Last night after Cora had been tucked into bed, I paused for a moment on the deck outside. Breathing the cool late summer air, peeking into my vegetable garden, I had a moment where I felt so independent, so free, so me. This kind of moment would be insignificant if I weren’t a mother; a mother who is constantly tethered to another small life; a mother who seldom has the opportunity to take a breath that doesn’t involve a goal or a purpose, constantly propelling me toward some task.
In fact, in that moment, I felt so quintessentially independent that I immediately experienced a sensation that I’m sure most first-time moms have experienced:
the mind-bending and shocking realization that I am a mother.
Yeah, I know that Cora is 19 months old so I should be pretty used to my new role by now. And most of the time I am, so much so that it feels like the only identity I’ve ever known. Yet, in this moment I was somehow stunned by the thought, “I am a mother!” And then, “I am a mother to a child with special needs,” followed suit.
Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed. That free and easy breathing I’d enjoyed a moment earlier now felt tight in my chest, as a wave of anxiety rolled over me.
The sheer weight of the responsibility was suddenly heavy. The to-do list that has been spinning circles in my head over the past week started to spin a little faster, all of it seeming so vast, so impossible.
The transformation into motherhood is something profound and universal, yet so individual and isolating at the same time. As much as you prepare and as much as your friends try to explain, it’s just not something you can really understand until you’re there.
As I was waiting to welcome Cora, I remember starting to resent the comments other parents would make. “It’s going to change your life so much,” “You have no idea what you’re getting into,” “Blah, blah, blah, blah…” Now I understand what all those people were trying to say. But there’s really no way for an expectant parent to really understand that fundamental shift, or to know how it will uniquely affect them. I feel like laughing at innocent little pregnant me, blithely waiting for my life to change.
Yes, I am changed. No, I don’t get too many moments just for me these days. But my life is not completely overwhelming, either. I guess like anything, you just live each moment one at a time, one decision at a time, one or two or three tasks at a time. Is the responsibility frightening? Yes, sometimes I admit that it is. Is it even more frightening because my darling child has Down syndrome? Maybe. I can’t really say, since I don’t have another experience to compare it to. I imagine that some of my concerns aren’t shared by parents who only have typically-developing children. But many are. Will the responsibility of being Cora’s parent be lifelong? Most likely (and hopefully). But all parents feel that way, I believe. Maybe she will need me more and longer than other kids will, but maybe not. The truth is, I don’t know. Only time will tell.
But I do know that with this awesome responsibility has come a lot of other awesomeness too. Would I want to erase my worries or obligations or any of the fear and heartache that my introduction to motherhood has brought? Nope. Not for a second. Because then I would surely have to erase a part of Cora, and that I would not be willing to do, even if it meant sparing myself some pain.
But I must admit that I wouldn’t turn down a few more moments to breathe. Maybe next time I get the chance to have some time alone I won’t feel like it puts me at odds with myself. Perhaps one of these days it will feel natural for those parts of myself to blend.