On my thirtieth birthday, about a month after my son was born, I had brunch with a good friend. Being just four weeks post-partum, it was one of the first times I was physically away from my son for longer than a few moments.
As we dined on fruit salad and Eggs Benedict, my friend asked me if I could believe that I was now a mother. I don’t recall anymore just what I said in response, but I know it was something to the effect of “um, no. I definitely cannot.”
It was a refrain I turned to again and again during those early months when people came with the same query.
“Can you believe he’s here?”
“Can you believe you’re a mother now?”
And I was not exaggerating when I said over and over again that I could not believe that I was someone’s mother.
I, of course, exhibited all the symptoms of a mother. Physically, emotionally, socially–it was evident that I was this tiny baby’s mama.
I loved my son fiercely and selfishly. In my new mama cocoon, I avoided early morning appointments and late evening social gatherings like the plague. I shunned help, certain that I could best care for my new family’s needs.
I found ways to incorporate meaningful parts of my former life into my new life.
Still, as I evolved from my former self into my new mama self, I struggled to conceptualize the fact that I had brought a little boy into the world who would one day call me mama.
There’s something bizarrely surreal about the birth of a child. Indeed, when a new baby is born, a mother is also born. But, just as it takes time for that little baby to develop into a tenacious, independent little human, it can take time for a mother to feel fully at ease in her role as mom.
For me, becoming a mom and gaining a son was a bit like the transition of going from law school graduate to licensed attorney. The descriptor was correct, but early on, somewhat ill-fitting.
At times, those first few months of being a mom conjured up feelings of make believe.
The first time I went to the store on my own after my son was born, I relished in the liberty and the guilt of my temporary freedom. I was acutely aware of every small family I passed. I recall how inept I felt as I watched experienced moms and dads wrangle several children at a time, wishing my son were with me at that moment.
I couldn’t wait for the time I would feel at ease in my new role and wondered if that day would ever come. I longed to be the exasperated mom picking up a thrashing toddler off the floor at Target.
Those were the real moms–not me, awkwardly straddling the line between pre-baby and post-baby life.
Part of the disbelief that I was actually a mom may have come from the fact that my son was not yet old enough to acknowledge me as such.
Of course, I read all the books and articles about how my son would instinctively know I was his mama.
I read about one-week old babies turning their heads toward their mother’s scent, and how babies at every age show attachment.
But still, without my son ever calling me mom, it felt like I was playing this mom person to a tiny being who may or may not have been fully sold on the idea of me as his mother.
Alas, the day eventually came when my son actually began calling me mama.
By that time, I had enough months of motherhood under my belt that I had already started to feel more like one of those “real” moms.
I ran miles alongside my son.
I hefted his wiggly, growing body through the grocery store and calmly reminded him to use his indoor voice when he excitedly screamed at strangers.
Of course, I know that I became a mother long before my son knew to call me mama.
I know now that the early uneasiness, along with the worry, the fear, and the uncertainty are as much a part of my motherhood journey as the joyous cries of mama and the tantrums in Target.
Becoming a mother is a beautiful thing, and like everything that is beautiful, it requires time to blossom and flourish.