We recently celebrated my son Gio’s first birthday. Friends from near and family from far joined us to indulge in frozen Italian deliciousness at local Austin dessert spot Gelateria Gemelli (if you hail from the ATX, please go treat yo’self. It’s like, really good). The guests’ metallic red, blue, and green party hats stood out beautifully against the modern monochrome decor of the ice cream parlor that had been the site of my final pre-baby date with my husband. Gio blew out (read: I blew out) a single candle atop an ice cream cone as the large group that had single-handedly taken over this small place of business sang him “Happy Birthday.” The joy was tangible. Fun and sugar highs were had by all. It was hard to imagine that a little over a year ago, this was the backdrop of my greatest nightmare.
I never wanted to be a mom.
When I found out I was pregnant, I cried for days. I was now an “expectant mother,” and I was not at all excited about what I was expecting. Visions of my carefully decorated living room overflowing with neon plastic toys danced in my head, accompanied by endless blaring loops of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” I agonized over all of the friends who would surely pass on hanging out when I had a screaming monster attached to my hip, all of the travel plans that would never see the light of day now that I was entering into an era of grave responsibilities… And what would my boss think? I had just started a new job as a high school teacher, and I had no idea what the maternity leave policy was or how the principal would feel about me taking time off so soon. On top of that, pregnancy itself was bound to incur a few sick days, and it is not exactly no big deal for a teacher to simply “call in sick” at a moment’s notice.
As the months wore on and my outfits got bigger, I felt like my heart was growing smaller and smaller. I stopped hanging out with people I cared about, dreading the conversations where I would have to feign excitement about the “bundle of joy” we were soon to welcome. A sarcastic smile permanently pasted to my face as I scrolled through Facebook, constantly bombarded by posts of friends who were “so excited to announce that…” Didn’t they know what was really in store? I was 7 months pregnant before I posted anything related to my pregnancy on social media. I kept it from my students until I was too big to hide it anymore. I was incredibly skeptical about the wisdom of those I actually confided in and their claims that it would all be different when he arrived. “It’s going to come naturally, you’ll see,” they’d tell me. “You’re going to love him so much.”
And as much as I rolled my eyes at the time, it was true. A year later, my Instagram feed is full of Gio—our daily life together, play dates, travels, the silly things he does and ridiculous noises he makes.
I received an answer to almost every worry:
- I’ll never get to travel again. My travels in the past had always been limited to drives home to see my parents, and maybe a yearly spring break trip. This past year, Gio and I have dropped pins across the state of Texas, on three of the four corners of the United States, and in New York City. (That one was actually just an adult trip. Grandparents rock.) Babies fly for free until the age of two, so why not!
- My career is over. Maternity leave gave me time that I never would have had otherwise to complete an application to graduate school; and the desire for more family time at home is giving me an excellent excuse to quit working full time as a high school teacher and pursue my dreams of higher education on a more flexible schedule.
- My friendships will suffer. For my *amazing* single friends, time with Gio is fun, wondrous, a blessing. If anything, they want to see me more to keep tabs on how he’s growing and changing! And for other friends with children, our bonds have deepened so much with mutual understanding of the challenges of motherhood.
- I don’t have what it takes to be a good mom. “Good” and “perfect” are not the same, and Gio is helping me learn that every day.
- There will be technicolor plastic s*#@ all over my house. This is mostly true. But I’ll take it.
So yes, some of the things I was expecting came to pass. But for each one of those was an unexpected joy. Unexpected love. An unexpected companionship with this funny, vivacious little person who now shares our home. I’ve gotten to see my husband become a father, my parents become grandparents, my brothers and sisters become aunts and uncles, and my high school students become babysitters. Every day certainly isn’t perfect. But it’s so much better than I expected.
Photos by Linda McQuaid.