Sometimes the stories we are told shape how we feel about ourselves when things don’t pan out the way we expect them to.
Growing up, I always wanted to have babies. I was the girl who played with all of the dolls and who sometimes convinced herself that her younger siblings were her actual children. At family gatherings, I was always first in line to entertain younger kids and to hold the itty bitty babies. I loved kids.
Everyone knew there would be a house full of babies in my future. I think we all just figured it would be a little further in the future.
At 23, when I was fresh out of college—and, in many ways, still a baby myself—I got pregnant. My relationship was fairly new, my life skills were pretty minimal, and I was completely, utterly terrified.
You know those viral videos of ecstatic moms-to-be elaborately surprising their nearest and dearest with their pregnancy announcements? Beautifully framed and wrapped ultrasound pictures. Photos with a tiny pair of shoes. Buns in ovens and pregnancy test unveilings. My experience couldn’t have been more different: I sat in my childhood bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably while yelling through the door to my mom to ask her how many lines meant the test was positive.
After the news had time to sink in a little, the excitement came. It coincided perfectly with spring and my second trimester. I felt better. There was more sunshine. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about babies and all the gear that goes along with them. I was picking out outfits and brainstorming with my eventual husband about names (ok, it was more arguing than brainstorming—but it was the second trimester! Everything felt sunnier!).
When the third trimester rolled in with all of its discomfort and a sudden, staggering lack of sleep, the fear crept back in with it. My belly was huge and it was getting harder to deny that fact that an actual human would be coming out of me very, very soon. I was terrified.
How would I know what to do with her? Would I know what her cries meant? How would I know how much to feed her? Would I be able to give her a bath correctly? How would I know what she needed? How would I keep her alive?
When people came up to me with bright, smiling faces, asking about my excitement now that her birth was imminent, I mimicked their excitement. I smiled brightly and nodded enthusiastically. I did everything I was supposed to do. But, on the inside, I felt that one thing was clear: I was already a failure.
What kind of mother dreads the thought of giving birth? What kind of mother would be ok with the baby staying inside a bit longer, discomfort be damned? What kind of mother was totally and completely terrified at the thought of her child?
None of the mothers I knew fit this bill. They were all happy and ready and ecstatic to meet their babies. There was no fear. Only excitement.
It took me years to realize that this narrative we’re fed is totally untrue. Most new moms (possibly all new moms) are at least a little bit scared and unsure of themselves. I mean, we should be! Becoming a mom is embarking on this brand new, world rocking adventure. Your life gets completely turned upside down. But, you know what? We figure it out. We all do.
I just wish more people told terrified, unprepared 23 year-olds that they were scared too.
JENNIFER GARRY is a writer and the mom of two girls who talk as much and laugh as loud as she does (just ask her husband). She writes about motherhood with humor and brutal honesty on her personal blog, Cuddles and Chaos. Read all of Jennifer's posts.