Everywhere I look, women are becoming mothers.
These are women I went to school with, studied with, worked with. Women I admire, envy, respect. Women who I think are not like me. Women who I think I could never be. Women who I insist I have little in common with – until I woke up one recent morning and realized that even if she and I are nothing alike, we’ll always share something sacred: motherhood. Or, more specifically, the potential for motherhood.
Motherhood isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. After all, it is – at its core – the very essence of existence. It is the root from which all life springs. One could, quite accurately, say that motherhood is life. And that’s a pretty powerful statement.
So why am I so afraid of it?
Motherhood is an inherent sacrifice (or a series of never-ending sacrifices, depending on how you look at it) – the magnitude of which is absolutely terrifying. First off, there are the physical sacrifices that motherhood demands, i.e. gaining weight, stretching skin, not fitting into any of your beloved clothes or shoes. Then there’s that whole bit where you shove a baby head with an average circumference of 14 inches out of a hole that is definitely not 14 inches wide. Or you could opt for getting your abdomen cut in half. Either way, it’s safe to say that when it comes to becoming a mother and the probability of experiencing excruciating, otherworldly physical pain, there’s a lot to (legitimately) fear.
But truth be told, the actual childbearing part isn’t what frightens me the most (although it’s up there). I’m relatively aware and confident about what my body is capable of. I already bleed once a month when my uterus sheds its lining, which is kind of gross when you really think about it (like most women, I’m desensitized to the grossness of menstruation, though I’m sure most men squirm at the thought). Moreover, I’ve had 40-inch hips since I was 15. That means something. I remember getting fitted for my quinceañera dress and at the time, my measurements were 34-27-40. Like any insecure teenage girl, I was so embarrassed by my, shall we say, assets. I vaguely recall someone in the room explaining that those hips would one day come in handy and help ease the pain of childbirth. That didn’t mean much to 15-year-old me. But as my biological clock ticks away, I can’t help but feel reassured and think, “Y’know, these damn hips may not be great for skinny jeans, but by god, they’ll be great for creating a human!”
Now if you’re like me, one of the main reasons motherhood is scary is because all of a sudden, there’s this mini person who needs you for things. Like, a lot of things. All of the time. And unlike an annoying co-worker’s incessant emails, you can’t just delete your offspring into the abyss. That child is yours for the keeping. It is up to you to teach it how to do life.
I’m notoriously hard on myself. My work isn’t polished enough. I’m not fit or skinny enough. I don’t save or budget enough. I’m not successful or smart enough. Rarely, if ever, do I think that I am enough.
Therein lies, perhaps, my greatest motherhood-related fear: that I will not be a good mother. That I will teach my future son or daughter all of the wrong lessons. That he or she will hate me, and yell at me, as I so often did to my own mother (and, looking back, over such frivolous things). That I will crack under the insurmountable pressure of trying to groom a human being for survival in an increasingly chaotic, unfair world. That I will fail miserably. That I will, in short, not be enough.
But then I think about my own mother.
I think about where I come from and what she passed on to me. From the blood that rushes like tidal waves through my veins to the complex strands of DNA that have coded my entire existence – there is so much of her in me.
If she could endure the weight gain, the agony of labor, the ill-fitting clothes and swollen ankles, then so can I. If she could get up at 3 a.m. to nurse and rock me to sleep, then so can I. If she could shelve her other life plans and goals for the sake of raising an endlessly curious and stubborn daughter, then so can I. If she could put up with animosity and ingratitude from said daughter, then so can I. If she could answer the call that is motherhood with such grace and determination, then so can I.
Maybe the grand lesson here is that conquering my fear of motherhood starts with conquering my fear of myself. And if my own mother – and so many other admirable women – could do it, then so can I.