She was born on January 13. And so, I suppose, was I.
I had been reluctant, ambivalent, and just plain terrified from the morning I found out I was pregnant until the moment I heard her cry. Her voice dimmed the brightness of the O.R. and filled its sterility with screaming, squirming life. I fell in love in an instant. All of my fears, both rational and irrational, fell away, and I felt so clearly, for the first time, that all would be well. Maybe this was just the effect of drugs and delirium, or the hormone and endorphin speedball that must be one of nature’s happiest highs. But I was, momentarily, ecstatic.
Yes, this is a love story. Allow me to spoil the ending: I was made a mother and reborn a classic fool — a fool for Love, or God, or Holiness. It’s the only thing the books and blogs and friends haven’t been able to translate. It’s the one truth you have to find out for yourself.
When they found out I was pregnant, my mom-friends were gleeful. They had been waiting on this announcement for years. So had my sister. And my grandmother. My mother-in-law. And above all, my husband. He had politely inquired every year for almost ten when we might have a baby. We knew that we could. I was just never very certain that we should.
It wasn’t him; it was me: irresponsible, unconventional, non-maternal. I blamed bad genes, global warming. I had a million reasons not to have a baby, most of which were valid. Others, less so: Mothers never got to drink three martinis for dinner! They never got to sleep until 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings!
Pre-baby, my selfishness was strong. My 20s were deeply, gloriously superficial. I moved to New York. I wore clicky heels and mini-skirts. I moved to Mexico. I wore nothing but a bikini all day sunning myself on the Gulf. I fell out of love and back in it with my college boyfriend, who became my husband, (and eventually became my daughter’s dad). I stayed out late, drinking champagne and dancing. I didn’t pay my rent on time. I went to the movies in the afternoon. I ate nothing but mangoes because I had no money. I contemplated and meditated and sulked and imbibed and slipped through time, not without cares, but without consequence. I was only hurting myself.
Then, one day without warning, I knew that something, someone, was missing. My husband and I had been living in Mexico and were visiting Camden, Maine for Christmas. Driving by the library, this snug brick building overlooking the ocean, I had a vision of myself pulling a two-year-old in a red wagon filled with books. I had never entertained the notion of a child of my own and this fantasy/epiphany was astonishing. There was finally so much love and beauty and silliness and laughter in my life that it seemed my husband and I had to share it with another person. All at once I began planning a triumphant, pregnant return, reading baby name websites instead of celebrity gossip.
We’d been back in the States for about six months when we started trying in earnest to get pregnant. I was off birth control pills for the first time in more than ten years. We’d have unprotected sex, and then I’d freak out and drink a glass of wine, as if that might stave off conception. I didn’t want anyone, least of all myself, to know how much I wanted it. I got pregnant in January, had a miscarriage, and became pregnant again (with my daughter) in April. That day, as I peeked at the positive plastic pee stick turning pinker by the second in my clenched hand, I felt ready — and willing.
Almost immediately, shipments of stained maternity shirts and scary shapeless denim began arriving at my apartment. Women with whom I had drunkenly relieved myself in the streets of Cozumel were now breathlessly asking about the minuscule, kidney-shaped blob on an ultrasound screen, which supposedly was my baby. It was their enthusiasm that I found most unnerving; even I, the mom-to-be, didn’t feel the immediate connection they did. I felt alienated from the parasitic life inside and the love I was receiving.
Even when pregnant, I realized my selfishness was everything to me. I didn’t want to give up on my all-consuming narcissism and self-indulgence. Who was this baby to get in the way? My ego shifted into high gear while the fetus turned my abdomen into her personal, Pauly Shore-less Bio-Dome. This was actually happening. My daughter was in the process of becoming. We counted ten fingers and toes and wisps of hair, and I wondered if this creature I was creating would kill me. I suppose this is an ancient fear, collective and unconscious. What would happen to me?, I wondered. Me! Hyperventilate. Me!
There was nothing to do but wait. I volunteered to read to seniors and dutifully went to therapy every week, even when I didn’t want to. I knew I had to work, even if I didn’t want to. So maybe I was already changing, even before the birth of my daughter.
On the day she was born, there was a shift in the universe. Maybe it wasn’t perceptible to anyone else, but it happened all the same.
Now that she’s here, I am powerless against this baby. I crave her. She is always with me, inseparable from myself. She is my heart and responsibility. It’s wonderful and terrible all at once. Maybe I’m a fool now, and I was cool before I had her. It’s not as if I became perfect, or perfectly realized. My personality is still ongoing, a work in progress. But I know that being cool and detached doesn’t make sense anymore.
I love being in love in this raw, real, heart-wrenching way that you are with your kid. I’m silly and smitten and sitting here typing with my stained shirt unbuttoned, because she’s going to have to nurse again soon anyway. Somewhere out there a childless friend is thinking of me, thinking that I’ve gone soft, pitying my lame life. She’s right; I have gone soft. I’ve been cracked wide open to joy and heartbreak. I am intoxicated. I’m a mom. Maybe I should have tried it sooner.