When I was a child I became a mother.
There’s no way you could convince me of that though – that I was still a child. Wiser than all the grown ups around me, I was ready to make decisions for myself. As a 16 year old “adult” I married my boyfriend in my soon to be in-laws living room. Wearing a beautiful, purposely chosen off-white wedding dress purchased from value village for 25$, I walked down their staircase to face my family and the rest of my life.
Twelve days later, with the help of pitocin and a shame-free epidural, I gave birth to a perfect, bow-lipped, downy-haired baby girl.
On March 11, 1998 at 2:44pm in room 207 at Skagit Valley Hospital, our life as mother and daughter began.
The subsequent 19 years are filled with tales of triumph and tales of woe, and I often call on the wise words of Maya Angelou:
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
And now that I know better, being a mom scares me to death.
Nearing 36 years old, I am hypothetically of safe childbearing age – even if I was to be a first time mom. The concept terrifies me – that I could conceive on purpose, and then proceed to plan and be responsible for the life of another human being. It’s ludicrous. Yet countless women from all walks of life are performing this miracle of motherhood. Their values and belief vary. Their level of participation ranges from absent to “helicopter”. But my inclination is that the majority enter into this sacred relationship and press on to do their damnedest.
I never questioned that I would be a mom. Prior to about age 11, my room operated as a nursery and smelled of baby powder. My dolls were meticulously cared for. At age 14 I asked my primary care doctor if it was possible for girls my age to have a healthy pregnancy. He responded by saying he didn’t have the time to talk about it as our appointment was over, but that it wasn’t a great idea because girls’ hips weren’t yet developed enough. Serious, that was his answer. That sage wisdom, along with my lack of knowledge regarding birth control and believing a certain someone when he said “we don’t need condoms”, created Birds-&-Bees history.
Today, when I tell people I have one child and she is 19, the response is usually astonishment – “You don’t look old enough!” (its the Arbonne skincare, I swear it) “There’s no way you have a child in college” “How in the world did you manage?” “I could never have pulled it off” “You’re so tough”.
I’ve wondered myself, over the years. Especially as I get older and teenagers seem younger and younger. How did I do it? How did I manage to raise her, finish high school, go to college and keep us fairly intact? I wasn’t a particularly bright 15 year old – my grades were good but I was troubled. Certainly, I was a reckless know it all and my decision making skills were juvenile. Possessing the ability to care for myself much less another living, breathing human being was questionable to say the least.
What I do know is that IT TOOK A VILLAGE. The family and friends that stepped in to guide and support us were essential to maintaining our sanity, and the reason my daughter and I could put one foot in front of the other some days.
But looking back, I realize I never once believed I couldn’t manage. My naivety and stubborn nature fueled the strength I needed to wake up and keep going. Basically, I was living in a happy-ever-after fantasy and was too dumb to think any different. When the adults shook their heads and said it would be hard, I answered with “I’ve got this. I can do it myself. I don’t need you”. If I had grasped with any clarity that the adults were actually RIGHT, that life as a parent is arduous at best and an agonizing heartbreak at worst, I might have run the other way.
But I didn’t. It never even crossed my mind.
My inflexible, bullheaded teenage brain caused a lot of strife. But the blind belief that everything would be fine, because I KNOW BEST, afforded me a gift of optimism and confidence to go forward with the life I’d chosen.
I wasn’t even “smart” enough to feel ashamed, or to cover my pregnancy with baggy sweatshirts and dresses. Instead, I paraded around with stars in my eyes; shopping in the maternity section and proudly announcing the due date. Two baby showers were thrown for us and her dad and I poured over baby names. In “life after high school” class my pregnant belly served as a tangible show and tell.
The nursery was draped in Noah’s Ark decor, and the countdown to due date was in full swing, while I day dreamed about my little boy’s upcoming appearance…
Ten days before “he” was born we found out she was a she.
That was the moment the gig was up. The realization that I was a MOM..no take backs, no do-overs. Until that minute, with the doctor pointing to a grainy picture of baby girl parts, I had imagined little “Benjamin” playing ball with his dad, learning to use tools, growing up to be a man.
“Its a girl” they said, as they used ultra sound to help guide the external cephalic version (required to flip little K.P. from breech position to head down and ready for action).
“It’s a girl” and my whole universe flipped upside down with her. Panic ensued. “What do you mean? He can’t be. Are you serious?” is what came out of my mouth. Inside my head, was “holy sh!@#, I’m screwed. I actually don’t know what I’m doing…. I have to teach her…to be a girl. To be a good person. I have to talk about periods! Oh my f’ing god, I seriously have to be a mom.”
In that moment I experienced the terror that’s pulsated through the hearts of mothers since the beginning of time.
“What if I mess this up?”
The ultrasound proved it -this was my baby, and I, her mom. My heart connected right then, to my daughter, and also to my mother. To the tears she had shed over me. My heart connected to the undercurrent of love and liability that accompanies mothers everywhere.
Looking at my sweet child today, the sacrifices and blessings…frustrations and joys… there continues to be associated guilt and doubts. Because we moms are awesome at perpetrating self-judgment. I also feel profound gratitude that I was innocent enough to think everything would be OK and that I did my best in the moment, despite the odds being against us. And it has been OK, for better or worse.
It’s scarier now, as an adult. Knowing more, seeing more. Comprehending the consequences and what’s at stake with every decision. Sometimes I long for the blissful ignorance of childhood and the stubborn determination of a teen. Blind belief that I can do “whatever I want, without anyone’s help”.
Then I remember being a teenager sucks.
For 19 years I’ve had the esteemed honor and formidable mission of defending the title “Mom”. I have failed, floundered, fulfilled and fallen. I have struggled and smiled, sobbed and succeeded.
Mom is my hardest job. My greatest joy and deepest roots of guilt. My toughest calling and most cherished assignment. Practice brings experience and knowledge, but never quite washes away doubt and self condemnation.
Forgive yourselves, moms. Be kind to yourselves, bathe yourselves in grace. Discard the doubts, the what ifs. Close your ears to the naysayers and negativity- most often as moms, these thoughts call loudest in our own voice.
Consider Mother’s Day a great day of amnesty; an official pardon for any offense of which you haven’t yet been absolved. Tomorrow, start fresh:
Yesterday we did what we then knew to do; today let us know better, today let us do better.
Cheers and gratitude to mothers of all kinds. Cheers and gratitude to the children, without whom Mother’s Day, carnation corsages and 1/4 of Hallmark profits would not exist…
p.s. KP, I love you more than applesauce. I’m so happy to be a mom.