Before becoming a mom, I’d never been a can-I-hold-your-baby person.
I preferred babies at a safe distance where I could admire their chubby cheeks without causing a meltdown. Chihuahuas in tote bags were much more my speed than infants in Baby Björns. Meanwhile, my closest girlfriends jumped at the chance to scoop up a newborn. Even my husband was a natural with a tiny human in his arms, but I was a nervous wreck.
Supporting an infant’s wobbly neck without disturbing their angelic slumber wasn’t my idea of fun. The fact that these small creatures could go from perfectly happy to terribly upset within seconds repelled me. I appreciated their squishy thighs and heartwarming giggles (who doesn’t love a baby laugh?), but I appreciated giving them back to their parents even more.
Needless to say, I hadn’t yet caught baby fever, but assumed I would one day.
A few lives ago on a plane to Cabo for a bachelorette party, a friend of mine said she couldn’t imagine me as a mom. “You just don’t strike me as the maternal type,” she said, to which I responded with a shrug and a sip of lousy in-flight chardonnay.
Maybe she was right.
Though I never caught baby fever in the traditional sense, I’d always dreamed of experiencing pregnancy and creating a family of my own. However, I’d skip over the baby part and go straight to elementary school—reading bedtime stories, hanging indecipherable artwork on the fridge, and watching my wee one scamper to class wearing a tiny backpack.
So during my pregnancy with my son, I felt, in a word, inadequate. If I couldn’t handle a baby who I could quickly (and carefully) hand back, how would I deal with a newborn of my own? Would I know the right way to hold him for the first time, or console him in the middle of the night? What if I didn’t love him instantly?
I made a concerted effort to become a baby person before he arrived. Luckily, my social circle was teeming with tots, and I had plenty of opportunities to stretch out my arms and fake it ’til I made it. Though exposure therapy taught me that you can’t break a newborn by simply holding them (phew!), it hardly turned me into Mary Poppins.
Before I knew it, my son was born. The first time I laid eyes on the mysterious being who’d been kicking me in the ribs for a good month, a surge of confidence (probably adrenaline) rushed through me. When they placed him in my arms, I felt completely calm. Whether I truly was calm, or merely resigned to the exhaustion of labor, the fear I’d been harboring drifted away.
Despite lactation challenges, raging hormones and zero sleep in the days postpartum, my maternal instincts finally kicked in. When my hours-old son cried in the recovery room, I didn’t hesitate to lift him out of the bassinet and quiet him with a “sh, sh, sh.” I showed my husband how to thread his fragile head through a onesie (even though I’d never done it before), and angled him against my knees so I could study his tiny, beautiful face.
Now he’s almost 5 months old, and I can carry him in one arm while I empty the dishwasher with the other. I can tell the difference between his cries and know exactly where to squeeze his squishy thighs to make him giggle. I have to remember to put him down from time to time, because holding him, as it turns out, is my favorite thing in the world.
Being maternal doesn’t look the same for everybody. It doesn’t always mean cradling newborns with gusto or squealing at the sight of tiny toes. It doesn’t require knowing the (very minimal) lyrics to “Baby Shark” or “The Fire Truck Song.” Being uninterested in other people’s toddlers doesn’t mean you won’t be a great mom to yours. We’re often reminded to embrace people’s differences and not put them in boxes, so why don’t we do the same for moms?
I recently received a lovely compliment followed by a question: “You’re so great with your baby, how do you know what to do?”
My answer was, “You don’t.”
[This piece was originally published on Apparently.]