Mar 18, 2012
If I think about who, what, where and when I am, the answers usually involve being a mother. The why and the how do as well; however, the responses are much more intricate. I’m unsure as to whether I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but I seem to have been born with a hyperempathy that has compelled me to want to care for and protect people, to hug complete strangers, to feed them, to wipe their tears away.
When I was younger, I couldn’t count myself among the little lasses who dream of jumping on the back of that prince’s white horse or who fantasise about walking down a petal-lined aisle. I do remember, though, reading about Josephine Baker and her melting pot of adopted children, and it made me smile. I thought what a beautiful life it would be to be surrounded by life.
The first time I became pregnant, I was 32. From the time I read about Miss Baker until then, I knew I wanted to have children. Not just one or two, but a lot. I used to say I wanted at least as many as the offensive line-up of an American football team.
When I met my ex-husband, he made it clear that he did not want to have any children. After he said this, I questioned my desire to have my own brood, asking myself if I really wanted to be a mother or was I only interested in children, or if there was a difference. For me, there was a difference, and I was sure I wanted both. I didn’t only want to work with children, teach children or be an aunt or godparent; I wanted to mother as only a mother can. But because my ex-husband was adamant about not wanting children, and because I was in love – a love that I had never known up to that point in my life – I agreed that we wouldn’t have children.
Love was not the only factor. Fear was another. And in retrospect, I think I used love as an excuse to mask my fear of becoming a mother. I knew that the razor-sharp emotions of a mother, steeped in unconditional love, ran so deep so as to render me raw at any given moment. When one is raw, one is exponentially more susceptible to pain and sorrow. Yes, one is simultaneously extremely vulnerable to overwhelming bliss, pride, and affection, but even then, I would be raw, my heart aching with positive sentiments.
I began to truly believe that I could live a fulfilled life without being a mother, without having a child. Until my seven-month-old nephew came to visit. I watched his fascination with the cracks and holes in our hardwood floors, with a water bottle, with his food. Witnessing his sense of wonder and listening to his word-noises made me so happy; that time with him is tattooed on my soul. And I’m not referring to one of those fading henna tattoos. After he left, I cried for a week.
My ex-husband knew why I was crying, and we agreed to start trying to have a child. Attempting to conceive was not without its difficulties. After aiming to become pregnant for a year, I was discouraged. It seemed that all the women in my family and all my friends need only sneeze, and their bellies were swollen with a fetus. I decided to consult a fertility specialist and learned that I might have trouble conceiving. The fertility specialist scheduled a second ultrasound so we could learn the severity to determine whether the next step should be fertility drugs. At this second ultrasound, the sonographer saw something on the monitor, a dot which she said looked like an embryo. She asked if there was a chance that I was pregnant, and I told her it wasn’t likely as we had been trying for so long without any luck. She told me to jump off the table and gave me a pregnancy test. I was five weeks pregnant.
I wept tears of joy the whole way home from the clinic, and as I rubbed my belly, it felt as though my life was only beginning. I made a promise to my child that morning: I would do everything in my power to be the best mother I could be, and not a day would pass when my child didn’t know and feel how loved he or she was by me.
My life changed the day my son was born. He has taught me more in the span of four years than I will probably be capable of teaching him in his lifetime. His imagination astounds me, and his affectionate nature has thawed parts of me that I thought were no longer frozen. Those eyes of his speak a language all their own, even when they’re closed. As I anticipated I would be as a mother, I am at all times raw, but I’m a better human being for it.
This is not to say I haven’t missed my sleep, a chance to pee in private, or leaving my home without half of it in my bag in the way of toys, snacks, wipes and other baby and child accoutrement, but these things are overshadowed by the overpowering exhilaration, the pure elation I derive from being a mother.
When my son Enlai was about 18 months old, I knew I wanted a second child. I was brimming with love, and I wanted to share this love with another child. My ex-husband already compromised by having one child, and he was absolutely resolute in his decision to not have another. He said he realised his limitations – emotional and financial – and he would never agree to have an additional offspring. I respected his honesty. But if I compromised by agreeing to not have another child, I would be lying to myself, depriving myself of something so extraordinarily wonderful, and depriving my son of a lifelong friend, a sibling to share life experiences with as only a sibling can.
In lying to myself, I felt pieces of myself chipping away, my soul was fragmented. I’ve never been one to not pursue my dreams, despite the most difficult adversities and self-placed obstacles. I started to imagine myself in my later years, resenting not a decision that I had a choice to make and didn’t, but more importantly, resenting myself. How could I live with myself if I resented myself? How could I be a good mother and teach my son about being true to himself and following his heart if I wasn’t? ‘Tis true that words are my mistress, but a wise man once told me that actions speak louder. I had heard the saying a million times before and understood the meaning, but not until this wise man showed me did I truly understand the meaning. I try to be an action mother, not a word mother, reminding myself that the Nike slogan wasn’t “Just Say It”.
When my ex-husband and I decided to divorce, I thought my chance of having another child dissolved along with the marriage. I was an anemic version of myself after our union collapsed, and my childbearing years were nearly over. Everything seemed blurry. But, as I cooked my son’s meals, I took off my gauzy goggles and prepared my own optimism hors d’oeuvre. And one day, as we sat at the table eating and laughing together, I realised I was still able to have another child. I would be a single parent, and it would undoubtedly be a labyrinthine journey, but I was capable.
I am over the moon to share with you that I am now pregnant with my second child, conceived by a donor. This pregnancy has not been without physical and emotional snags. I have been hurt from judgments from both family and friends. It is possible that I have mistaken worry for judgments, but anyone who knows me and understands my heart is aware of how long I’ve yearned for another child. After I found out last week of a possible complication with my baby, I could only hold my Enlai’s hand and rub my belly, reminding myself how fortunate I am to be a mother, something I would never, ever take for granted.
My little Enlai has been to my sonograms, waving to his sibling, who he said was waving to him on the monitor. He says he can’t wait to teach the baby about Scooby Doo and Batman, to share with the baby his special “blankies” and toys, to kiss the baby’s cheeks. The other day, Enlai had his arm over my belly, and the baby kicked right where his hand was. Enlai said, “That’s the baby’s way of talking to me.” An action. No words.
I am the mother of all gifts, of one child and another on the way. Of Enlai’s instinct to be kind, to laugh until he can’t breathe. Of his little voice, his stories, and even the times when he’s ill and only wants to lie next to me the entire day. These are all incredible gifts. With the sweet pea in my belly, I will be the mother of its sweet scent, its softness, of sleepless nights and engorged breasts. I am the mother of the most important gift: life.