At this moment, seven years ago, I was at the hospital. I was having an ECV or external cephalic version in a last ditch effort to have an uncomplicated delivery. It worked, and ten days later a 7lb 3oz 21 inch baby girl joined us earth side. Over the past seven years, and two babies, I’ve been pregnant for a combined 80 weeks and 6 days. I’ve been in labour 12 hours, and pushing for 3. I’ve delivered a combined 16lb 10oz of baby. I’ve bottle fed and breastfed for about 5 combined years. And I’ve been a mother. I’ve had a daughter by my side for seven years.
Most of the time, I feel like I blinked and missed seven years. When a newborn arrives it feels like they’ll be a newborn forever. You get through it day by day. Maybe they’ll have a more comfortable latch tomorrow. Maybe they’ll sleep more tomorrow. You look forward to the day they’ll babble out ‘mama’, or stand up and cautiously toddle across a room, but it feels so far away. Babies don’t keep. Each day passes, and so does each milestone. I’m on the other side, feeling like I blinked and my newborn grew into an entire complete human being. She’s at her first sleep over right now, and in my mind I’m still looking at a soft little bundle and waiting impatiently for her to say ‘mama’.
At the same time, I look at the mother of that newborn, and I don’t recognize her. You grow so much as a parent. You learn every day, and bit by bit everything changes. If I could go back, I would tell that young mother that perfection isn’t real. That you can’t hold a living, breathing child up to the standards of of a sappy diaper commercial. I wish I’d known the sleepless nights and endless crying were expressions of her needs. That I wasn’t doing the “wrong” thing soothing her, and maintaining the closeness she needed. How much time did I waste? Wallowing in guilt over every disposable diaper and bottle of formula. I wish I’d known not to apologize for how I chose to survive and care for my child.
On the flip side, I’d tell that mother that my way is not the only way. Sometimes, when you’ve found a parenting style that fits your family, and you see how well it works for you, you can’t fathom how anyone would choose differently. You start to catch yourself doling out thinly veiled judgements. “I’m not judging, but I just don’t understand how they can cry it out.” “You do know food before one is just for fun, right?”. I didn’t see what I was doing. I was 18, I was keeping a human being alive, I felt like I was a physicist who had just stumbled upon the theory to explain life, the universe, and everything. I had read all the parenting books, sifted through the studies, experimented, and I was sure I was right. I didn’t realize how easily the “other side” could scoff at me for co-sleeping, or could have judged me for unknowingly purchasing a baby carrier without proper hip positioning. I wish I could tell myself there is no one right way. That we all strive for safe, clean, fed, loved babies and the rest is just details. The “Mommy Wars” aren’t real. Division isn’t wise or necessary.
I would tell that mother that “Princess” and “Future Neurosurgeon” are not mutually exclusive terms. I was so sure I knew how to raise a daughter. I was a feminist, an LGBT activist. I was aware of how nonsensical forced gender roles are. I was going to let my child find her own gender identity and expressions. I was going to single handedly vanquish barriers to women in STEM fields. I wasn’t going to Pink Wash my child. I don’t regret starting off on a neutral footing. I knew children don’t truly develop their own gender identity until between 2 and 5 years old. I have zero regrets about dressing her in a mix of pink and blue onesies, and providing as many dolls as I did trucks and tools. I do regret my reluctance to accept her own identity. I wish I could go back and tell myself that feminists can wear pink. That denying my child her right to paint her nails and dress up barbies accomplished the exact task I was hoping to avoid, dictating my child’s personality and interests. I’m thankful I never actually limited her choices, but regretful that I did a double take every time she chose a Disney princess doll off the shelf.
I would tell that mother that she is so much more than a mother. When my daughter was born, I thought I would spend the first six weeks at home, and then transition back into the work force. Six weeks rolled around and I entered her name into the daycare wait list. “Estimated wait: Two years, Three months”. My heart sank. We were the wrong kind of poor. Too high an income for subsidy, not high enough for private placement. Once stay at home motherhood became mandatory, it became everything. I was going to be the best mother ever. Slowly it became my entire identity. One by one I pushed away every friend I’d had. I spent weeks at a time not really talking to another adult. I started to believe any deviation from total 24/7 devotion to my child would make me a bad mother. I was depressed. I wasn’t the mother I could have been if I had been taking care of myself. I know now that a baby doesn’t just need a mother, they need a whole, functional mother.
Most of all, I wish I could show that mother what happened when she blinked, and seven years flew by. That her baby is just fine. There were no magic answers to eliminate every problem, only time. The baby grew. She slept. She ate. Time passed and we survived. That her parenting style would evolve, and evolve again. That nearly every “I’ll never…” became “I get it”. That her daughter is both a princess and a scientist, and was always destined to be exactly who she is. She wants to be a neonatologist when she grows up. She takes advanced placement math. She’s kind, and brilliant. She wears dresses, and she skateboards. She spends hours working on science, and uses those skills to make her own glitter soaps. She’s everything all at once, and exactly who she wants to be. That I’m not “just” mom anymore. That I went to school, I trained and cross certified and trained some more, and the world didn’t end. That I work long hours on call and when I come home my kids don’t hate me. They’re excited and want to hear about how adorable the baby, who I just helped enter the world, was. I would tell her I’m happy. That she’s not trapped, and there are options. That she’ll always treasure her time at home with her baby, but even more so, she’ll always treasure the ability to model for her daughter the limitless possibilities right there for the taking.
Seven years ago, it didn’t feel real. I knew a fetus lived in me, and the rest felt so far away. If I could go back, I’d tell her not to blink for too long, or she’ll miss the amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking, simple, impossibly difficult, life changing journey ahead.