I’ve heard it said that once you enter the role of a parent you cannot quite imagine not being one, and that so much comes intuitively, that you learn as you go, adapt, and rise to the challenge. I can imagine how, for many people, this is true. You’re fully committed now, in the thick of it, and your baby is a visible, breathing entity, crying and screaming for his needs. There’s no turning back, no one-layer-removed. This is your new reality staring you in the eye. You may not know exactly what to do in any given situation, but you know you must do something. There’s no more daydreaming, wondering, anticipating…
Whereas pregnancy, for me anyway, has been one continuous mind-heart trip of reading, researching, dreaming, preparation and anticipation. First I spent a good amount of time researching home births and choosing the ideal midwife. Then I spent hours online comparing birthing classes, doulas, infant car seats, and slings. And on the streets, I cannot help but study the babies and parents I pass. I try not to stare too intrusively at the same time that I take note of what kind of baby carrier, sling, or stroller they are using, how young their child is, how warmly they are wrapped up against the cold, and what expression the new parents wear on their face, how comfortable they seem in their role. I think about how just a few months ago this mama was still like me, in the throes of anticipation and the unknown, perhaps never having cared for an infant. And now, within months, she is officially a mother; she has collected all the infant gear she will need to get her through this first stage of exhaustion, she has settled into a tentative rhythm of feeding, sleeping, and changing, and she is beginning to feel a bit more grounded in her new reality. Perhaps she already cannot imagine not being a mother, and in particular, the mother of this child. Or perhaps her sleep deprivation prevents her from even attempting to be self-reflective. Maybe she’s just hanging on, trying to meet basic needs and get by.
Recently I've started learning more about labor, comfort measures, stages of birth, and parenting so that I have some sense of what lies before me. Although I don’t want to start obsessing about pain nor parenting too early, there are certain choices that seem wise to consider ahead of time. And I have always been one who enjoys making lists, crossing things off, and planning ahead, rather than waiting till the last minute. I don’t want to wait until the last month of pregnancy (when I will no doubt be more uncomfortable and huge) to run around buying stuff, and I want to make sure that I take the time to compare products to make sure I don’t buy junk, but I don’t want to buy into the whole idea that you need TONS of stuff for your new baby, or that you need to get it all right away, top-notch, or brand new.
Yet I realize to some degree that no matter how much I plan and research, I cannot control the outcome of my labor, birth, and plunge into parenthood-- the baby will come when he wants to come, the labor will last as long as it needs to last, and I will handle the pain as gracefully or fanatically as my grunting, stretching primal self can. There is only so much I can do to feel confident, at peace, and prepared, and from there on out I just need to surrender and let go.
For me, pregnancy is the ultimate limbo state, poised between the known and unknown. There is a baby growing each day (currently about 16 inches, 2.5 pounds), moving and kicking with increasing oomph in my belly, and listening to and recognizing our voices as we speak. There is my changing form and hindered motions, my belly growing rounder and more taut week by week, staring back at me in the mirror, sometimes striking me as normal and other times making me shake my head, “Holy shit!” And there is my relationship with my husband and the slowly deepening comprehension that soon we will be parents. Creating our own little familial unit. And that along with my final groan and push and the cry of the baby’s first breath, will come a whole new life, re-focused and organized around this being. As the weeks to the due date dwindle, we increasingly will find opportunities to say things like, “This will be the last time we spend this many consecutive days together alone. For a LONG time,” and trip out anew .
We are entering this journey for the long haul, yet we have only started to pack our bags. We won’t know what’s really in store for us until we take those first steps into the vast, yet somehow seemingly familiar, unknown.
I always knew that I’d love to have a child, a family, and yet, before we started preparing for this journey, I didn’t long for it or covet it with a sense of intensity. I watched other friends have babies and raise families, and although I knew on some abstract level that I wanted one too, I didn’t envy the way they had to leave gatherings early or would rarely be able to get out for a night on the town. Parties where kids ran around afoot were great, but not quite as interesting as the ones where things had the potential to get really crazy. Hanging out with a mom and her child could also be fun, but not as satisfying as getting to talk to her with no distractions.
I’ve never wanted to become one of those couples who, once they have children, only hang out with other couples with children and only talk about their children. How boring. And I don’t want to be a mom who spends the rest of her life obsessing about buying her kids the best things, getting them into the right schools, feeding them the right foods, reading them the right books, and in short, making sure that they do everything possible to make them the smartest and most loved (yet hopefully not spoiled nor controlled) kid on the block. And yet, I can see how this is a path that one can easily find themselves on. It's only natural to reach out to others who are going through this same incredible learning process as you are, and to welcome play dates and the relief from parenting isolation they provide. And of course you want to give your child the best that you can, and you do this in the best ways that you know how, however flawed. This is, after all, your child that grew from your own flesh and blood.
We are having a baby. We are creating a family. We are saying goodbye to the days of late night indulgences of wine, music, and hazy reverie, and preparing to welcome in the long nights of crying, breasts, milk, and diapers. We are saying goodbye to the days when we could leave town for a week and just leave our cat an overflowing bowl of kibble, and hello to our new life where we’ll feel like we are getting away with something huge if we get out by ourselves for dinner and a movie. Yes, I know it’s not forever. I know I’ll eventually be able to pump and dump on occasion and enjoy an indulgent night of drinking and youthful nostalgia-- quarters! (Just kidding.) And a ways down the road we may even be able to drop the kiddo off with my parents for a weekend and enjoy several days on end. But beyond this… we’re looking at, oh, 18 years or so of hardcore commitment and responsibility. We’re looking at a brand new phase of our life, where the history we’ve shared as a couple and the history each of us has lived as an individual on our own path, struggling to find our work and our way, will take a back seat to the new history we will build with our child, the new story we will create as a family. No, I will not give up my writing (though I humbly accept that it may be relegated for a while to a few scribbled lines here and there), and no, Matthew will not give up fishing (though he may have to be content with that one salmon he catches versus ten), but on some abstract level we are aware that these central activities in our lives must find a way to live quietly in the background for a while, grateful for whatever morsels of time we can feed them.
The amazing thing is that I’m actually looking forward to this. I’m looking forward to setting aside life as I’ve cultivated it for the last 17 or so years I’ve grown as an adult, and plunging into this free-falling abyss, wherever it brings us. This is what I call trippy. This sense of not knowing what this altered state will be like, at the same time that a part of me intuits. And this sense of waiting for this little life-form to arrive that is part-me, part-Matthew, and part stardust, neither of us, all of us… this being that will come to teach us about ourselves and everything we once thought we knew. On one hand I am so very thankful that I still have three months to process all this and get ready, and on the other hand, I am already crying out, “BRING IT ON!”