January 17, 2014

one year ago today: finding my way

            I don’t remember when I stopped painting my toenails for my fertility appointments, only thinking it felt oddly like I was in a relationship going stale and I was the bad girlfriend not doing my part to keep things exciting.  I also remember the nurse practitioner had lipstick on her teeth as she cooed at my empty uterus blipping on the screen, “Sometimes we just don’t understand these things, honey.  I’m sure you’ll find your way.”  We had been trying to get pregnant for four years at that point.  For me, finding my way was becoming a mother.  That was two years ago today.

Twelve weeks and one miracle adoption later, I was holding my newborn son.  I was a mother.  We were also a transracial family.

One year ago today, I looked into the sparkly eyes of my beautiful nine-month-old boy and said, “What are we supposed to do?”  My husband left for work again and there we sat, both crying in our tiny rocker wearing dirty PJs soured with spit up and heading into a day of counting down hours and doubting one another. Complete meals had stopped months ago—instead I grazed throughout the day, as time allowed, like a wild animal. I avoided calls from friends, and hoped neighbors didn’t notice my car rarely moved from its spot.    With splatters of baby food and nubs of mushy crackers, showering was futile. I didn’t even bother to remove the mounting pile of diapers from my front porch. I aimlessly bounced and swayed in my hallways praying for something, “Baby stop crying, time go faster, someone turn me into a mother.”  I wasn’t really even sure what I was praying for.  It seemed I was looking for my way again.  And perhaps, motherhood had found the wrong girl.

What I didn’t expect was that I had never felt more alone than I did at home with my new baby.  It was as if I was living life in one of those snow globes. My surroundings were beautiful, seemingly perfect, even.  I could see out, and people could look in on me, but no one could connect.  And here’s why:  I still felt empty inside.  I’d repeated the sweet Southern mantra “I just want to get married and have children” for as long as I could remember.  When the second part of that seemed it might never happen, I deemed it the cause of any feeling of sadness or emptiness inside.  But then, then… after all those years of trying and pain and feeling like a failed science experiment, my dream had finally come true.  The guilt I suffered when I still felt pangs of sadness or emptiness was almost unbearable.  Who wanted to hear me complain?  And after all those years of whining?  Because, as my mom said to me, tongue in cheek, one day as we heard my son waking from a jokingly short nap, “well, you finally got what you’ve always wanted!” 

Everywhere I looked, I saw new moms, smiling and cooing like Disney princesses visiting with little girls.  Giddy instagrams and Facebook posts and even real-life encounters had me convinced that I was just not mother material.  Because living in a magical kingdom, I was not.  Each day my husband would come home to me, a blubbering, sniveling mess, and he’d say, “You’re both alive! It was a great day here! Good job, baby.” I'd stare down at my sweet sleeping son, twirl one of his chocolate curls around my pinky and wonder if he would grow up and remember these days. “Giddy “was not even on our radar. 

I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for my Lolly.  She is my dearest friend and the one who finally said, “Amanda, sometimes it’s just hard.”  I remember crying and crying and asking her why she didn’t tell me all these horrible things about motherhood before I took the plunge.  “It’s awful!” I wailed.  “I don’t know what to do with him, and I’m so gross, and he cries, and I never sleep any more, and why would anyone have a baby to begin with?”  She just smiled in her beautiful, gracious way and reminded me that if people knew the gory details, no one would have babies.  “It’s worth it, and it gets easier every day” she assured me.  I remember not being quite convinced this was worth it at the time, even with my precious baby in tow.  I daily had the horrifying thought “this is why we couldn’t get pregnant.  I don’t have the mothering gene, or whatever.  It’s not supposed to feel this way.”

But, as time passed, I had a revelation.  Every time I felt sadness or loneliness, I began to recognize it as an emotion that did not necessarily have anything to do with being a mother. Perhaps it was the writer in me, aching to get back to my craft and take a break from washing bottles and bottoms.  Or the grown-up, fancy me who actually did enjoy showering, dressing up, and going to a lovely dinner with my husband.  Sometimes it was just standing in the sun and remembering what my dreams were when I was young and fearless, without a care in the world.  I had to get back to that place where I remembered all the parts of me I had forgotten about in the overwhelming, life-changing, alien, early days of motherhood. And it was in those very moments, my baby would look at me and laugh his musical giggle, and things just got easier. 

There is one line of thinking that “I was made to be a mother.”  And that just isn’t me.  I am a mother.  And, second to wife, it is by far the highest honor I have.  But I was made for so much more.  I have gifts and talents that God has given me and when I use those, I am a better mother because of it.  Once I shifted my perspective, the depression slowly faded away.  It’s okay if staying at home all day, every day with your babies is your greatest joy. It’s also okay if the thought of that makes you panic and start itching all over.  Just like we all have different strengths and talents, we also have very unique ways of mothering.   My mistake was trying to find my identity in this whole shebang. Motherhood isn’t my identity.  It’s a gift, a bonus, the miracle I never expected.  It has taken me a while, but we are getting into our groove as a family.

And I think I’m finding my way as a mother.

***Special thanks to Amy Lemley Bailey at http://birmingham.myscoop.us for inviting me to share!***