My oldest son turned eight years old yesterday. As he blew out the “8” candle on his cupcake at the picnic table at his pool party, he glanced across at me where I stood a few paces away singing at the top of my voice. In that moment, as our eyes met, there was an invisible thread between us, a connection, a knowing. He knew I had brought everyone together for him, had spun a theme party based on his favorite video game, and that I am always there, making sure he has everything he needs. I stood there in my purple summer dress over my wet bathing suit, smiling back at him, fully rooted in my role as his mom, just as he saw me.
I didn’t enter motherhood as a confident woman who was sure and steadfast in wanting to be a mother. Yes, I had deliberately tried to get pregnant and was lucky enough to be able to do so. But as the baby grew from a whisper to a peanut to a grapefruit inside me, it all felt unfamiliar, terrifying, and as though it shouldn’t be happening to me. I was not equipped. I was not sure.
When I was pregnant the first time, I met some other first-time moms through a Facebook group, and one of them thought we should go to a prenatal yoga class when I was about 16 weeks pregnant. My first reaction was, “Why would I belong at a prenatal yoga class?” I pictured earthy women with long flowing hair doing downward facing dog with basketball-like baby bulges in their tummies, breathing peace into their fetuses with intention. Looking down at my own bump, all I felt was greasy, sweaty, and awkwardly plump. Yet willing to give it a try, I conceded.
The afternoon of class I sat sheepishly on my mat in a wide, wood-floored studio surrounded by smiling legging-clad women. I mean, I knew I was pregnant, there was certainly a baby growing inside my body, but I felt like an interloper, that they had made a mistake letting me into class. And oh lord, soon the deep breathing would begin.
The teacher had us introduce ourselves and how far along we were. Nervous, I blurted, “I’m Donna, I’m 16 weeks.” The words escaped my lips but I felt like a puppet, the statement actually spoken by an invisible ventriloquist. We started class and poses, reaching to the sky, bending forward, my back creaking, my arms beginning to shake. I watched the clock, the minutes ticking past. Finally, it was time to sit and breathe at the end of the hour-long slog of exercises. The teacher had us sit cross-legged and put our hands on our abdomens and feel the life inside. I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes. But being the rule-follower I am, I obliged.
I breathed and felt and breathed and tried to imagine the baby inside. We didn’t know the sex of the baby yet, and I struggled to visualize it. Breathe. Breathe. I heard a car honk outside. Thought about what I could make for dinner. Then tried again. And then something happened. For about a minute, my warm hands creating heat on my skin beneath the Lycra, I could feel that there was a tiny life in there. And it was going to be real. But then the yoga teacher spoke and the spell broke and I looked around the room, embarrassed. Was that what it was supposed to feel like, I wondered?
Even after that first baby was born (the now 8-year-old), after early labor and bed rest and a near-emergency in the delivery room, I still felt like an imposter. I knew they had taken that baby out of my body and placed him on my chest, and I was overwhelmed by the surge of love for this little squalling creature, but I still felt like I should feel differently. That I should have transformed in that moment from my former self into the ideal of a mother that I had imagined. That I should somehow have changed over, molted into an all-knowing woman of the earth who created life. But really, it was still just neurotic, perfectionist me lying in that hospital bed with a tiny 4-pound baby against my chest. Clueless.
I thought when my first baby was born that I would be different. I would embody motherhood, I would be like the other moms I saw in movies, walking down the street with strollers, holding the hands of toddlers, with a knowing look in their eyes and a clear understanding of how to take care of another human and to love unconditionally. Because to me, that’s what those women were – when I looked at them, I saw mothers.
But I know now, eight years later, that they were just the same women they were all along before a baby grew inside them, just with a new facet, a new dimension, like a prism, reflecting light in a slightly new way.
Over the last eight years, I have been all the things I was before – daughter, wife, professional working woman, self. But I’m also Mom. And even when I don’t feel like enough, even when I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing or that I belong, when I feel like a mom-imposter, that is who I am. I am Mom. I may not see her in the mirror when I look – but when my son runs into the bathroom with me while I’m drying my hair or putting on eyeliner, that’s who he sees. He sees his mom. And she is everything and enough. In his eyes, that is who I always will be. And when he looks at me, that’s who I feel I am too.