The lovely Michelle Horton, over at EarlyMama, has posted an interview of me today. EarlyMama is about creating a community for young women who have become mothers before their peers. When I discovered the site, I sent Michelle an email saying that although I’m now 30, I had Ms. B. when I was 19 and I would have loved having a forum like EarlyMama. Something that was targeted towards young mothers without all the negative stereotyping and baggage. Michelle suggested doing an interview, and I eagerly said “Yes! I’d love to help out!” And then I sat down to answer her questions.
Some women talk about child birth as a magical experience. Some say how becoming a mother made them a better person. It’s beautiful. And it’s touching. And it’s just not what my experience was when I had Ms. B. When the nurses in the hospital first left me alone with Ms. B., I broke down sobbing. Not because I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment, by how much I loved my baby, by how I instantly felt she made me something more, but because I was scared shitless. I didn’t have any younger siblings. The kids I babysat in high school were all in elementary school. I had zero idea how to take care of a baby. Holding Ms. B. in my arms, alone for the first time ever, I think I realized the enormity of what lay ahead of me.
Answering Michelle’s questions forced me to look at a time in my life that was undeniably difficult. I was scared. I was confused. I felt alone a lot of the time. Michelle asked for a picture to go with the interview – I looked through a box of early photos of me with Ms. B. from that time. There wasn’t a single one where I wasn’t so exhausted I looked like I had been hit by a Mac truck. And thinking about my pregnancy and early years with Ms. B. inevitably lead to me comparing them with my pregnancy and these early months with the Peanut.
Even this early on, personality differences between Ms. B. and the Peanut are starting to show. The Peanut would happily stay snuggled up on your lap with a blanket all day. Ms. B. was not a snuggler. From the beginning she wanted to be facing out, down on the floor, exploring her world, always pushing for a little more independence than you felt comfortable giving her. On her first day of Kindergarten, Ms. B. asked me to leave her at the corner, a block away from the school. (“I’m good, Mom. I’ll take it from here.”) Ms. B. would eat absolutely anything you put in front of her and treat it like her favorite food. For the Peanut, every new taste and texture is something to agonize over and be endured. The list of ways in which my two girls are different could go on and on.
Most these personality differences can probably be attributed to the simple fact that Ms. B. and the Peanut are two different people. But how many of these differences are a result of the fact that, even though I gave birth to both girls, they are each the products of their time and are being raised by different mothers? In the last eleven years I’ve grown up. I’ve mellowed. I’m not as stressed out and unsure any more. I’m no longer trying to keep all of my plates spinning at full speed like I was when Ms. B. was little: Now, I focus on my “Mom” plate and just give the other plates a little shake every now and then to make sure they’re still wobbling along up there.
My pregnancy with the Peanut was a joyous, celebrated event. My pregnancy with Ms. B. was scary and stressful. What if all of my fear and stress, despite all my best intentions, had a negative effect on Ms. B.? Ms. B. was, God bless her, a little moody and colicky as a baby. Today, everyone comments on how the Peanut is the smiliest baby they’ve ever seen. What if Ms. B. was unhappy as a baby because I wasn’t the mother for her that I am for the Peanut?
Or I play the reverse game. Maybe I was doing something right eleven years ago. What if Ms. B. is so easy going and willing to try new things because I had so many friends and family members in and out helping me watch her? If it’s because I didn’t have the time or energy to indulge separation anxiety every time I went to class, or hunger strikes if she didn’t like what I served for dinner? What if I’m making the Peanut shy and neurotic by not exposing her to such a wide variety of people and experiences early on? Did I do anything to give Ms. B. her wicked fast sense of humor? It would be nice to repeat that one with the Peanut.
The whole thing is more than a little stupid. It’s no different from comparing yourself to another mother in your play group and thinking “If she’s doing something right, then I must be doing something wrong.” And we all know it’s a little stupid and we all do it any way. I’m just not sure there are many other mothers out there comparing themselves to themselves and worrying that they’re somehow not measuring up. For all of the girls’ differences, here is what I know is the same: Both girls are beautiful and smart. Both are growing up with a mother who loves them unconditionally, who’s doing the best she can with what she has available. Isn’t this what most of us are doing? So cut it out with the comparison shopping, even when the other mother is your self.