I didn’t know if I wanted to be “Mama”

Guest post by The Gestatrix
Mama's Dream World sign

When I first saw that positive on my pregnancy test last year, I didn’t feel joyful right away. It was too formative and consequential a moment for joy. Joy came later, in unbelievably large amounts, but until then I was just like, “Whoa.” Literally. “Whoa.”

The plus sign appeared immediately, getting darker by the second, and time seemed to stop. Thunder clapped outside. Whoa. My husband was out walking the dog and I sat there in the bathroom alone saying, “Whoa, whoa, whooooaaaaah” in a conspiratorial whisper to the universe, with shaky hands that flew awkwardly to my belly and stayed there for the next several days. This was the belly that was going to house — in fact did house, was right that second housing — my baby. My baby. My baby.

And so I sat there going “whoa” in disbelief until I heard the dog come back inside, followed by my husband coming back inside, and I said, “Come in here?” in a voice that wasn’t really mine because I was elsewhere completely. I just held out the test going, “OhmygodLOOKohmygodLOOK” at which point we both burst into tears. He hugged me tightly and said, “Congratulations, Mama!”

Mama? No. Call me anything, I thought, but not mama.

[related-post align=”right”]I couldn’t wait to be a parent but “Mama” was not an identity I particularly wanted. Given my very complicated relationship to my own estranged mother, the concept of “Mama” meant a lot of things to me — but most of them painful. In fact, I wasn’t comfortable with the “Mama” title until embarrassingly late in my pregnancy. “Mama” was a foreign word that felt odd on my tongue and looked insincere on the page. I wrote weekly letters to the fetus and signed them with my first name until one day something inside of me shifted.

As my belly grew, I started to recognize that the sleepy hamster thing roaming around inside me would eventually leave my body as an actual live baby human. I suddenly could imagine that baby human growing big enough to sweetly say the word “Mama” to me, and I desperately wanted to be and become all the good things worthy of that name. Or rather: I started to believe that I could be and become all the good things worthy of that name. That I would be a good mother. That — most importantly — I wasn’t my mother. That I could and would be the kind of mother my child deserved. That woman was named Mama and I would soon be that woman.

The fact that my son has now started to smile in direct response to my smile makes me wonder how I ever seriously considered having him call me by my given name.

Though my baby is a long way away from calling me anything, the fact that he has now started to smile in direct response to my smile makes me wonder how I ever seriously considered having him call me by my given name. My maternal instincts well up inside me like I’ve just taken a hit of pure dopamine. I awkwardly sing Patsy Cline to him and he grins and does his adorable proto-giggle, and dude, I can only be Mama in response to this smiling/giggling business.

Because of this creature, I’m more than I was before. I’m old grinning fool Mama, baby-talking Mama, raspberry-blowing Mama, food source Mama, messy unkempt unglamorous Mama who has bags under her eyes like you wouldn’t believe. I am the woman who babbles, “Mama loves you, Mama loves you, Mama loves you!” so that someday he’ll know what my name is and say it back to me.

Comments on I didn’t know if I wanted to be “Mama”

  1. I felt the same way! I’m only now grasping the ‘mama’ identity and that we are having a baby in less than a month… and still wrapping my head around the fact of we are having a ‘daughter’… not just a baby.

    Congrats to you Mama!

  2. God, Im currently pregnant with my first baby. A girl, which I am majorly excited about. But still, I remember just 2 weeks ago breaking down to my husband. I just felt so much pressure, I mean this girl is going to look to me to see how a woman acts. My insecurities, my self image issues, how do I keep her from getting them too?

    What if I can’t handle being constantly needed and looked to for guidance? What if I royaly mess her up by just being me, flaws and all?

    • I am SO with you on this! As soon as I learned we were having a girl, I started trying to process how we would raise her to be the kind, confident, smart girl/woman we hope she’ll be. I don’t have good answers, but have read a lot of books & try to discuss with my kind, confident, smart lady-friends how they turned out that way. I will say having this kiddo has made me want to be the best version of myself so that she doesn’t get the body/self-esteem/confidence issues I’ve grown up with.. I often wonder whether I’d feel differently about this if we’d had a son instead.

    • I read Alice Walker’s “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self” when my son was less than a year old. To sum it up, she is accidentally shot in the eye with a bb gun as a kid, and that eye turns a milky blue color. Over time, this eye becomes the metaphor for all of her insecurities and pains. Finally, when she has a little girl, she notices the child looking at her eye and really noticing it for the first time. She braces herself for that brutal honesty kids have, but instead the girl exclaims that her mama has a world inside her eye.

      The first time I read the story, and even now summing it up, it created this big emotional waterfall in me because I realized that I, too, was waiting for the time when my kids would realize all the things “wrong” with their mama, and how I would handle my insecurities in those moments.

      • I have found books to be a big comfort in dealing with self image. Especially the ones in the women’s studies section. I have grown so much as a person that way.

        Even though Im better about how I view my physical body, Im lousey at viewing my personality and mental capabilities in a positive light.

        I know that what I need to learn is that mistakes are okay and that having flaws is okay. That that is what makes us all human. Im just a very hard on myself and have too high of expectations I think.

    • I know how bad vague advice sucks but here is mine. I have a four year old daughter and for four years I’ve struggled with what you are, all I can give you is that it will come to you. You will say you look like shit one day, that little girl will tell you she loves you and magically you won’t say you look like shit next time haha. You will see yourself through different eyes after you have her. You might pass on some bad qualities but you will how to pass on double that in good qualities.

  3. I really identified with this piece! For me, it wasn’t until after my daughter was born (nearly 11 months ago) that I started thinking of myself as Mom. As I wrote on my blog, she recognized me as Mom (her protector/comforter/buddy) before I recognized or accepted myself as such (for reasons similar to what you mentioned). She’s now starting to say “Mama” and mean it, and it’s the most incredible sound.

  4. I was surprised that I had the same reaction you did when I got that second blue line on the pregnancy test. After years of yearning for a child, when that moment came, all I could do was shake uncontrolably and mutter ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod almost inaudibly. 🙂 Not the reaction I expected. Thank you for this simply honest and beautiful post!

    • Haha, my reaction was pretty much total terror when I found out. I was in school full time and my husband was working part time in a crappy job. We hadn’t had health insurance for years. I was in full on panic mode!
      I actually made myself physically sick 5 times in an hour from the stress. I always laugh at myself now, since everything has turned out fine.

  5. In response to the actual word, “Mama,” I was overjoyed when my daughter first said “Mama.” Not Mommy or Mom. But Mama. It’s more just a pronunciation thing for me. But I love being called Mama.

  6. Mothering without having a solid example to follow is so daunting, I know. The good news is that it gives us a road map to follow, and empathy for our own children. We’re able to screen our own behavior through a filter of knowing how easy it is to hurt a child, and I think that makes us more able to avoid it.

    Congratulations on your little one, mama.

  7. Thanks for this post. I struggled with the social bagage t hat comes along with being a mother. I was excited about making my primary life project the care and nurturing of a little life, but not about all of the nonsense that comes with the role. We had a rough birth and, while I loved him, we didn’t “bond” from the start. When my boy was 3 weeks old, I snuggled him in my arms and spontaniously realized, “I’ll be the Mama for you [and I am so happy to do it].”

  8. It’s a weird label to wrap your head around isn’t it? My husband recently asked me if I felt like a mom yet (we have a three-month-old). I said, “No, but I feel like HIS mom.” This identity does not belong to rest of the world, it belongs to him and to us.

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