As a teenager and young woman, I did not like kids. I babysat occasionally and hated it. Children were loud, disorderly, demanding, messy, rude and unreasonable. I never dreamed of having babies, never saw myself as a mother. My plan was to get my law degree and make a nice living doing other people's dirty work while living a glamorous metropolitan life. My mother stayed home and so did most all the mothers I knew, and they never seemed to want or need anything else. I thought it was a terrible, unnecessary sacrifice. I was determined to break the mold, to be my own woman and to get what I wanted and never let my own desires take a backseat to anyone else's.
I don't know exactly what happened. I met my future husband and discovered that I wanted to be with him more than I wanted to have my own way all the time. By the time I got my Bachelor's degree I was sick of school and wanted to get out in the world. Then I went to work - standard entry-level secretarial stuff, what else can you do with a political science degree? - and discovered that it was neither glamorous nor fun but an ego-crushing, unsatisfying means to an end. When I married I knew that my husband wanted to have children and I discovered that I was not as opposed to the idea as I had been, but I was aware of my nature and I really feared that I would not be a good mother. I still did not like kids and did not like the idea of abandoning my education and potential in order to be "just a housewife" as my mother had done.
I went off the Pill in March of 2001, thinking "we'll just see what happens" and got pregnant right away. I was excited but scared. Then I had a miscarriage, then another, both so early on it did not really seem like a loss. The doctor told me to wait a few months and try again. But I wasn't sure it was what I wanted to do - it seemed God knew better than I did and was trying to tell me something.
A woman at my work had a baby, loved and wanted and prayed for, and came back to work six weeks later. She was a complete mess - cried all day, felt horribly guilty and bereft, pumped breastmilk in a hastily converted broom closet, couldn't concentrate. I watched her and realized that women are not engineered to leave our infants for hours at a time. That is not a judgement - for many it is an absolute necessity, either for financial reasons or sanity's sake, and we all just do our best. But it was so incredibly difficult for her. I knew then that if and when my baby came I would be staying home, and it was best to not do it at all if I couldn't freely commit to that.
In November I learned that I was pregnant again. From six weeks on I was so violently ill that there was no doubt the baby was healthy. In another instance of God telling me something, I got fired. It was, in retrospect, deserved - the bad mood and habitual tardiness engendered by my morning sickness were the icing on the cake of a very poor relationship with my arrogant, pompous, egomaniacal boss. (Side note: calling your boss an asshole at the office is not a good idea even if he is not actually in the room.) Even though my morning sickness improved at fourteen weeks, it seemed silly to go to the time and trouble to find a job I would leave after five months. Besides, I was starting to show and figured no one would hire a pregnant lady and I would have to spend all my income on maternity work clothes anyway. I was and still am quite the master at rationalization. So I stayed home, watching TV, napping, eating, shopping. I put together a beautiful nursery, got a very ugly haircut, and admired my skin, clear and glowing for the first time since I was 11 years old. I went to the doctor, took walks with my husband, and read What To Expect When You're Expecting. Then I threw it away, ate some chocolate, drank some Coke, and read Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. We took a mini-vacation to Galveston and got rained out. We chose a name, got lots of presents, and thought we knew what we were getting into.
Nothing on earth can prepare you for the moment you first see your child's face. I couldn't believe that life was going on around me as usual because everything was so profoundly and permanently changed. All my fears flew out the window - I had never known such joy, such contentment. My parents were transcendent with happiness - their first grandchild. I felt great - the OxyContin probably helped. Cooper took to nursing right away with no problems. We took him home on a wave of joy and promise. I could no more have left him and gone back to work than I could have flown to the moon.
Compared to most, I had a pretty easy time when Cooper was a baby. Of course I was tired - he was not a good sleeper - and there were days I did nothing but nurse, change diapers, do laundry, and cry for how badly I wanted to take a shower and sleep for six hours in a row. But I never felt like I couldn't do it, and we had a lot of fun once he got past "the larval stage" as my husband so poetically describes birth to three months: "you know, they're still all red and wrinkly - they look like angry little old men". We visited Nanny and Grandpa a lot, had a wonderful Christmas, bought a new house and moved to The Woodlands, and settled into a nice group of friends who also had babies or were expecting them. I was absolutely infatuated with Cooper - I had never known such love, such fulfillment. I was a good mother - Cooper was happy and healthy, everything went just as it was supposed to. We even talked about having another baby and agreed that once Cooper was 18 months or so we might start trying - he wasn't even weaned yet. I had just gotten back into my old jeans.
