The OB nurse found me on the bathroom floor of my hospital room, crying hysterically. I was doubled over with emotions, ranging from pain and fear mixed with a sense of relief. At 22, I could barely take care of myself and now they were giving me this tiny person to take care of? I kept thinking he’d be better off without me as his mom. With all the issues I had, how was I ever going to be a good mom for this wondrous creature? The nurse helped me get cleaned up and brought him to me for his first feeding.
As she showed me the proper breastfeeding technique, it seemed so natural and within seconds he was feeding. I reached up to touch his cheek and he instinctively grabbed my finger. Barely an hour old, he wrapped those five tiny fingers around mine, looking for something to hold onto in this unfamiliar world he was thrown into. The room was almost dark with just a dim light in the corner and I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of fear and inadequacy. But more than that, I felt the purest form of love that I had ever felt in my life. It was primal. It was overwhelming. It was maternal.
“I’m sorry you got stuck with me,” I whispered. “I can’t promise you I’ll be the mom you deserve, but I can promise you that I will love you with everything I am for the rest of your life and will always be your biggest supporter.” I kissed him on his forehead and breathed in his essence-that baby smell lingering in my nose and filling my heart.
I didn’t sleep that first night. I just sat up and watched him sleeping in the bassinet next to my bed. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I studied every inch of his face. I counted and recounted his fingers and toes. I started wondering about the future. What would his voice sound like? Would he be a writer like me or play soccer like his dad? What would his favorite color be? Who would be the first person to break his heart? Would he grow up to resent me? Or would we have one of those strong mother/son relationships? What career path would he choose?
That first night, alone with my boy, was magical. It’s funny when you get something you didn’t know you wanted and it becomes the reason for your existence. I gave him life, but he saved mine. This little boy sleeping next to me made me want to be a better person and I was excited about showing him the world and being his mom.
Twenty-three years went by in what felt like a single moment. Motherhood makes you a different person. You become a warrior. You become a sage. You find pieces of yourself you never knew existed and places in your heart that you’ve never been. You are a raging lunatic one minute, as you step on your 1000th piece of Lego and a comforting nurse the next when your child falls and bumps his head. Their pain is your pain. Their happiness makes your heart burst at the seams.
They learn to walk and every step from that day on is another toward their independence. And just like that first step, you watch as an observer, a cheerleader, rooting while holding your breath that they don’t fall. But, they will and just like when they were taking those first wobbly steps, you are there to soften the blow, sometimes before they hit the ground and sometimes when they hit rock bottom. But, you’re also there, when they eventually take off like a marathon runner, straight to the finish line.
I watch him now, walking around his new apartment in a new city, 3,000 miles from our home and I see that little boy. He has grown into a strong, creative, generous man. All those hopes and fears I had for him that August night 23 years ago have led up to this moment. The moment where he officially enters adulthood and starts a new life. I see so much of myself and his father in him. We weren’t perfect parents, but I now know that perfection isn’t the cornerstone of being a good parent. Being present is. Being available is. Loving them is. I spent many days critiquing myself as a mom and spent time thinking of the things I should have done or could have done differently. But, all of those moments, good and bad, have made him into this man in front of me now. I realize that I kept my promise made to him in those early hours of his life. I have loved him as best and as much as humanly possible.
I find myself on the floor, once again, crying with fear, relief, worry, and pride. Did I do enough? Is he ready for this? Am I ready for this? I reach out in this unfamiliar, new world to find my touchstone, something to hang onto. But, this time it isn’t the OB nurse that comes to my side to comfort a new mom. It’s that little boy, now grown. He puts his arm around me and lets me cry on his shoulder. Those five tiny fingers, now man-sized, interwoven in mine and we sit for a while as I savor each second, soaking in his essence and celebrating our journey.