Seven years ago yesterday I was awakened at 4:50am by a popping sensation and an intense urge to run to the bathroom. What I knew instinctively – but I didn’t really want to believe – was that it was my water breaking. My due date was still six weeks away, and I had plans for the day that definitely did not involve having a baby. As it turns out, my plans didn’t matter one little bit. Babies will come when they come, and so my daughter Hannah arrived later that afternoon, five pounds and four ounces of life-changing newborn.
People use the phrase becoming a mother as if it happens instantly. The moment your baby draws their first breath, BAM!, you become a mother. My experience says that’s not the way it works. I believe that I started the process of becoming a mother when I pushed Hannah into this world. I have continued it each and every day since then. I am still becoming a mother, with every new experience, challenge and stage. I learn new things, I grow, I change, I evolve. I become more and more the mother I couldn’t yet see on that afternoon in 2005 when I held my newborn child for the first time.
The thing about first babies is that they really come on the journey with you. You teach each other, and learn from each other. It’s not easy, and it’s not always smooth, but always you do it together. I haven’t just spent the past seven years becoming a mother, I’ve spent the past seven years becoming Hannah’s mother. While each baby is unique, and each brings his or her own lessons, the first is always the trailblazer. They are always the experiment in progress, as you hone your skills and find your feet. They are the ones who bring you to your knees in wonder and fear. Can I do this? Can I really be a mother? Yes, yes you can. And anyway, you have no choice – but you’d never choose differently, anyway.
My babies’ birthdays always make me cry. They’re tangible markers of the passing time. Reminders of what was, and how far we’ve come. To mark the occasion I look back on photos, moments captured in time, pieces of my daughter’s childhood. They tell a story – her story – and I am re-reading every word in shadows, reflections and light played out on my computer screen.
I’ve spent the past few days celebrating Hannah, and all that she is. There was a mother-daughter trip to the aquarium and lunch out, a house full of little girls making sock puppets at full volume, present opening after present opening, and a visit with my family. It was joyous, and raucous and fun. Today, I’m taking the time to celebrate myself.
When I was pregnant, I thought that birth would be the hard part. Now I know that it was just a very small piece – the beginning to an entire human life. I worked hard then, bringing my daughter into the world, and I have worked hard every day since. I have agonized over (and made) hard decisions, cleaned up bodily fluids, soothed hurt feelings and made rush trips to the ER. I have fed, clothed, bathed and sheltered. I have had parent-teacher conferences and meltdowns in grocery store parking lots. I have had moments of transcendence that I can’t begin to put into words. Every day, I carry all of that with me. Every day, it shapes me and changes me. Every day, piece by piece, I become a better, wiser, stronger person. I become a mother.
Happy birthday to Hannah … and happy becoming to me.