There are a few precious things in life that transform us. Moments where there is a distinct “before” and “after.” Where you can feel the shift as quickly as it begins. Motherhood was one of those things for me. I wasn’t someone that grew up dreaming of having a family of my own or being a mom. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure if I would be a good one. I always felt uncomfortable around babies. I spent most of my twenties on a couch in a therapist’s office asking questions and getting to know myself better. I learned there that life wasn’t about having answers or even role models (although they help!). Motherhood is often a journey of one. One child and one mother. No matter how many children you have, you’re never the same, and neither are they.
I remember being a loss mom. There was a baby and heartbeat and then there wasn’t. I didn’t know what came next. Except heartbreak and uncertainty and fear. I didn’t have any friends who had lost a pregnancy or a baby, and I wasn’t sure who to talk to or really even how to talk about it. I came home from the appointment and thew everything I was wearing directly into the trash. I got into bed and sobbed. I read the only things I had on grief and miscarriage; a few measly pages that felt like a footnote in “What to Expect When you are Expecting” and when that didn’t seem to anchor me I pulled my copy of “A Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion off the shelf and read every dog-eared page on her grief. It turns out losing someone you love is universal. I cried in the shower and tried to pretend that everything was okay at work. I was still living in a time when people didn’t talk much about these things, and where you always waited to share news until after 12 weeks-–”just in case,” and I silently raged that we had agreed to this awful silence as a culture.
This baby taught me hope.
I remember being a mom to a newborn baby. A head full of brown hair, the most gorgeous chocolate brown eyes. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing, but we were patient with each other, and we both tried so hard. I spent weeks with bleeding nipples, determined to forge ahead. She worked hard with me and we made progress. I remember being so thankful when we turned a corner at the 4 week mark and made a mental note in my head for next time. We walked for miles and miles that Chicago summer. In the stroller, in a baby carrier, with the dog, with friends. I spent what felt like entire lifetimes in the darkest corner of her room rocking her to sleep, running a white noise machine to cover the city noises the best I could, and hoping she wouldn’t wake up the minute I slipped out the door. I learned how to collapse the stroller with one hand, and how to fit 3 bags of groceries in the bottom of her stroller. On warm evenings we’d walk to the train station to pick up daddy so we could all walk home together.
This baby taught me what an answered prayer feels like.
I remember being a mom to a second baby. Somehow this pregnancy flew where the last one had crawled. I felt excited for labor and that feeling of being so strong, and so ready. I felt seasoned, like I had everything under control. I think you can guess where this story is going. Everything about this baby was different. She was in a hurry from the very first moment. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital, I was already walking down to my recovery room holding my sweet new baby in my arms. This time, she was a beginner at nursing, but I had some time under my belt. I knew to persevere, how to care for that tender skin on my body until it built up a callous, and how to hold her. What I didn’t have any tools for, was how to help her sweet tummy that was so upset, day and night. A colicky baby will have you re-evaluating your whole life. I spent entire days bouncing her and cooing to her; trying to calm her down and help her stop crying. I tried everything I knew. Eventually I embarked on a 2.5 year elimination diet and nursing journey that I look back on now and can barely believe myself. I spent a good 8 months with this baby in a baby carrier on my front and my first baby on my hip. We learned how to take turns and how to keep trying even when all three of us were sometimes crying.
This baby taught me determination and grit.
I remember being pregnant with my last baby. I knew for sure this was our last and I savored every moment. I had learned enough to know I didn’t know anything, really, so I just tried to be present and enjoy all the experiences for what they were. My girls were big enough to understand and have fun with it too. They loved feeling the baby move and knowing they would be big sisters. I was 35 and advanced maternal age, so I had extra screening done and felt very calm and at ease. This time we were having a boy and I wondered what it would be like. I grew up in a family of girls and this felt so foreign to me, but I was so excited. Everything felt wonderful and easy this time around. At my 20 week ultrasound I found out I had a large tumor on my kidney. It turned out to be renal cell carcinoma, and at 23.5 weeks this sweet baby and I went in together for an emergency surgery to remove my left kidney and a large brick sized tumor. I felt so lucky we had each other to go through that experience with. He helped me stay calm and anchored. He gave me clarity about exactly what I was fighting for. We recovered from the surgery well and he was born 3 months later, happy and healthy. I couldn’t believe what a miracle he was. What a miracle we were.
This baby taught me joy, and radical presence.
Through the years these four babies have continued to teach me and shape me in ways I wouldn’t have expected. They have called me to understand myself, to set boundaries, to declare my beliefs, to push myself. They have brought forward the gifts I have to offer. They have helped me to be braver than I was when it was just me. Even though I didn’t grow up imagining what my family would look like, somewhere along the way they found me, and it didn’t seem to matter.