I am 28 years old and pregnant with my first child. I am excited, of course, but I am also scared. I have a supportive partner, but no matter how much he tries to empathize, I know this child will impact my life in ways he can’t understand. I have so much love for my baby already and feel guilty and selfish for even saying this out loud—but I’m worried about how my life will stretch to accommodate this little human and give her what she needs. I also love my work and don’t want to give myself up completely, even though I want this baby more than anything else in the world. How do I prepare for something that is going to change my life forever?
While pregnant, I remember my mother saying to me: the most tiring thing about motherhood is that you don’t get to recover after the birth before motherhood starts. You (most likely) haven’t slept in 24 hours, are bleeding from at least one part of your body, may have stitches, haven’t showered, are slick with your own blood and tears—and you are handed a baby. Of your body, of your soul. And you hold this child in a blur of wonder and think, what now? It is the most honest preparation for what is to come: The love. The not knowing. The not ready. The mess. The feeling of—but wait I just want to have a shower before I have to deal with this—and not being able to. The no separation between you and them and missing your old self and missing them as soon as you kiss them goodnight and wanting to sleep and someone to tell you what to do and knowing that you, only you, are the one they want.
My son is now 15 months old and I became a single mother at five months pregnant. I left New York City, where I had been living for nine years, and returned to my native New Zealand to be with my family. I travel across oceans to New York every 10 weeks, without my child, for work. You will be surprised at how your life will stretch simply because it has to. Have you bought maternity clothes yet? I can still see myself in a changing room, my gently swollen body in the mirror, strapping on the fake belly under my maternity jeans and admiring the bump over my own, still-small bump. I could not fathom that my stomach would extend that far in another 5 months. How much I would grow. And yet. Your life, like your body, makes room. I remember nights of pain as my abdominal muscles reached wider and wider, and days of dumbstruck joy that my body was growing another body inside of it, and times in between when I was just getting on with life—stuck in traffic, annoyed at work, paying bills, dinner with friends.
This letter would be so much easier to write if I was to preach platitudes like
‘you can’t pour from an empty cup.’ But whoever made up that phrase did not have children. Pouring from an empty cup is every mother's greatest skill. No matter how much I would like to put myself first, my child is my reflex. I have no choice. The selflessness will take you hostage, and you will lay yourself down and refuse your ransom. Here and there I will snatch moments of respite: a yoga class, dinner out, 20 minutes of blissful, mindless scrolling through Instagram. But like every other mother, I have become accustomed to running on less sleep, less time, less peace. What I have learned is that thriving in chaos is a form of self-care. It is choosing to turn the music up and dance with your baby in your arms when his face and body is covered in yogurt and the house looks like the apocalypse has hit and your inbox is screaming. It is choosing, every day, to let go.
I met some friends of my parents the other day. They have seven children under 10. While trying to do the math and feeling highly incompetent as a mother of one, I asked, how do you do it? The father said: “If you have one child, they take up all your time. If you have seven children, they take up all of your time.” I looked at the mother and pondered her sanity. He also said: “Everyone talks about ROI (return on investment). In life, over anything else, your children will provide the best ROI.” You will give your child a lot, but she will always give you more. I know it is easier to see the sacrifice right now. But what you can’t anticipate is the joy that will wash over you like warm sun every time she looks at you with eyes that say: You are my mother. You are my person.
I used to be so worried about my future. Now, in the few glorious moments I might have to think about the vision for my life—I am violently yanked back into reality: 45 minutes of nap time to clean the house, respond to emails, eat, shower, wash the sheets, make his breakfast, rinse out the bottle, refill it, add the formula, spill the formula everywhere, chug coffee while putting another load on, get him up, feed him his bottle, feed him his breakfast, change him, read to him, leave for daycare drop off then work. My son doesn’t know about the future. He needs me right now. So I do the right now part as best as I can. And I’m hoping that all of the times I do right now well will add up to something that looks like a good future for him. For both of us.
Use this time to gear up. To call upon everything you have been through in your life and use it like weaponry, because you will need it. Motherhood requires all of who you are, and then will demand more. You are not only getting ready to meet your child, you are getting ready to meet your new self. Of your body, of your soul. You are as ready as you’ll ever be.