I asked everyone I knew, "How do you know when you are ready to have a baby?"
They said, "You're never ready."
I got pregnant with you when I was 20. It took seven months.
Seven months feels like an incredibly long time when you're 20. I've never been so elated to see two pink lines.
I was sick in the beginning, and tired. And tired at the end, and hot, because it was summer in California -- the heat brutal, relentless. I watched everything green turn brown. I watched the cake at my baby shower turn into a puddle of buttercream, a tiny plastic rattle suspended on top. I watched the sky from the pool in our apartment complex: a sanctuary, you and me floating, weightless, while I waited for you.
You were a week late, making me sit through contractions every eight minutes for three days. I suspect you would've been even later had the doctor not ultimately forced you out. He said he was afraid, which made me afraid -- and I fell prey to that fear, allowing an induction.
A night of painful pitocin-induced contractions gave way to the morning; he told me it would be another day or more. To "speed things up," he broke my water, puncturing the balloon around you with a plastic hook, releasing a wave of warm fluid away from you, and out of me.
Two hours later you came rushing into the world. You were born in a push, pink and screaming, with a full head of black hair.
People asked if I was sure you were mine, with your black hair that made no sense, your black hair that would eventually grow long and golden-brown.
You were mine.
I see you now, and the parts of you that are me: your smile, the shape of your face, becoming an adult, becoming a person who doesn't always need their mother when they fall. I see you slowly becoming an adult, and I remember how you turned my world upside down when I was your age.
They said you'll never be ready.
I wasn't ready for sore stitches and sore nipples. I wasn't ready for sleepless nights and colic. I wasn't ready for piles of dirty diapers and buckets of bleach water. I wasn't ready to go back to work. I wasn't ready for first smiles and first giggles, first steps and first words. I wasn't ready for how I would see the world after I first saw you.
I wasn't ready for anything, and certainly not how deeply I would love you.
When you were three months shy of three, and your first brother was new -- still curled tight, pink, creased from his life in the womb -- my father came to visit. That I would want to be a mother so young, that I would want to do it twice, he couldn't understand.
He could never wrap his head around it, until he did.
The day he did, he said to me, "You've made for yourself the family you never had."
That family started with you, Firstborn. It started because I loved you and you loved me back.
I gave myself to you, my body, my milk, my heart -- and you gave me a reason to get up.
I didn't know what I was doing, but you loved me anyway.
I forgot things. I forgot which breast you last nursed on. I burped you and forgot to change your diaper. I changed your diaper and forgot to burp you.
I took you to the pediatrician too much. I took you to the pediatrician too little. I worked and put you in daycare and cried. I quit working and still cried. I had another baby when you were two, and with his birth, I had postpartum depression so debilitating that I fell to the floor and cried in your grandmother's arms.
I got pregnant again when that baby was one, a surprise baby that snuck past my birth control. I let you watch too much TV -- A Bug's Life and Hercules and Mulan -- while I laid nauseated, exhausted, on the sofa beside you. I had him, and I had postpartum depression again. More crying. Panic. Fear. Sadness.
I yelled. I cried. I put you in time-out. I missed the award ceremony when you were named Girl of the Year; I forgot that too. I wouldn't let you go to sleepovers. I yelled. I cried some more. I made you go to church. I made you clean your room. I made you scrub toilets. I pulled you out of church. I divorced your dad. I married someone else. I took your phone away. I made you share me with two more siblings. We yelled at each other.
And you loved me anyway.
You got the mom who was learning how to be a mom -- how to be an adult -- at the same time. You got the mom who was so busy trying to figure it out that she missed a lot of it happening, trying so hard to be a good mom that she might have actually been a not-so-good mom. You got the mom who made the mistakes, who tried and failed and tried and succeeded.
You got me, and I got you.
While I was getting things wrong, I got some things right, too. I fought to breastfeed exclusively. I drove you to a nanny, and every day I drove 30 minutes each way during lunch hour so I could nurse you. I sang to you. I tucked you in. I told you stories. I told you how much I loved you.
I gave you the hugs I never got, the love I never knew. I stayed up making Halloween costumes. I stayed up making dioramas. I taught you to make cookies and spaghetti, how to read, how to sew. I held you when you had your heart broken, when you were broken. I loved you deeply and protected you fiercely.
You were first. You were the greatest gift the universe ever gave me. You were sweet, and shy, and not at all like I was; or maybe my light was so bright that I couldn't see yours.
I see it now.
I wasn't ready to have a baby. I wasn't ready for you. I wasn't ready for a love so deep that I thought I would break, a love so pure, so real, that my entire life would have purpose overnight.
And then I was.
Love you the mostest,
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