When I was considering having children, back before I got pregnant, I was consumed by fear.
I fretted about everything, from the choking hazards of our disheveled house to the embarrassment of nursing my new baby anywhere on the same continent as my father-in-law.
But more than anything, I worried that having a baby would so alter my identity that I'd become unrecognizable to myself.
I felt doomed to become a parody of motherhood, a sitcom version of myself, a harried soccer mom, driving a minivan all over some terrible subdivision. Once I had a baby, I would be transformed into a joyless, loveless, fat person forever looking for "Self" in the alliterative, bumper-sticker speak of Dr. Phil. I imagined an exhausted universe centered on the jostling of an ever-wakeful, screaming baby. A baby I couldn't possibly love. An ugly, hairy, Republican baby.
Perhaps what I feared most in this nightmare fantasy was isolation. I worried I'd be sequestered in motherhood and shunned by childless friends made weary by my baby and my concern for her. I was tormented by thoughts that I would be forced to withdraw from the world, my absorption with my child unpalatable to the greater social context.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Where I once feared that my soul would be sucked from me and be replaced by someone who said "poo-poo" and "binky," I am pleasantly surprised to find that Lily's arrival has ignited my intellectual curiosity. The news of the day, the books I read, the conversations in which I engage all have a deepened tenor. Her mere existence draws me into new realms of contemplation.
My creative self did not bake in some hard, lip-cracking sun of parenthood and fly away on a cloud of breast pads and baby talk.
The desperate dread of isolation has proven baseless. On the contrary, the world loves and welcomes a new baby. I am now pulled from my house, carried along with the stroller to explore in close detail the fabric of my tree-shaded Cleveland Heights neighborhood as we traverse its weft and weave. Doors are held open for me, both literally and figuratively, with her by my side. I have been engaged in grocery lines, stopped at the post-office bulletin board, met at the fence. Lawn mowers idle and hoses are averted when we pass.
The faces of my community have become clear as they peer in to have a look at this new person. And those friends without kids have welcomed us with a limitless outpouring of curiosity, understanding and gifts of time, tools and company.
My community has presented itself in quiet solidarity, offering support in the way of drop-in mothers' groups and 24-hour lactation lines. A nurse visited me at home, compliments of the county, to make sure we were both thriving. I created friendships with other mothers, whose shared understanding has enlightened me, comforted me and filled my life with convivial fellowship.
My daughter and I are more a part of the world together than I ever was alone.
As for my fears about my actual child, I am delighted to report that Lily turns out to be a calm spirit. She's a strong eater and a deep sleeper. She laughs and makes me laugh. She's not hard to be around, not boring. She travels well. She's adaptable. Most important, she is patient and she indulges me. She endures my occasional awkward holds, her limbs flopping about. Or my moments of ineptitude, the times I accidentally jam her pinky finger in the sleeve, bonk her with my hairbrush as I rush us out the door or let her sit in a diaper stew a little too long.
She seems to know that I'm trying my best, and I know she is, too. We go easy on each other.
At one month, she already knew how to enjoy a warm blanket on new grass, a fleece-clad shoulder, a cloth diaper rolled beneath her sagging head. She could swing contentedly to Bob Marley and savor a slow dance. At two months, she reassured and beguiled me with enormous, gummy smiles, two dimples like receptacles for the liquid me. The pleasure of giving her things that make her happy and provide her comfort is simply and deeply rewarding, a satisfaction I could never have fathomed in my dark imaginings.
Ten months have soared past since I last contemplated what I presumed would be the death of my identity. I have changed with the landscape of motherhood, and the view is different from here. It's true, I hardly recognize myself. I am more efficient, more patient, more full-up with the simple pleasures. I go to bed earlier. I sleep better. I'm healthier I no longer smoke. I eat better there are vegetables in my fridge. My life is full of purpose I no longer rattle around in my own head, obsessing over my sense of self.
Some of the mysteries of motherhood are solved and others generated every day, every moment for me. This flow of challenges balanced by simple, sensual pleasure creates the rhythm of our everyday life together. This force propels Lily and me, heart to heart, cheek to cheek, into a future that seems dynamic and boundless, one that reveals itself slowly, patiently and with love.