When you start thinking to yourself, "hey, I'm in my 30s, maybe it's time to think about having a baby," and you're also a person like me, you do a lot of research. You ask a lot of questions. You read that you won't feel well for a few months, that you'll be tired, that you'll be excited when you see the first ultrasound, that you'll go through a lot of testing, and, oh, hey, it hurts when you go through labor and delivery.
Of course, nothing ACTUALLY prepares you for all of that until you're going through it. You can read "you will experience nausea for approximately 12 weeks, sometimes longer," but you really don't know what that feels like until you're chronically dry-heaving for five months. You don't know how scary it will be when the results of a genetic test aren't what you had hoped for. You don't realize what it feels like to finally exhale when you've seen the little 11-week bean jumping around on a small, fuzzy screen after you think you might have lost her. And, sure, you really can't comprehend what labor pains feel like until your stomach feels like it's being twisted by King Kong. Or Godzilla. Or some other large, and very painful, creature. I still can't comprehend it, because my brain blocked it out for me.
Motherhood is similiar. People often told me, "get your sleep now, because once the baby comes, you never sleep," and I nodded, and smiled, but until last summer, didn't truly know how physically, and more importantly, mentally painful it is to go several months with only a couple (nervous) hours of sleep a night. And to have many, many of those waking hours being spent by holding a shrieking, screaming infant.
I had a co-worker who showed up at work the day her maternity leave ended in tears, because she had left her daughter at daycare for the first time. I felt badly for her, but I thought, "what's the big deal?." Our plan was to do the same - once my 13 weeks of leave were up, Jane was going to daycare. But as the weeks creeped along, I realized that I would have to leave my new appendage with strangers all day. I wanted to be with her. Why did they get to spend the day with her and not me? I would stare at her in her crib, play her mobile music, and cry. The first day we dropped her off was absolutely one of the worst, and gut-wrenching, of my life.
People will tell you you'll worry about your child. I have been worried about my child since she was just a few cells, but it's a whole different ballgame when they're on the "outside." Things that I never noticed before, like people speeding in their cars and fireworks going off at night, became my enemies. Every surface that I looked at I regarded as party central for germs. Every runny nose was sure to turn into pneumonia. Every cry signified something worse than hunger, sleepiness, or teething.
Then there are the more abstract things. Will she have friends when she's in school? Will people make fun of her? How will she handle that? How will I handle that? Will girls basically be dressing like hookers in second grade? Will they be having sex in third? What will she want to do with her life? Will we be friends as adults? Will she move far away?
I was told how busy I would be. How I would not have time for all of the hobbies that ate up so much of my time pre-baby. By the sheer force of my stubborness and with the understanding by Greg that he is also her parent and therefore responsible for some nighttime care, I have been able to prove this one untrue. I do, in fact, still read books. It may take me longer, but I still do it. This week I am finishing up my first show that I've done since she was born. This truly was a difficult task, both scheduling and being away so much, but I did it. Because when Jane does grow up, I want to have some "me" left.
I heard and read many times that the love you have for a child is unmatched. That you will not be able to remember your life before you had a child. It all sounded like a bunch of cliched crap made up by parents who thought they were better than everybody else. Frankly, I really didn't like many other kids. I was worried that I had no maternal instincts inside of me. Besides, who would want to kiss a baby when dogs are so much furrier?
But it's real. (Not the part about being better than everybody, of course.) I would take a bullet for Jane. I would lift a car for Jane. I would drop anything if I thought there was something wrong with Jane. I would absorb her every pain, hurt, and heartbreak if I could. There are things in my life that seemed so monumentally important to me before, and sometimes they still are, but the most important thing, always, is the well-being of Jane. I feel like she's an extension of me - I suppose she is an extension of me - and while I guess I can remember my life before her, I don't want to.
I have never painted a rosy, glowy picture of motherhood. It's hard as hell, doubly harder if you're a working mom. I constantly feel guilty, I always second-guess myself, but one thing I can say is I've always tried to make the right choices for Jane. I may not have always been correct, but I've always tried. I will never (or at least, TRY to never) be one of those parents who try to suck everyone in to the sphere of children. If you choose not to have children, I applaud it. You have to really want it, because your life changes so drastically, and much of it is not fun at all.
I have been a mother for one year today. As I write this, a year ago I was heading to the hospital for an NST that ultimately landed me in a delivery room a few hours later. Tonight, at 7:27 p.m., I will be in a high school auditorium, rehearsing a show. Jane will be in bed, asleep (God willing). Maybe she will be dreaming of the crackers she now feeds herself, and the milk she's now drinking, or all of the new "real people" food she's trying, or how she crawls all over the place. Maybe she'll be dreaming about how she pulls herself up, and how she's probably only a few weeks away from standing and walking. Maybe she'll be dreaming of all of her new friends, and of all of her parents' friends who have been so wonderful with her, and generous to her. Maybe she'll be dreaming about all of the walks we've taken, all the songs we've sung and conversations we've had, all the toys we've played with, of all the plans we've made, of all the little moments in her life that have been so monumental to me.
Happy Birthday, Jane. You are my reason.
ETA: Love the special birthday banner, Lisa! Thank you so much! Jane approves.