A couple weeks ago was my son’s 6th birthday. It was a day filled with activities and a party that he invited almost every kid he knew to. Monroe LOVES people, and he loves parties, so a birthday celebration with just a “few close friends” makes no sense to him. He is so full of excitement about life that I am often overwhelmed with the fact that he is my son. It amazes me that my body carried and nurtured this creature for nine months, and here he is, six years later, still the most beautiful gift I have ever received. What amazes, even more, is that nine months before his birth, before I knew I was pregnant, I would have told myself that gift was something I didn’t want. I simply did not want a child.
It’s an odd thing to read those words out loud, words that when put together sound so bad. Saying that you don’t want kids stirs up so much for people, and many are judged harshly for speaking frankly about it. When people asked when we would have kids, I would reply with “I’m not sure right now” or “We’re not ready, maybe someday.” It is the well-known story of childless couples. Friends and family asking about kids, the couple awkwardly trying to answer in a way that keeps additional questions at bay. I always left the answer up in the air and hinted at the possibility of kids, because the truth was something too hard to share.
What was the truth? The truth was that I was terrified of having a child. I was terrified of being pregnant and birthing a baby. I didn’t want to vomit from morning sickness. I didn’t want to be in pain. I was terrified of being responsible for a newborn. I was terrified I would be a bad mom. I knew what having a child truly meant. I didn’t see squishy feet and tender moments when I thought of taking care of a baby. You tell me they are sweet and cuddly and oh so cute? Rock them and fall in love and live happily ever after? Oh no, I knew the truth. There would be crying and screaming and no sleep. My life would change. The amount of worry and fear that I already carried would have no end. What if I didn’t love my child? What if they hated me? What if I passed on everything I didn’t like about myself to them? Did I want to have a child only to give them this burden of fear that I have carried throughout my life? Would I pass on my anxiety disorder or another form of mental illness? Who was I to think that I could give something good to a child? I couldn’t share any of that with someone just trying to make conversation about children. If I did, I knew that the protests would start, “Oh, you’ll be a great mom! You are missing out on the most wonderful love you can imagine!” But they wouldn’t know. They didn’t know that I couldn’t do it and that I would fail. They didn’t know the REAL me.
Then it happened, I was going to have a baby. After Peter and I began to tell people, we had a family member ask us, “Were you guys so excited when you found out? Did you jump up and down yelling? That’s what we did when we found out about our son!” Peter and I just looked at each other and smiled, remembering that fateful day. We were not excited. We were scared.
I still don’t know what caused me to take the one pregnancy test that had been sitting in my bathroom closet for months. I was on birth control. Peter had been out of town for several weeks besides one short weekend so we could see U2 in concert. Thank you Bono. I hadn’t missed a period. I wasn’t sore. I didn’t feel sick. It was a whisper that stirred within me. The thought ran through my mind, “I think I’m pregnant.” I pulled out the test, peed on the stick, and bam. Two blue lines. I stared in shock. Is this real? The second line was faint, so I wanted to take another just in case.
Peter was at work, and at the time we only had one car. The only place close enough that I could walk to was a tiny grocery store down the street. As I started walking down the busy street, our dogs’ incessant barks rang in my ears. I could hear them taunting me the entire walk. The few short blocks felt like miles. The suspense was overwhelming.
When I arrived, I wandered the aisles looking for the pregnancy tests. Pads. Tampons. Condoms. No pregnancy tests. Maybe they were at the front. I couldn’t find them. I waited in line, nothing to buy in my hand, and finally asked the cashier where they were, my face blushing realizing this stranger was the first person to know what was going on.
“We don’t carry them, sorry.”
My mouth said “Okay.” But my mind said, “What kind of grocery store doesn’t carry pregnancy tests???!!!”
I walked back, sweat running down my face, trying to figure out what to do. I was sure every car that passed by me knew I was pregnant. It was the strangest walk of my life. There is no way I could wait five hours for Peter to come home. But I didn’t want to tell him over the phone. I decided to lie. As I neared our house, the dogs still screeching, I phoned Peter to say I was feeling sick. “You have to come home; I feel awful, and I need you here.”
He rushed home; I told him the second he arrived what was going on. He was stunned. We rode to Walgreens together in silence, grabbed the tests, and soon confirmed it was true. I was pregnant. Life as we knew it was over. With the grit and determination of Rambo going in for war, we would do whatever was necessary to get through the next eighteen years. It had to be done.
Slowly, excitement took over. We told our family and our friends, and we dreamed about what it would be like to have this child. It was a steady process and how this happened is another story for another day. By the time my water broke, I was like a kid waiting for Christmas not sure when Christmas day would be.
Now, six years after my son was born, I can’t believe how many ways I was wrong. To be clear, it wasn’t the not wanting kids part that was wrong. I have friends that don’t want children, for different reasons than mine and have lovely and fulfilling lives. Where I was wrong was the belief that parenting is only a chore to get done with after a long 18 years. That child raising is hard work, and drudgery, and fear. That I could never be a good mom. That I wasn’t “motherly” or strong enough to raise a child. That once again, I would fail.
I look at my joyful son and my heart bursts with love. Seeing him grow and learn and love others is among the most remarkable experiences I have ever had. Knowing that when he is sad, he wants me to hold him and that I bring him comfort, security, and love is life-giving. I never knew how much FUN being a mom could be and how my heart could love so much. I had no idea I could be so strong, and do something that I never thought was possible.
Many of my fears have come true. Mothering can be hard and brutal and scary. I still struggle with anxiety every day, and I know that I am not and will never be perfect. Parenting is incredibly difficult. Even so, I would never give up being Monroe’s mom for anything.
Whenever Monroe’s birthday comes around, I think about how things used to be. I think about how things would be if Monroe never came into our lives. If I still believed that I couldn’t be a loving mom. Pondering his birth, I feel such gratitude. God gave me a chance to be a mom despite my fears, and I am so incredibly thankful. It has taught me that I am stronger than I ever imagined. It has instilled in me empathy and compassion for others who want to be mothers and can’t, and for those who are mothers but had to make the brave choice to trust their child’s care to someone else. It has helped me learn to see children, all children, through the eyes of parents the world over, no matter how different their circumstances and families are than mine. It has opened my eyes to the sorrows of families who experience oppression, marginalization, and who live in fear in our country. It has changed my heart’s desire not just to want what’s best for my child, but to want what is best for all children, listening and learning from their parents. It has humbled me to my core and has filled me with a love I could never have imagined. Being a mother has taught me that often what we don’t want can be the most incredible inspiration, teacher, and joy that we have ever had.
Simply put, Motherhood is the greatest surprise of my life.