Preface: Just wanted to say a big thanks to all of you who have sent me well-wishes, prayers, emails, encouraging comments, etc. You brightened this preggo’s day!
I’ve been thinking about my down feelings during this pregnancy and trying to figure out why I’m feeling low. I know some women experience the blues while pregnant, but in my experience I’ve always been super happy, mania girl, especially in the first trimester. Later on I start to grapple with the relics of my eating disorder and have to really work on not allowing my changing form (AKA ballooned-out belly) get me down. Yet, I can’t remember feeling as uneasy as I do right now.
I think I know why. What’s beneath the surface of my blahness is good, old-fashioned fear.
It’s certainly not the first time motherhood has made me anxious. I can still remember the way I felt holding newborns before I’d become a mom. As I cradled the tiny creatures in my arms, what I recall feeling – more than longing or even joy – was absolute terror. I felt terribly clumsy cradling these mewing infants. They were always so small. Tiny fingers. Scrunched up faces whimpering as I tried to rock them. My arms would go stiff. Where in the world were my maternal instincts? How could I want to be a mom so badly if I couldn’t even hold an infant the right way?
When my cousin Carter was born, I was the first cousin (out of 30 something) to get to hold him. He was the tiniest baby I’d ever seen. He was a healthy weight, but I’d expected him to look more like the 4 or 5 month olds I was accustomed to carrying wedged on my hip.
My Aunt Jeanne carefully handed her precious good over to me.
“I don’t know if I can,” I told her.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured me. “This comes natural to every woman.”
But it didn’t feel natural. It felt awkward even as I cooed at him and tried to support him with my arms the way Aunt Jeanne had so effortlessly done. His soft head felt as if it was about to snap off, as wobbly as a bobble head toy. As I readjusted my arms to ensure Carter’s head was supported, I became afraid that the rest of his body would fall through the canyon my shifting arms seemed to be creating. I didn’t drop him (thank goodness), but I did allow his wobbly head to snap back. That’s when I quickly returned him to his mom – a real mother.
At that moment, doubts of my potential for motherhood crippled me: I can’t even hold a baby right. What if I’m a terrible mother?
Later, when friends asked me if I wanted to hold their new babies, I didn’t know what to say. Yes, I want to hold your beautiful baby more than anything in the world, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid I might drop her on her head. I’m afraid you’ll see that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m afraid that I don’t have a clue about what it takes to be a mom.
I expressed my fears to my mom and she told me that many aspects of parenting do come natural, but there’s a lot to being a mother that doesn’t, and that’s okay. “It’s a learning experience,” she wisely told me. “You’ll fall short sometimes and you might even drop your baby – but believe it or not, he won’t break.”
Fast forward a few years and I joined the Mommy Club and all my fears were relieved. I discovered my mom was right: I was, for the most part, a natural mom, and my desire to want to nurture children was natural, too. When I held Madeline for the first time – just moments after her birth – it seemed as if she was made for my arms. She fit perfectly in my embrace, and I never once let her head fall back. She was made for me and I for her. I felt the same way with Rae. I’m sure it will be no different with this baby.
I realize now as I ponder my current pregnancy that I’m not depressed because I’m expecting another child or looking at more sleepless nights. I’m not even sad or worried because I’d really wanted to start writing a book before baby number three came along or had hoped Dave would be further along in his medical training before I popped out another one.
What really makes me gloomy (aside from the daily puking) is the unknown.
Once upon a time I didn’t know if I’d be able to even hold my baby the right way. Now I’m afraid I won’t be able to juggle the demands three little ones will bring.
I’ve always had trouble trying new things because I don’t want to mess up. I’d rather wait to try something new until I have all the right answers. Each time we welcome another child into our lives, it’s like trying something new without any clear cut answers whatsoever. Sure, I know not to wipe my baby girls back to front (if this one’s a boy, I’ll have a whole new set of baby hygiene rules to learn) or to put her to sleep on her back, but there’s a lot that’s less clear. You really don’t know what to expect out of your baby or yourself (or your other children or husband). There’s no secret formula to being a good mom (though there are plenty of experts who claim to know how to transform you into Mommy of the Year) or to managing a growing family.
There’s sometimes fear, and there’s sometimes sadness. And that’s okay. I can’t pretend to be a perky preggo 24/7. What I can do is remember how unsure I felt holding others’ babies before I became a mom. Anyone watching me stiffen up as a newborn was placed into my arms wouldn’t peg me as a natural baby person. But now mothering is such a part of me that I suspect onlookers think I look very natural when I’m toting around Rae in a baby carrier while holding Madeline’s hand as she skips beside me singing some made-up ditty. No, I’d doubt people would look at me and ever suspect I once let my poor, helpless baby cousin’s head snap back.
Looking back, I know my past fears were fruitless and futile and nothing more than an absence of faith in God and myself. I haven’t dropped a baby (yet), and I can nurse a newborn while entertaining an older sibling. I’m actually amazed by my mommy gut and how it’s almost always right when it comes to some of the parenting conundrums I’ve faced – like should I forbid our 3-year-old from slipping into bed with us in the middle of the night since all the mainstream parenting mags claim this is one of the biggest parenting mistakes you can make, or do I say that’s rubbish and scoot over and welcome her warm body next to mine while she still wants to be close to me? (I choose the latter and so does my husband who misses our snuggler on a rare night that she doesn’t make the migration.)
I’ve had some challenges during my brief parenting tenure, but somehow we’ve managed, and we will again this go-round, too.
In some ways, I find myself saying the same thing I said to my Aunt Jeanne years ago: “I don’t know if I can.” Yet, my track record as a mom is telling me that I can and I will.