The question I get asked the most is if I “feel like a parent?”. Usually I just smile and shrug, offering a “kind of” as my reply.
I’m not really sure what they’re asking. Do I feel qualified to be a parent? Absolutely not. I, very admittedly, have no idea what I’m doing and the knowledge of that unknowingness feels like an abyss that I try very hard not to fall into every single day.
Am I adjusting to my new role? I am trying my best. Transition periods are hard and joyful and murky and scary, and this one is no different. I am trying to find my way. I am trying to put together the pieces of my life into something sustainable, something recognizable, something rich and important and worthy of the life we’ve just created.
Are they just asking if I feel connected to my child, if parenthood is everything I thought it would be? If so, the answer is a clear and confident yes.
This comes as somewhat of a surprise to me. I spent the last nine months worried I wasn’t going to feel an instant connection with my baby- that I wouldn’t be one of those parents who would fall in love the second they saw their child. It was a very real fear that I held close and kept hidden from public view. The fear that it would be harder for me to fall in love, that I wasn’t cut out to be a mother, that my baby would be getting the short end of the stick.
It wasn’t completely far-fetched: I’m an anxious person, I don’t do well with change, and to be honest, newborns kind of freak me out. And even though it’s not talked about all the time, I know there are mothers who experienced everything I’ve just described and then some. That experience is real and completely valid, and I tried to give myself predetermined grace to feel whatever it was I needed to feel on my timeline. I knew I would love my child, but if I didn’t feel a gushing sensation the second he was born, I wanted to let that be okay without adding on additional layers of guilt.
But the second I heard his cry, the moment he was placed into my arms, I loved him beyond description. More accurately, it felt like I knew him. Like everything in my being recognized everything in his. Like something inside of me locked into place. Like a missing piece was returned. There you are, I thought to myself. I’ve been waiting for you.
Still, motherhood has not been a breeze. I’m finding that just like any other experience, there are elements of both. It is a profoundly joyous experience, accentuated by moments of exhaustion, despair and frustration, served up with a side of pure, unrelenting fear. I cry almost every single day- from fear, from anxiety, from gratitude, from the overwhelming enormity of it all.
I tend to have unrealistic expectations. I want things to be perfect. I want my vacations to be something out of a story book. I want the holidays to match the spread in Good Housekeeping. I want all the beautiful, perfect, shiny things.
I’m beginning to see that that’s just not possible. Whenever we experience great joy, fear and sadness and anger are also present. They manage to seep into the cracks. They gather on the sidelines, waiting for the moment where they are let into the game. I used to think this was just me, that it was something about the way I processed emotions, but now I think it’s just the way life works. When you feel things strongly, you feel all the things- that's part of the package. We cannot have the good without the bad. There is no “joy only” filter we can apply to our lives.
But luckily, the reverse is also true. In times of heaviness and sorrow, there are elements of joy and grace sprinkled throughout. They too find a way to seep through the cracks. We just have to train our eyes to look for them.
It took me three weeks to write this essay. I’ve written sentences during nap times, paragraphs on my iPhone during snuggle sessions, I’ve edited during pumping. My motivation and creativity feel very far away. My mind is preoccupied, drained, distracted.
And yet, my heart is full. I am tired to the bone, but joy is ever present, encircling me even in the hard moments.
When my baby cries nonstop and I can’t figure out what to do and I worry about him getting sick or feel anxious about things like sleep training or wondering when and how I will ever write again, I focus on the gratitude. When I close my eyes, I can truly feel it flowing through my bloodstream, so glad that this is my life and these are my problems.
There’s a Celtic saying that goes “heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.” Thin places can be actual locations where one feels close to God- the Sedona vortexes, the ocean, the Grand Canyon- but they can also be emotional experiences- weddings, funerals, the holiday season.
Pregnancy and motherhood? It’s the ultimate thin place. Everywhere I look I am surrounded by God’s presence. I have never felt more exhausted, more uncertain, or more alive in my entire life. Joy flows through it all, even in moments where I’m in over my head or I’m tired to the bone. I am in the thin place- I literally feel the divine with every breath.
I am in awe of my community, of the amount of love and support that we’ve received from friends and family, coworkers, and strangers. We’re being served in the best possible way, and it helps to know that we are not in this alone. I see God in the chicken casserole, the hand-knitted blanket, the way my grandmother looks when she holds her great-grandson for the first time.
Love isn’t something you can always see with your eyes, but here in the thin place, it is felt in every moment. It has a thick, visceral presence. It is warming. It is soft to the touch. It is the sound of God whispering, “I’m here.”