I can still remember just HOW BADLY I wanted to have a baby. Baby fever is a powerful, powerful condition that one cannot just easily squash. Once that idea takes hold in your mind, it doesn’t let go. But wanting to have a baby and wanting to be a parent are two entirely separate things.
Not once in the four and a half years that I wanted a baby did I stop and say, “I want to be a parent”. To the uninitiated, those two probably sound like the same thing. I can assure you, they’re not. The idea of wanting a baby often takes hold because we see just how cute and endearing those little bundles seem to be. We picture smiling, laughing six-month-olds; a five-year-old playing tea party; the eight-year-old learning to play baseball with his dad. What we don’t picture are diaper explosions, sleepless WEEKS, 3AM vomit parties… Those subtle differences are called being a parent.
Wanting a baby pictures all the good. It seems magical, mystical – it’s the ultimate unknown. Being a parent is real. Being a parent is also magical, wonderful, and full of good. It is also frightening, dirty, exhausting…hard. Most of us don’t think of those things when we say we want a baby. Sure, people who are already parents warn us that our lives are about to change forever. They tell us about the sleepless nights, the pain of childbirth, just how hard it is to be a parent. Yet, without having experienced most of this for ourselves, we just can’t mentally compute how true what they’re telling us is. We think they’re exaggerating, that it won’t be that way for us. We’ll be different, we won’t have kids who scream in public or throw tantrums over a dinner out. We’d never tolerate that behavior the way they do…
I wanted a baby so badly that I forget about all else for over four years. In those four years I started a career, I got married, took vacations, got a cat, bought a house, worked on a college degree… Truthfully, I remember very little of those four years except that all-consuming drive to have a baby at all costs. It was INSANE. I was insane. There is a reason they call it baby ‘fever’. It pollutes your mind just as an illness will. The spark was planted in me after a miscarriage that proceeded an unplanned pregnancy. We then got pregnant twice more, both accidentally WHILE using two different forms of birth control, and had two more miscarriages in that same year.
My journey into baby fever was really more of a journey into longing and replacing what I had lost. There had been life in my womb three times and three times I had been denied the chance at ever meeting these tiny growing beings. I was devastated and I was going to get my baby. There was a break where I decided to actually just live and be young. But we were on the TTC (trying to conceive for those non-polluted brains) bus in a few months and when that didn’t work, we met with doctors to find out what was wrong. We both had fertility issues, which was shocking for the two people who had conceived three times in one year while trying to prevent it. We did what the specialist said and still nothing.
Almost two years later, we were pregnant. Less than a week after the positive test, we lost the baby… At that point, I swore off getting pregnant. I was done. It hurt and I was convinced we’d be childless. I looked into foster parenting, put the idea aside and focused on school. We got back into TTC, this time taking a more relaxed, but serious approach with the charts, the temperature taking, the suggested treatments recommended by the specialist. And they worked. We had our successful pregnancy and delivery. We had a baby.
My pregnancy was so surreal. It was filled with the terror of losing the baby and then actual joy as we inched closer to our due date. Sure, there was morning sickness and more than one occasion of covering the interior of my car in vomit. There were moments of running to the restroom at work and feeling like my baby was trying to murder me from inside out. My water broke prematurely at thirty-seven weeks, but we had a healthy baby!
He was mine and I loved him. The reality of becoming a parent sat in the first sleepless night in the hospital. My body felt ravaged, my mind was fuzzy from the lack of sleep and the craziness that I had just experienced. I had expected to look at my baby immediately after birth and think that he was the most gorgeous creature I’d ever seen. I didn’t. I thought he was cute, but I wasn’t head over heels in love with him, not yet. Breastfeeding, bonding, becoming a mother – they didn’t come as naturally as I had expected. Between baby stores, what to expect, and birth – it all became glaringly real…and overwhelming.
Somewhere in the first week I wondered what the hell I had done. I was tired, sore; I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted some peace. But, when you have your first baby two weeks before Christmas, oh, well, you don’t get that magical, mystical break. You get to finish Christmas shopping with a one-week old. You get to be bombarded with people trying to hold YOUR baby. You get to be reminded a million times that you failed at breastfeeding, that you gave up on that ‘easily’. No one sees how your son just plain won’t latch on, they seem to forget that you can hear them talking about you because hello, you’re in the very next room.
After the shock of realizing that wanting a baby is so much more than those lovely bucolic images of a bouncing baby playing on a blanket in the grass…you realize, being a parent is setting in. And you want it! You don’t care that it’s now a challenge to get a shower. It’s becoming manageable to have a little being that depends on you for EVERYTHING. You’ve been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on. You’ve been screamed at, you’ve cried in corners of rooms in secret, and yet you’ve still managed to fall in love. You’ve began to love burying your face into those big chubby cheeks. You start to live for those tiny baby smiles, and then giggles!! He laughs, you teach him to roll. You are becoming a mother and you are loving parenthood…
Parenthood was exhilarating for me after the first month. I mean, I rocked it. I had his schedule down to a science and the house was pretty much always clean. There were some nights of tears when our normally good sleeper would decide to wake up or not want to sleep, but mostly, I rocked it. I rocked it so much, that I decided I was ready for another baby before he was even one-year-old.
If there’s anything crazier than baby fever, it’s second baby fever. Crazier still; we didn’t need fertility treatments this time, we got that baby on the first try… We managed to get pregnant on our four-year wedding anniversary and if that wasn’t symbolic of how it was meant to be, well then, what was? The second time around, you get the difference between wanting a baby and being a parent. In some ways, a second pregnancy is easier because you know all about what is coming your way. And then you don’t. Because now you have to add a toddler to the mix. You’ve never done that level of busy and crazy and it is scary.
I did fall in love instantly, head over heels with my second baby. I loved him as much as I loved his brother and I ached for all those firsts again. I knew not to rush them, to cherish them, and reach for the memory of them when I was having a hard day. Making the switch to two under two wasn’t easy, but it was doable. I lost a part of myself somewhere in the mix because I had no time to just be anything but their mother. But they grew and I found me again.
Life with a three-year-old and almost two-year-old is pretty sweet. It’s crazy busy and messy, but it is rewarding. Watching them interact and learn is amazing. Seeing my oldest call his brother his friend seriously makes me tear up. They work together, they argue, they love each other.
My husband and I – we got this. We know all about what it is to be a parent and how it’s hard, but worth it. We now know the difference in wanting a baby and wanting…a different life. That’s what parenthood is. It’s a different life than the one you had. It’s loving someone (multiple someones) more than you love yourself. It’s giving up everything you thought made you whole for little beings that make parts of you that you didn’t know you had light up. Parenthood is learning to balance what you had with what you got. And that magical, mystical unknown? Oh, it’s still there. And it’s beautifully real and equally fulfilling.
Before you say you want a baby, make sure you understand what you’re asking for is much more than a little being. They demand ALL of you. They take until you think you couldn’t possibly have more to give and then they fill your soul up with love. You’ll find strength when they’re weak and you’ll give it to them. You’d go hungry, truly hungry; to make sure they’re fulfilled. You’ll forget about having nice clothes, cars, or anything else if it means that they get to have all they need and most of what they want. You’ll learn that disciplining them isn’t mean, but it’s a part of teaching them to be good people, the kind you want to see in the world.
Most of all, they’ll show you that you are more than you ever saw. You’re their sun and moon for many years. And you are still their hidden strength, even when they have children of their own. That’s being a parent – a good parent. And it’s worth it…