“You think that true love is the only thing that can crush your heart. The thing that will take your life and light it up. Or destroy it. Then, you become a mother.” –Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy
I always knew I wanted to be a mother. I didn’t want this simply because I was a girl and that’s what little girls are supposed to want, but rather because I just always had the deep desire to be a mother. It helped that I had the best parents a child could ask for. We’re talking June and Ward Cleaver, but with lots more humor and grit. I was second of four girls, and my older sister and I grew up taking care of our two younger sisters. As I grew into a teenager, I babysat my way to affording Guess Jeans or the new Madonna album.
I imagined my adult life would go something like this: Go to college, get married and buy a house, have kids, strike the perfect working mom balance. In that order. What happened was, well, not that.
Instead of following my predicted trajectory, I graduated high school, started college, dropped out of college, went back to college, got married, got divorced, and turned 30. And then 35. During this time, my three sisters all got married and had children. I loved being Aunt Sherri, loved watching my sisters become mothers. And then my girlfriends started pairing up and having children. I was fortunate to be involved in their lives as they evolved into motherhood. But I was being left behind, watching my dream of motherhood march on without me.
Somewhere between 18 and 35, I developed this belief that I had screwed up somehow, and I had a whole choir of voices in my head reinforcing that notion. I had failed at college the first time. I failed at marriage. How could I possibly be a mother? Setting that dream aside, I decided to pursue the only other significant dream I had from childhood–to earn a Ph.D.
In the course of returning to school and approaching 40, I learned to replace self-doubt with self-respect. Those disapproving voices began to quiet. And then I fell in love.
Fast forward a few years and we were planning our wedding and talking about having a family. Being of “advanced maternal age,” I figured it might take a while to get pregnant. Or that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. I’d never tried, after all, so my eggs weren’t exactly standing at the ready.
Once the wedding invitations were sealed and delivered, we figured we’d start trying. And by “trying,” I mean unconsciously-yet-somewhere-deep-inside-intentionally stopped using birth control. My hubby to-be took off for his Vegas bachelor party. I picked him up from the airport three days later and we came home to unpack (wink, wink) before going to dinner. My husband to-be looked at me across the table, as I sipped a giant martini, and said, “What if we just got pregnant?” Funny, that hubby-to-be.
A month later, after feeling exhausted and something akin to the feeling of being perpetually hungover, I called sister #3 to complain, to which she replied, “Um, you’re pregnant.” Funny, that sister #3. What did she know? I drove to the local HyVee, bought a pregnancy test, and got as far as the parking lot before being overcome with the urge to know immediately. I turned around, walked back into the store, locked myself in a bathroom stall, and took the test. The word “Pregnant” appeared in about 1.5 seconds.
And there, in a grocery store bathroom, my dream came true. I was going to be a mother.
But I had learned over the past couple decades that imperfections, failures, and starting over were in fact the perfect preparations for becoming a mother.
The next seven months were a whirlwind of wedding, family and friends, back to school, and watching my belly outgrow the classroom desks. It wasn’t necessarily the right time to have a baby; I was in the middle of my last year of graduate coursework, not to mention that giant book report they call a dissertation yet to write. But I had learned over the past couple decades that imperfections, failures, and starting over were in fact the perfect preparations for becoming a mother. I had replaced that chorus of inner voices with just one loud-mouthed voice yelling, “Let’s do this, mama!”
And then she arrived. Our baby. Our fierce, beautiful baby girl. In that moment, as she lay on my chest, skin to skin, I apologized to my 18-year-old, 20-year-old, even 30-year-old self for being unkind, for expecting perfection, and for ever doubting that I could be a good mother.
I would be a good mother. My dream had not marched on without me. My dream, this daughter of mine, had just run ahead, turned around, and waited for me.
There are so many ways to become a mother. Read other stories in our series, “How I Became a Mother.”