When I was a little girl, my mom bought a desk calendar from Unicef. It was full of photos of mothers and babies from around the world, and I remember poring over it for hours. I think I was intrigued by all the exotic ethnic clothing, but I've never forgotten some of the faces. I remember one picture especially, a graceful swirl of brilliant blue robes around the thin, yogic body of a young Indian mother. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her skin looked black against the blue cloth, and she wore silver bangles on her long arms and legs. She sat with effortless poise, like a sleek cat. In her arms was a tiny baby, and they were looking at each other.
Another picture showed two women from South America, with their babies bundled on their backs in striped, woven shawls. They were standing in a field and were dirty from working, and they had big smiles.
There were pictures of mothers and children from some of the poorest countries in Africa and Asia. Some of them were gaunt and thin from malnourishment, standing in dry open fields, or shabby little shelters. All of them had babies in their arms or laps, and the other thing they had in common was the look on their faces. Even though they were so poor, most of them had radiant smiles. To my little, seven-year-old mind, it was the look of motherhood. I thought to myself that, if I became a mother, I wouldn't have to be rich, because I'd be happy.
Well, my ambitions in life changed many times before I became a mother. Babysitting did that for me. After changing countless diapers and walking up and down the hallway after midnight with screaming babies, arguing endlessly with four-year-olds about why they had to eat their carrots, and pushing toddlers on swings again and again and again, I decided there were more fun things to do in life – if people like that kind of thing, good for them! Somebody had to repopulate the world. But intelligent, broad-minded, cosmopolitan people, like me, were going to do better things. Really important things, like study novels and lie on beaches. I wasn't going to be tied down to anyone, especially not children. I had a lot of happiness to squeeze out of life!
I won't tell you with the whole story of my life (it's quite boring). Like most people, I tried to pack in as much experience as I could, afraid that I would miss out. I wasn't particularly happy. And then, out of the blue, I met my husband. We were best friends, and absolutely infatuated with each other, from the start. All desire to be independent was gone. Who wanted to be independent from him, the love of my life, my handsome, wonderful husband? We got married right away.
Surprise! Three weeks later, I was expecting a baby. Although we'd been open to it, I didn't expect to get pregnant right away. My menstrual cycles had always been unpredictable and difficult. Suddenly I was faced with motherhood. How could I have gone, in a few short months, from being the independent young woman, with ambitions, to being a wife and mother?
It wasn't how to do things (how to change a diaper, for instance) that frightened me. I knew how take care of babies. It was the question, could I do it? I'd been a pretty selfish person my whole life. Could I be a good mother? Would I be able to love a baby enough? Would I spend my time trying to get away from my little bundle of needs?
How could I have known? Nobody prepared me for what I would feel when my baby was put in my arms for the first time, still wet from birth, and we looked into each other's eyes. He was a little stunned from the whole experience, but he was looking straight at me, blinking and hiccupping. Such a tiny face, and so full of personality! I fell in love like a ton of bricks.
Being a mother is nothing like babysitting. When the baby is yours, you love him so much! There is no love in the world like mother love. No love for a man can compare with it. It isn't such hard work, either! Everything that terrified me, like nursing through the night, well, you just do it. It just happens naturally.
As I write, my little four-month-old baby is sitting on my lap. I hunch over him to keep him secure. (Yes! I can type with two hands, now!) He wiggles and makes little Forest Animal sounds, but he is content to sit for about fifteen minutes at a time. He gurgles and eats his fists, and when I stroke his soft, sweet head, he laughs out loud. Honestly, I can't imagine life without him! I haven't lost my independence at all. I've gained a new fulfillment. Just as my lifestyle changed when I fell in love with my husband, so it is changing now that I am a mother.