July 13th, 2003 was my 27th birthday. Cooper was three weeks shy of a year old and I was planning his first birthday party. He was crawling, trying to walk, pulling up and getting into everything and keeping me running all the time. I had noticed that my milk supply seemed low - I just wasn't "filling up" (nursing mothers understand and everyone else shouldn't think about it). I called the OB's office and the nurse asked "Could you be pregnant?"
Surely not. I had only had one period since Cooper's birth and it had been a couple of months ago and we had only had sex one time in the past two months and Oh Shit You Have Got To Be Kidding Me. I still had a pregnancy test left over from two years before - it was expired but that little plus sign popped up right away. And so did the next one, and the next.
We told everyone at Cooper's party. They all smiled and said congratulations and I politely thanked them and made little jokes about surprises and plans. At least that's what the video shows - I honestly do not remember it. I was quietly going to pieces, thinking about being pregnant and having a toddler, then about having an infant and a toddler. I didn't have the luxury of ignorance - I knew that the baby would keep me up all night and then Cooper would wake up at 7:30 ready to party. I knew how huge and exhausted I would be, nine months pregnant, only I would be caring for an active 18-month-old, lugging him up and down the stairs and chasing him around.
This sounds weird but I ignored the pregnancy for the first trimester. I wasn't sick, in contrast to the constant queasiness I'd had the first time. I just tried not to think about it. I was getting used to the idea. We did the ultrasound at 20 weeks and learned it was a girl. This freaked me out more. I had such a weird, backwards relationship with my own mother that I feared I wouldn't be able to relate to or nurture a girl, and surely I could never love anyone else as much as I loved Cooper. I was going through the motions, living underwater it seemed, along for the ride. I started to show, made plans, but still felt this horrible heavy sucking nameless dread. I felt wrenching guilt for my lack of joy or even expectation. I only prayed I would get through it somehow.
It was my OB's nurse - a wonderful woman named Pam, I owe her a great deal - who named the elephant and told me in no uncertain terms that I was suffering from depression and needed help. She bullied my doctor - a no-nonsense, suck-it-up type - into putting me on antidepressants. I think she may have saved my life.
The transformation was not immediate, nor were the drugs a complete fix, but it was like a door opened and I could feel the sun on my face again. Looking back, I was in a truly terrible place and I hope to never go back. The doctor blamed it on the haywire hormones resulting from going straight from breastfeeding to carrying a girl baby. Whatever it was, I just thank God my memories of that time are so spotty - I don't remember that Thanksgiving or Christmas except for a few snapshot-like images in my mind.
Bailey's birth was an adventure - it's a story for another post as this one is so long already. She was from the start a sunny, placid baby - slept and nursed on a schedule right from the start, smiled and cooed, hardly ever fussed. I was still taking the Wellbutrin so I guess she was getting some too - we would laugh and say "it must be the drugs!" Being a "veteran" made infancy much easier - I knew what to expect, didn't freak out over everything. I let her "cry it out" much sooner, didn't hold her every minute, didn't time each boob when I nursed her, and never kept a written record of the times and characteristics of her poops. Having two such small children at the same time was hard but we managed. I let others help me and I learned to let go of things that did not matter. When she was six weeks old I started working out and lost thirty pounds in five months and suddenly felt good about myself - a sensation I had lost to the depression.
While Bailey was a baby I would sometimes think of how I used to feel about children vs. career and how funny it was that the girl I used to be turned into a stay-at-home mom of two children under two. Sometimes I felt loss and even grief - I barely recognized myself anymore. Sometimes I felt satisfaction that I had grown up and figured out what was really important. Giving up myself - that's what you do when you stay home with children, you stop being your own person and turn your life over to others - was a decision I made, not an accident or a coincidence. I didn't love it all the time - I still don't - but it is what I chose.
I have made a deal with myself. When Cooper and Bailey are both in elementary school, I will try again to have a life of my own. They won't stop needing me but they will certainly demand less time and attention - they're already so much easier than they were three years or even six months ago. What I really want to do is get a nursing degree and become an RN. I think that's my true vocation and I just didn't discover it until later in life. In the meantime, I'm continuing to let my own life go, rather than struggling to manage too much and feeling resentful or bitter when I can't make it work. I'm at peace with that decision precisely because it is that: my decision.
I often wonder how it would have turned out if I had followed the path I chose at 18 - a high-powered career, the corner office, the brass ring. I think of that girl I used to be and I miss her confidence, her certainty that she could do and be and have anything she wanted, that she would make her dreams come true. But I am not even a little sorry that my life turned out differently, because what I have is more precious than I ever imagined anything could be.