I never talk about this.
I let people wonder.
I let them look at me and look at her, then look again when she calls me “Mom.”
I have heard it all.
Are you the mother?
You must be sisters.
And my favorite? You don’t look old enough to be her mother.
I should be flattered but I’m not. The truth is I am not old enough to be her mother and that fact has left me with a pang of self-consciousness over my mothering abilities I have never been able to shake.
I found out I was pregnant for the first time when I was young, young enough to be on a less trashy, less putting-my-baby-in-too-hot-of-a-bathtub version of “16 and Pregnant.”
I was scared out of my mind, devastated by the disappointment I saw in the faces of my parents, with whom I had just been begging days before to let me go away to college. My teenage life was now completely off-balance, uprooted from the carefree teenager I had been moments before I saw those two pink lines.
Now that I am in my thirties and light years away from that teenage brain, I look back and wonder how in the world I thought I could raise a baby at 17. I have come to the conclusion the only reason I thought I could do it was because I had no idea what “it” was and also happened to be young enough to still believe I was invincible. And stubborn enough to not listen to anyone who told me otherwise.
I remember the moment they placed my beautiful first born in my arms… a baby girl at 11:20, the words of my physician christening my entry into motherhood.
Of course I remember her birth and the uncontrollable tears of joy running down my cheeks and those beautiful moments after, seeing myself and her future and our life together unfolding in her deep blue eyes. But there is another moment etched in my mind as well, the moment we were free to go home. I remember the panic rising up in my chest when the nurse told me our discharge papers were ready.
Me? I am actually going home with a baby?
Didn’t I need a class or a certificate or some sort of degree for this?
Could I talk to my mom first?
Who said I could do this? Were these people really going to let me leave here with a child?
No one came running in to reclaim our discharge papers so I decided I must be ready. I had made up my mind long before that I would be keeping my child and loved her with an intensity I had never before experienced, so I had no choice but to claim my future right that moment and walk the walk.
I slowly swung my legs over the side of my hospital bed, clutching for the “mommy pants” I was about to put on. I clung to their unfamiliar waistband as I was wheeled out of the hospital that day. I gripped them while my baby girl was gently placed in her second-hand carseat and I held them up during the sleepless nights and the homework and the juggling of being a mother while still being mothered, and I kept holding them up until I grew the hips I needed to keep my “mommy pants” on. And until they felt comfortable and familiar and the perfect size.
By the grace of my parents, I went to college and we moved out on our own and I grew up as she grew up and got very comfortable in my “mommy pants”, as long as we were at home. Wearing them in public was a whole different story. I always felt inadequate, felt my age somehow translated to the mothering skills others thought I was capable of, and I could not wait for the day I looked as good in my role as I felt.
The funny thing is, I thought the second time around, things would be different.
In a million ways they were. I was married, my husband and I wanted to have a baby (or three), no one stormed out of the house in tears when I told them I was pregnant, I was not embarrassed by my cute little baby bump and I certainly was not squeezing my belly into a desk in 1st hour English. The list of differences goes on and on, but there was one thing that was unexpectedly the same.
The tears streamed down my face the moment we placed our new babies in their carseats for the first time but, just like the last time, I was still swallowing down fear.
I could not wait to be their mother and do things the “right” way this time, catch approving glances rather than questioning stares. But I found myself looking down at those expectant little faces and wondering, once again, what on earth I was supposed to do with them once we got home.
I have learned through trial and error and self-doubt and self-confidence that “mommy pants” don’t just come made to fit: you either have to suck it in and squeeze them on or hold them up until you find the perfect belt. And sooner or later you will be strutting your stuff, forgetting there was ever a day when they weren’t hugging your legs and squeezing your behind every time you looked in the mirror.
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