It was the day before our first wedding anniversary when a home pregnancy test confirmed my fear: I was pregnant. The second pink line was so faint, I almost convinced myself it wasn’t there. But when I walked out of the bathroom and showed my husband, his face lit up and he wrapped me up in a huge hug. “Baby! This is such great news!” he beamed.
I burst into tears. It most certainly was not great news, and I was hurt by his excitement. I wanted his emotions to match mine; instead, they revealed the ugliness of my disappointment and fear, the ugliness of a woman who didn’t want to be pregnant with her own child.
It’s not that I didn’t like kids. I adored them. I had worked with street kids and orphans. I paid my way through college by being a nanny to a wonderful little boy. Everywhere I went, I drew kids to me like a magnet. But I didn’t want my own. I never had. I did not dream about being pregnant or holding a baby or decorating a nursery.
Everyone always said that when the time was right, I would want to have kids, and I believed them, partly because it was easier. It’s a solitary thing to be a woman who does not want children. There’s something abnormal about it. “I should try harder to want children,” I reasoned and tried to muster up some maternal instincts by sheer will-power. I wanted those feelings. They just weren’t there.
I held on the hope that one day, my desires would change so I could stop feeling like a foreigner in my own gender. Surely one day, I would want to have my own children. Someday, I wouldn’t have to explain that I didn’t hate children. One day, I would feel like a normal woman.
I did not expect to get pregnant first. I did not expect to have a baby before I was ready to be a mother.
A few weeks later, a blood test confirmed the home pregnancy test. Soon it became obvious that my stomach wasn’t flat anymore. I couldn’t quite fit into my jeans. I stood in the dressing room of Motherhood Maternity with a belly form under my shirt, trying on clothes, while tears streamed down my face. I walked out without buying a thing.
An ultrasound showed the baby was a girl, but I didn’t want anyone to know. Somehow, it made it worse to verbalize the fact that we were having a girl, not just a baby, but a girl. Deep down in the darkness of my heart, I hoped I would miscarry the baby. A friend of ours had lost her baby, and I wondered to God why He would take that baby, that loved baby, instead of mine.
Another couple we knew was struggling with infertility, and we had to call and tell them that we had gotten pregnant without even trying and I had to pretend to be happy because I couldn’t imagine how much it would hurt them to hear that I didn’t want this baby. I didn’t understand why God chose us and not them. Why not them?
The months passed. We found a hand-me-down crib and set it up in our walk-in closet because our one-bedroom apartment was too small to accommodate a baby. I came home from work and saw it there up against the back wall between my husband’s clothes and mine, and I bawled. I wanted to run away. I didn’t know where to go but I didn’t want to be in my own body anymore. I didn’t want to live my own life anymore, but how could I undo it, once it had been done? Something fundamental had changed and I could not put it back. I could not reverse it. I could not run away from it. I wanted to accept it, to embrace it, to be happy about it, but I couldn’t.
I couldn’t be happy because to be happy meant to let go. I was afraid to let go. I was afraid of what God might do if I let Him, as if my fighting and struggling could keep Him from doing it anyway. I was afraid that accepting this baby might make it okay, and I wasn’t ready for it to be okay.
The thing is, I did love children. I loved them so much, I couldn’t tolerate the idea of giving a child anything less than my best, of loving her any less than she deserved. I knew what would be required of me to be the kind of mother I knew I needed to be, and I wasn’t ready to do it yet. I wasn’t willing to do it yet.
But God has a funny way of taking our wills and conforming them to His own. He has a funny way of using babies to shake things up, of using the small things to take down the big things and to bring to light the stuff that shouldn’t be there at all.
The sun was just beginning to come up when we drove to the hospital to deliver the baby. I couldn’t stop shaking. I shook when they prepped me for surgery and I shook on the operating table. Even with a system full of drugs, I couldn’t keep my teeth from chattering. I saw a bright red, squirmy baby pee all over the doctor. My husband named her Faith.
It doesn’t take much faith to move mountains, and I certainly didn’t have much faith. I couldn’t even pray for more. But my husband did. He loved me through the ugliness and encouraged the tiny glimmers of love he saw in me. Somewhere in the depths of a very dark heart, that very little love began to grow. It was not immediate and it was not easy, but the more it grew, the more it wanted to grow, until one day, I realized how fiercely I loved this child of mine.
Then I cried. I cried every time I held her. I cried while she slept. I looked in at her and my heart broke because I had not wanted her. I cried because God had trusted her to me anyway, even though I was not ready or willing to open my heart to her. I cried because something I had never had but always wanted was slowly awakening in me, and I did not deserve it.
Over the course of the years, I have grown into motherhood, but it has not been an easy journey. Every year, when the Mother’s Day cards come out on the shelves and the local florists get a surge of business, I feel a sense of sadness. It is still difficult to accept the words “you’re a good mom” because I remember when I wasn’t. Some days, I’m still not.
Every Mother’s Day, I am reminded that I did not want this life. And every Mother’s Day, I am so thankful I did not get what I wanted.