I was standing by the snack table – this is, of course, a given. It’s where I always stand at baby showers. The girls around me were talking about episiotomies or something and I was shoving handfuls of chips into my mouth, trying to drown the conversation out with my chewing. I’d never had a baby before; I couldn’t fathom the atrocities they were speaking of so flippantly.
The baby the shower was for, a wriggling 34-day-old with a mass of thick brown hair, was being passed around the room, from and into the eager arms of cooing, giggling, gushing women. I’d seen this whole process before, but right then I welcomed the distraction. I zoned out of the conversation happening in my immediate vicinity and watched.
A young woman, about my age, was receiving the little bundle. She pulled back the muslin blanket and peered inside at the tiny face. Her eyebrows shot up and she turned to the woman beside her: “Oh! My ovaries! Don’t be surprised if I’m pregnant again the next time you see me. I can’t handle baby showers!”
I laughed, and the girls around me looked puzzled. They were probably still talking about gory medical things. I cleared my throat and inhaled more chips.
“My turn!” Another woman was marching across the room with her hands out, fingers wiggling in anticipation. “I can’t wait another second to hold this little bean!” And then, when the baby was settled in her arms, “Ah! What a doll! I’ve just been aching to snuggle a newborn again.” She let out a dramatic sigh and shook her head in wonderment.
I realized then that my plate was empty but, thankfully, the conversation around me had shifted; the girls’ eyes were now also on the crowd-surfing infant. “Baby showers, am I right?” the girl beside me was saying. “I always think I don’t want more kids, but then I see a baby like that and I’m just…I’m just gone, you know?”
I did not know. This phenomenon was fascinating to me, but I’d never been able to relate to it on any level. I held people’s babies out of sheer politeness back then, breathing at half-speed because I was so terrified of causing injury to the fragile little person in my arms. I’d never enjoyed babysitting, never dreamed of a messy house with a swing set in the backyard, never looked at a baby and exclaimed, “Oh! My ovaries!”
The long and short of it was that I didn’t want to be a mother. I came by it honestly. My mom told me she felt that way too, long ago. It’s not that crazy of an admission; some women do, some women don’t.
Maybe I’d heard one too many horror stories about childbirth, or maybe I didn’t want to give up my dreams and time and sleep, or maybe I just didn’t have that instinctual, insatiable craving all of the women around me seemed to have. It wasn’t a dislike for kids, and it wasn’t anything negative towards the thought of motherhood itself – it was more an absence of a longing, sometimes, admittedly, accompanied by fear.
And so it was that the first time I thought I might be pregnant, I was not jumping up and down in the bathroom. I was standing in front of the mirror, feeling nauseous, picturing the snippets of conversation I’d overheard about episiotomies at that baby shower.
It’s a strange thing, though, the mind. It’s strange that you can feel something so strongly or not at all, and the next day, you can feel the opposite. One day, you’re daydreaming about traveling around the world and writing a book and learning some crazy new skill, and the next, you find yourself sitting in your living room with your hand on your belly and a smile on your face, daydreaming about holding a baby. My feelings did that, almost overnight – a complete, 180-degree shift. I was running east and then, suddenly, I was running west. And I don’t even remember stopping or turning around. I was picturing labor and sleepless nights, and then I was picturing a squirming newborn on my chest, tiny feet in my hand, the slight weight of a newborn in my arms. And I was thinking, “Okay.”
And then, “Yes.”
And then, “Yes, please.”
I didn’t know that day that I wouldn’t actually get to hold a baby for about four more years. In that time I would come to understand what the woman at the baby shower meant when she described how her arms ached to hold a newborn, and I would understand what my friend meant about being ‘gone.’ My heart all of a sudden wanted more than anything the one thing it couldn’t have.
This is the wild and crazy part about motherhood though: your feelings won’t always line up with your fertility; your plans and dreams won’t always line up with your realities. Sometimes you’ll get what you want but not when you wanted it. Sometimes you won’t get what you want for a long time, or ever. Sometimes you’ll get something you didn’t want, and sometimes that’s when you’ll realize you wanted it.
I don’t know why it’s like this. It seems like it would be better if pregnancy came easy to those who wanted it. It seems like it would be better if you could plan a family to fit neatly inside your budget and timeline and lifestyle limitations. It seems like it would be better, but maybe it wouldn’t. Like I said, I don’t know.
All I know is that every once in a while, everything clicks into place – every once in a while, someone out there gets what they want or what they need when they want or need it.
I’ve experienced this firsthand.
And maybe it was the knowing that it doesn’t come easy, always, for everyone, or maybe it was the not wanting followed by the wanting followed by the sudden having, but I’ve never recognized a miracle as plainly as I did the day my son was born.