If you’re reading this, you have decided to have a baby at some later point in your life (you are not even four years old as I write this). I cannot assume how you will do this. Whether you will carry it in you or someone else will, if your baby will, in fact, be a child by the time it comes to live with you, or if you will have a partner or none. But I can share with you my experience and open up the world of motherhood to you by showing you what I have learnt.
When pregnant with me, several people told my mother (your Granny Edie) to put me up for adoption. To be a single mother of a half-Black child in the late 80s was unthinkable to their bigoted ears. What would people think? How would she explain?
Luckily for me (and you), my mother ignored them and cut them right out of her life like the tumours that they were. When I had you, it was easier, despite the occasional fetishizing of a mixed child, the occasional demand for an explanation as to what sort of mix you were, and the assumption that I was the nanny. Hopefully, by the time you have your baby in the future that I’m imagining, where we have reversed deforestation and greenhouse gases, whatever you decide and whomever you decide to partner with will be unremarkable.
My darling girl, motherhood is hard. It’s a constant reminder of the person we, as parents, long to be, and the adjustments to make ourselves closer to that ideal so that one day you will look at us and know we were role models you could emulate if you wanted. Sometimes, Lu, you don’t sleep. More often than not, you do not sleep well; you keep me awake, making yourself (and myself) hysterical, and make my brain begin to think about walking my legs right out of the apartment until I am alone in a bar.
This sensation is normal, although it is not commonly expressed in all the books on parenthood we are encouraged to read. Sometimes parenthood is so difficult, and we are only human, and sometimes we wonder what it might be like to disappear for a week and pretend we were just a regular person, beholden to none. Sometimes we are pushing through tough shit in our own lives and still have to focus on what our babies need, an exercise in deep selflessness. Sometimes we look up from a day with you, one that began full of intentions and goals, and realize that you are asleep and we have done nothing, and we put it off until tomorrow. And then we do the exact same thing the next day.
There is so much that books cannot cover…so much we are unprepared for and cannot be prepared for.
I read lots of books before I gave birth to you. I read the first one I grabbed, in a panic, newly pregnant and scared: What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s a saccharine book full of euphemisms but also an encyclopedic knowledge of a pregnant woman’s fears. I read Spiritual Midwifery, a book I skeptically opened after my former hippie mother sent it to me—full of 70s birth stories complete with the horrors of hospitals of the decade, all with a subtle underlying propagandist message for natural childbirth. I read The First Forty Days—stay in your house after birth for over a month, nourish your body with the right food, and bond with your child. It’s a beautiful sentiment that is completely impractical for most.
I read a lot.
I did not read anything about what to do when the actual baby got there or how to deal with an aching body and a screaming child. Or how your light sleeper of a husband would suddenly turn into an immovable stone, changed by his exhaustion. I did not read about the extreme likelihood of your child having a poo in the bath, forcing you to scoop it out with your bare hands and flush it down the loo. All this while trying not to throw up and preventing your naked baby from drinking the remaining bath water before it gurgled down the plug. I did not read about how, later, after the newborn stage, your baby would hurtle towards childhood, how it would warm you, make you think about having another one even if that was not something you had planned on.
I have not been a mother for long, Luka, but here are some things I have learned: Make time for yourself. Go for a quiet solo walk, a manicure, an hour to read, or (less wholesome, but no less helpful) a video game. Do this however you can manage, even if all you have is the time after the baby goes to bed. Please stop with the laundry or the tidying or the work from the office or the cooking; it will all still be there tomorrow. Sit down and focus on something that is solely for you that isn’t sleep.
Macaroni and cheese for a third dinner in a row is not ideal, but it is food that will nourish. Ignore the aspirational mums on Instagram (does this still exist, Lu?) with their rainbow dinners improbably prepared while their three children quietly do eco crafts in the background, unsupervised. It is ok not to be perfect; it is ok to think at the end of the day: “I really phoned it in today”. There is tomorrow. There is next week. And then the one after.
Your body will change, even if you do not physically give birth yourself. You will not have as much time for the gym; workouts will need to be scheduled and squeezed in where they can. Meals will turn into bites, hastily eaten over the sink while baby throws her’s on the floor. You will marvel any time you get to sit down alone with a knife and fork, flipping through a magazine as you eat. It will become a treat. Your body may, at times, be unrecognizable. You may have the urge to chastise yourself over its shape and texture. Think of it like a metamorphosis. It is not necessarily permanent; there are ways to feel strong and healthy again (the only thing you need to be prioritizing). But the task at the moment is to keep your baby happy and well, so everything else can take a second seat to that.
Why not embrace yourself and marvel at the changes?
I don’t mean to scare you. Motherhood is hard, yes, but also such a wonderful carousel of all the human emotions it is possible to feel. I do not subscribe to the idea that one is only truly fulfilled when one becomes a parent, that there are things you can only experience once you have a child. I do believe, however, that watching your child gain weight, grow, and become solid, healthy, and gain a depth of personality you could not imagine when you brought the tiny little worm home from the hospital is a truly magical experience.
You have been the source of joy, wonderment, and honesty that I didn’t even know I was missing. You are funny and stubborn and strong and a great dancer and curious and comprehending, and I grow teary thinking about the sort of person you will become. And I have discovered things about your dad. I have discovered his capability for tenderness, his willingness to engage you on your level, his fierce protective streak. I know that, should anything ever happen to me, you will be loved and cared for and kept safe by a father who would lay down his life for you.
And I have changed, too. I have discovered new aspects of my personality—I know now that I have a patience that is hard to come by, that I forgive easily, that I can change the diaper of a screaming infant in the dark, eyes bleary from sleep. It is not even four years yet, and the voyage of discovery has been endless. I am still learning. You, my sweet one, my heart, are a remarkable human, and you make me remarkable by association. And so, future Luka, know that this choice you make now is a big one. It’s full of struggles but also of boundless fulfillment. It is your body, your home, your life, and choosing a child is to open that all up in the most vulnerable way.
I am excited to see the mother you will be, the guardian of another.
And I will be here.