Motherhood Mondays: Why Not to Expect When You're Expecting

Monday, August 24, 2020

Some of my favorite memories of our marriage to date are the memories of when I've told Joe I'm pregnant; his shocked expression, choice words, subsequent tears of joy, followed by more shock and general disbelief.  I hope the both of those memories remain seared in my memory for all time.

I would have 10 more children if it meant getting to surprise him with that news over and over again.

But when I reflect on those life events -- the second of which involved the anticipatory investment in a clever "We're having another baby" spoon on Etsy, purchased almost a year prior -- I can't help but think how little we knew to expect.

Interestingly, when I was pregnant with our firstborn, I asked my doctor if I should read any books to prepare for childbirth.  She suggested the work of the iconic Ina May Gaskin -- the mother of midwifery -- and then followed that recommendation up by saying, "Really just anything except 'What To Expect When You're Expecting'."

In hindsight, she may have been onto something.

When I lived in Salzburg, my roommate used to tell me, before we went out each night, "No expectations, Jenni!  No expectations!  The best nights happen when we don't expect anything at all!"  Oddly, she was right.  The night I met the half-Austrian, half-Swedish love-of-my-life-turned-YouTube-sensation (who, incidentally, my roommate ended up hating) (and who, incidentally, was not quite the love of my life), I had no expectations.  The night my friend JC - a ridiculous human, visiting from home - got angry at the aforementioned love of my life and, in doing so, pronounced the name of our street (Billrothstra├če) "Bill Cosby Lava", I had no expectations.  The night we met Mark Zuckerberg (who was not actually Mark Zuckerberg) at our favorite Irish pub on Rudolfskai, I had no expectations.  All of these legendary nights -- no preconceived notions stood in their way.

But even with those life experiences, and my doctor's words of warning, I nonetheless had a lot of expectations about motherhood.  We would have all girls, and they would read by age 3, just like me!  They would speak English, Spanish, and German, just like me!  They would be safe all the time, and never find themselves in harm's way, and they would love to travel with us and see musicals with me and they would love their dad as much as I do.  They would be as close with their sisters as I am!  I didn't really care what they looked like, but in any case, they would be SUPER adorable.

Fast forward four years after that first pregnancy announcement and of course I was wrong about everything, all of it.  I can't even begin to count the ways I mis-imagined what our lives as parents would look like.

Tonight, after our oldest went to sleep, Joe came and found me in a dark place, both literally and figuratively.  The truth is, having a toddler with 7 (if not 8) disordered sensory processing systems feels impossibly hard most days.  It's even harder when you add an infant into that mix.  There are days where I just silently retreat into darkness and wonder how we are going to make it.  I wonder what the future is going to look like.  I wonder if we're going to come out alright on the other side of toddlerhood, of global developmental delays, of daily therapies, of future diagnoses we discuss with one another when we are brave enough to broach the subject.

I started the conversation tonight in tears, Joe comforting me.  We ended the conversation the other way around.  Moments later, I said to him, "I'm sorry;  I feel like I feel better after this conversation and you feel worse."  He responded, "Well, that's just the way it is sometimes."

I'd love to report that following this conversation tonight, I emerged from that dark space with complete confidence about the future, certain that all will be well, that our toddler's challenges will become increasingly manageable each year until they melt away into normal-parent-problems.  And maybe that really will be our reality.

Until then, we'll be here, doing the best we can, one day at a time, meeting our son's needs in the year 2020, not anxiously fixated on the year 2023, or 2024, or even 2032.

No expectations.
Nev said...

"Well, that's just the way it is sometimes." Exactly right. And, as you say, taking it one day at a time and doing the best you can is always the right way. More often than not your best is moooore than good enough and in the "above and beyond" category, but we're often too self-critical to see or believe it (and, to be honest, sometimes I think that's better—within reason, of course—than to pat oneself on the back). As the wonderful Anne Lamott said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

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