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  • Ready or not

    Motherhood, for me, has been about not being ready.

    When I found out I was pregnant, I was at school, in Vermont in a dorm bathroom—a long row of sinks and poor lighting and stalls the pale color of a peeled banana. We had been trying for months, and it shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. I walked into my room where my roommate was waiting to hear the results. “I’m pregnant,” I said, and we both cried. I called my husband back in Houston, and I cried then too. “Do you feel okay?” he asked. “Are you excited?” Yes, I said. I felt fine, was excited. But then I thought about how there was a tiny, tiny being inside me, and that tiny being would get bigger and bigger and then have to come out. I wouldn’t ever be alone again, not even now, when I shared my body with someone else. I wasn’t ready.

    When my water broke, I was thirty-six weeks pregnant. I had been in the backyard reading The Remains of the Day, and I cried when it was over. I’d pulled up my shirt, and my stomach was pale and strange and round, sun-warmed in the afternoon. I imagined my baby, tight inside me, blinking in the bright light of the day. I went inside, into my closet, stared at the clothes that didn’t fit me—and then there was a gush between my legs. I called my husband, who was across town and carless, my mom, who was out of town, and then my dad, who was almost out of town but not quite, and as I waited for him to pick me up, I waddled to the nursery. We had a chair and a crib and changing table and on the floor piles and piles of baby things I couldn’t even begin to classify. And—even though I hate when this happens in fiction, when a character talks to herself, aloud and alone—I actually said, out loud and alone, “But I’m not ready.”

    When the doctor said we could leave the hospital the day after Margaux was born, healthy and beautiful and perfect—and terrifying, this little baby I felt unqualified to have--I must have looked worried. “Or,” he said, “you can wait another day. Wait for the insurance to kick you out.” He smiled and squeezed my hand, and that’s what we did.

    When we moved Margaux from our room to her own, my husband said I handled it well. “Honestly,” he said, “I thought you might be a wreck about it. But you aren’t! You’ve been really brave.” He meant it kindly, and he was right and wrong because I was a wreck and I was being very brave, and I watched her on the monitor all night long, breathing when she did, the bunnies on her pajamas swelling and shrinking with each inhale, exhale. When she cried a few hours later, I went to her and brought her back to our room.

    When she turned six months, I told everyone I was going to stop breastfeeding her. I said I wanted a milkshake and cheese enchiladas and all the dairy I had given up for her. But her little face, the curl of tiny fingers, the curve of her cheek as she nursed! I stopped at seven.

    When she wouldn’t sleep, I held her. When she woke up crying at two in the morning, I put her on my chest, and we slept til seven—and for naps too, three times a day, her mouth fluttering open and closed, sucking on something that wasn’t there, a memory of a warmth she used to know. But now she sleeps in her own little bed. You’re such a big girl, I tell her every morning and afternoon, each time I lift her from her crib. I’m so proud of you, I say.

    And I am proud of her, of each thing she does, even though every inch forward feels like something I relinquish, something I miss. She turns eight months old in a few days, and while I’ve said hundreds of times that I can’t wait for her to sleep in her own crib, to stop nursing, for her to crawl, to play alone, so far I haven’t really been ready. Growing up is a miracle—there are so many dangers lurking in the world—and of course I know it’s right and good and just lucky that she’s getting to do it, but it feels like a surprise when it happens all the same. One day she’ll be eight and then eighteen, and each year will mark some change that catches me off guard, something I didn’t know I would mourn until it’s replaced with something else I’ll miss. It’s been hard, this growing up we are doing together, but it’s a celebration too, a feast of wonder—and I can be, I must be, ready for that.