I recently finished reading And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell. A fun and easy read, it tells Meaghan’s real story about becoming a mother in her late 20s in New York City. The book has been described by critics as unflinchingly frank, funny, and intimate motherhood story for our times, about needing to have a baby in order to stop being one yourself. Meaghan’s experience of her (unwanted, or rather, unexpected) pregnancy, birth and early motherhood is a story of self-doubt, uneasiness with her body, lack of confidence, of feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. Unprepared for what the arrival of a child would do to her as a person, to her body, to her career as an aspiring writer, to her relationships with friends without kids, to her relationship with the father of her child and fiancé Dustin.
This made me wonder: Can a woman ever be truly ready to become a mother?
Five years ago (I had just passed the scary 30 year mark), I split up with my ex-boyfriend. At a regular check up with my gynecologist that year, I brought up the possibility of freezing my ovocytes. Kind of as an insurance for the future. Because, who knew what was to come? The only thing I knew was that I had just passed 30, and having a baby seemed like the furthest thing on my mind. Her answer stuck with me. Here is what she said:
You will never truly feel ready to have a child. There will never be THE perfect moment. Just ask yourself the question: what do I want my life to look like in 10, 15 years from now? Do I picture children in it or not? If you do, then, well, you might as well take a leap of faith before it’s too late biologically. Because that’s what trying to have a child is, always.
You can perhaps imagine that this wasn’t what I was expecting to hear at that moment. How patronizing, how dare she! I thought to myself as a first reaction. I was expecting to talk about the latest trends in freezing-egg-technology, prices and logistics. And then this. Turns out, it was exactly what I needed to hear. From woman to woman, not doctor to patient.
And for me, this held true. Even though there did come a time when I felt somewhat readier than before to become a mum, it remained a huge leap of faith (one well worth taking). I guess, we can feel ready for motherhood to some extent, but we will never truly be prepared.
And that is partly because becoming a mother is a unique, deeply personal experience. In her book, Meaghan concludes: With stuff this big, almost any way of looking at it can be true. We all talked like we were going to eventually reach some grand conclusion, some correct stance, but in fact it was different for everybody, impossible to pin down. Was childbirth traumatic or transcendent? Was pregnancy a time of wonder and awe or a kind of temporary disability? Were we supposed to fit our lives around our children or fit our children into our lives? My feelings changed every minute, depending on my mood and on the company I kept. It felt essential, though, to keep asking the questions. How very true.
Next up on my reading list: Motherhood by Sheila Heti.
How about you? Did you feel ready to become a mum? To become a dad? Did you wait for the perfect moment which never came? Did it catch you by surprise? Perhaps you felt ready and it didn’t happen as you wished (the other side of my reflections, I realize)?