If you were to look at me, you would notice that nothing about me says mother. You may notice that I am sitting in the neonatal ICU with a four-and-a-half pound baby in my arms, but my stomach is flat, I am not leaking milk and my nether regions are just fine, thank you. I have a dazed look of confusion on my face, complemented by a worried brow. I look more like a lost deer peering into oncoming headlights than a surefooted mother, led by instinct and bonding.
The day before, my husband and I had gotten the call. “Your baby’s been born, come to the hospital to meet him!” Welcome to motherhood. No pregnancy hormones. No ten months to slowly easy into the idea of what it means to be a mommy to the being growing inside of me. Just one phone call and, BOOM, suddenly a mother.
Walking into the hospital to meet our son, I felt like an imposter – a poser. During the time we had been in the process of adoption, I had images in my mind of what it would be like to lovingly hold our new baby for the first time and who I would be as a mother. But the clinical setting and ill smell of the hospital swirled these images away like leaves in the wind and left just the clear skies of fear and cluelessness. Does the world really think I am fit to do this? I don’t even know how to take care of a baby! I never even babysat as a kid.
All the beeping machines and flashing contraptions in the neonatal ICU yelled their answer to my question and secured confirmation of my fears. No, I am not fit to do this. The family to one side of us was stumbling through the challenges of nursing. The family to the other side of us was about to go home with their twins, who had been hospital residents for the three months prior. I hardly knew how to hold a baby. How could I compete with this level of medical care?
I was soon to find out. With our discharge papers in hand, we traded the chaos and noise of the hospital for that of the freeway and the long drive home – a drive we had done several times a day in order to make it to the hospital in time for feedings; the only time we could hold our baby. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the very wrong idea of putting a very tiny, helpless being into a flimsy car seat and careening down roads littered with terrible drivers. It did not seem right. Nothing seemed right.
But then we got home, and everything changed.
The three of us sat in the window seat of our living room, a beautiful vantage point from which all important things in our lives happen, and together we let out a collective sigh of relief. With this breath, we became a family. Gone was the alien atmosphere of the hospital. Gone were the beeping lights of life-support machines. Gone was the lack of an intimate setting for the most intimate actions. Gone were the fears, stress, insecurity and worry I had felt at the hospital. Gone were the questions I had about myself as a mother. All that was left was an innate knowing that I was finally a mother to the soft and precious being I held to my chest.
Sitting in the comfortable peace of our home, looking out a picture window at the swaying trees of a waning summer, I felt an immediate infusion of maternal instinct and the blossoming of a love beyond my wildest dreams. And, it wasn’t just me. This change was palpable for all of us. We saw the expression on our newborn’s face change to one of relaxation and ease. It was as if upon entering the threshold of our home, we entered a magical world that formed us into the soft creature of a family we are today. Once we entered this magical world, we never looked back.
Now, when my son and I pick berries or dig for dinosaur eggs in the backyard, that hospital stay is ancient history – one of the many things that went into making me the mother I am and our son the person he is. In fact, I often forget that our son did not come from my own flesh. I have to think through a few extra steps at the doctor’s office when answering family history questions. But I am also the first one to pipe up with the suggestion of adoption when any willing ear is nearby talking about starting a family.
So today, if you were to look at me, everything about me would say mother, especially if you were looking at my heart.