My cute little sister-in-law, as a Christmas Eve gift to the family, announced that she is expecting a baby in July. My husband and I were actually informed a few weeks ago, though sworn to secrecy. My sister-in-law had a miscarriage earlier this year, which was devastating in and of itself, but made even worse by the fact that she had already told family, friends, and Facebook. Anyway, James and I are delighted for my brother- and sister-in-law, especially because we know how earnestly they desire to become parents.
This desire has been a focus of my thoughts for awhile now. It is a desire that I myself have, but which I cannot fully express on our family blog, where my adoption experience is not public. And it is a desire which I truly wish to express. I wish these thoughts didn't come from comparing myself to my sister-in-law, though that is indeed the root of them. I love her to pieces, and I have no wish to belittle her as a person or a mother. Please bear with me as I attempt to make sense of my thoughts on this topic.
I long to be a mother.
I have watched as many of my friends have become mothers, and though I am not privy to their innermost thoughts, I have what I believe to be a fairly accurate gauge on their anticipation levels. When I think of my closest female friends, I come up with quite a range. Friends who have been excited to become moms, friends who have approached it rather nonchalantly, and friends who have been terrified.
And then there is my sister-in-law. She is 20 years old, been married for a year, no college education, a part-time job she enjoys, but would/will easily sacrifice to become a full-time mother. And there is no question as to where she stands--she eagerly, almost desperately wants to be a mom. She used to be far more vocal about her desire, actually, before the miscarriage toned down her dialogue somewhat. But I have no doubt that her longing remains.
It is my sister-in-law who brings this question to my mind most often: What makes me long to be a mother?
When I first knew my sister-in-law, her over-the-top, incredibly vocal desire to be a mother actually bothered me a great deal. It seemed so...vain. It seemed to me as though she believed that she wanted to be a mother more than anybody else wanted to be a mother. And frankly, it rubbed me the wrong way. How could a then-19-year-old girl with no real life experience have any understanding of this desire, which had such a deep and fierce place in my heart?
I think that if I had gotten married at 19 (as was my plan at the time) and gotten pregnant shortly thereafter, I would have approached the event with naive excitement. When I think back, I can't really remember what my thoughts were on motherhood at the time. I know I wanted to be a mom, though it certainly wasn't my primary focus.
But then my life happened. I got pregnant. My boyfriend abandoned me. I went through nine months of spiritual torture in addition to "normal" pregnancy awfulness, culminating in the single hardest moment of my life -- placing that beautiful, wonderful baby in the arms of another woman, and declaring that she, and not I, was his mother.
Afterward, I went back to my life and tried to forge onward. I finished college. I worked. I dated and enjoyed deep, lasting friendships. But placing a baby for adoption changed me in ways that I still don't fully understand. I had become a mother, and yet I wasn't a mother. I understood the otherwise unfathomable love for another human being that had grown under my heart, and yet my arms were empty.
In the years that followed, I watched as my closest friends married and started their families. I watched their excitement (or their nonchalance) as their babies' births approached. I have held their newborns, and watched them grow into darling toddlers. I love my friends' children, and dote on them often. But all the while, my arms have silently ached.
Eight years. Almost. This February, it will have been eight years since I looked into my baby's face, felt so much love for this boy-creature that had grown from nothing inside of me, and then parted with him.
Eight years! During most of that time, I remained alone. It's another post entirely, my single-hood. But anyone who has spent time as a single adult knows how hard it is. Especially in my Mormon culture, where so much emphasis is placed on home, family, marriage, and children. It is impossible to feel like a fully functioning member of this society as a single adult. And it only gets worse as time goes on. I never went through a period where I did not desire marriage and children. But I would get asked, "Are you dating?" My own mother: "Are you trying to get dates?" As though I was turning the guys away! She could not imagine why it was taking me so long to get married. And all the while, I was battling self-doubt, fearing that I was "broken" because of my previous pregnancy. Fearing that I would never marry, that I would never have children of my own....
I have matured more than I thought was possible, eight years ago. I have gone through other trials, and though none have been as devastating as my unplanned pregnancy, each one has taught me, and strengthened me. Through it all, my desire to be a mother has only deepened. With each passing year, the silent ache within me has grown steadily stronger, until at times it has seemed unbearable.
The joy I experienced when I (finally) married was all the sweeter, for the time I spent preparing (I don't like to think of it as "waiting") for my husband. And I believe that my joy will be even sweeter in motherhood, for much the same reason.
I guess the reason it bothered me so much at first when my sister-in-law expressed her desire to be a mother was because I could not imagine having so strong a desire without experiences like I have had. How could a 19-year-old year with so little life experience truly know this desire? Yet what I am coming to understand is that we can never truly know another's life experience. We can never truly know another's thoughts and desires. And we can certainly never compare ourselves to anyone else when it comes to these things. To do so is unfair to them, and to ourselves.
It's a relief, to be able to let go of my resentment. When my sister-in-law told us that she is expecting, I felt true joy for her. In that moment, I realized that I didn't have to compare or compete with her -- I could rejoice for her, for this is a desire that we share. It no longer mattered where the desire came from. I no longer questioned the validity or depth of the desire, on either of our parts. I simply recognized a kindred spirit. We both desire to be mothers, and it is our greatest joy to see that desire fulfilled. At last.