raspberry. It was quick, and strong, and I knew in that moment I would be having a daughter, but it didn’t change me, not yet. She grew and she grew until every inch of me was taken by her. I wasn’t different, even then.
Before her, I wanted the photos and the clothes and the decor and the surface level of motherhood. I coveted the aesthetic of it. I dreamed of what it would look like to have a child kick inside my womb, squirm on my chest, straddle my hip, or skip along beside me. I wondered all of the time how motherhood would look on me.
That first day when she was fighting for air, apart from me, across the hospital room receiving chest compressions from a stranger, and buried under an oxygen mask was when I felt the ground underneath me start to separate for the first time. That’s when I knew I would never be the same. That’s when I knew I had had it all wrong.
It was in that moment, when she was so close to leaving me, (a reality I know I would have never survived) that I realized she wasn’t mine. She didn’t belong to me, and she never would.
I was hers.
The day she was born was the day I saw color for the first time. It was the day I realized everything I imagined in motherhood before her was self focused and shallow. Her entrance threw me right out of the comfort of wading safe waters and into the deep end. Each breath from that moment on had to be fought for, and every athlete knows an inhale that has to be worked for feels different, and more rewarding than breaths which are taken at rest. She changed the way I breathed. She changed me.
She gave me the eyes of a mother.
I know she won’t remember her first breaths, her first steps or the first time she felt snow or stood on the summit of a mountain, but I will. I will never forget it. I wonder all of the time if these first years with her are as formative for me as they are for her. Somehow, her childhood has rerouted me to the magic that I’d forgotten in my own childhood, to my mom as a young mother, and to who I will become as I grow older in this life, all at once.
Over time, she has softened me. She has taken all that I was before and rearranged it into something better. Motherhood has shown me a malleability I would never have known otherwise. Her spirit has made me conscious to all that really matters. It has gifted me the ability to see the preciousness of time. She is my compass, and the creator of the pathways that lead me through the dark. She gives me purpose and direction. She grants me new days with unconditional love and unequivocal forgiveness. She gives me courage to jump off the cliffs that lead to places I would have been too afraid to explore before. She is everything I lack and nothing I could ever dream up. She is my daughter, but more than that, she is my friend.
I wanted her immeasurably, the day I grieved on the carpet screaming at God, and the day her heart raced across a black and white screen, but I could have never understood how desperately and transformatively I needed her to change me.
Until she did.
Words and photo by N'tima Preusser.