We are sitting at lunch when she casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of “starting a family.” “We’re taking a survey,” she says, half joking. “Do you think I should have a baby?” “It will change your life,” I say, carefully, keeping my tone neutral. “I know,” she says, “no more sleeping in on the weekend, no more spontaneous vacations…”
But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my friend, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in child birth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing heal, but that becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will be forever vulnerable.
I consider warning her that she will never read a newspaper again without asking “What if that had been MY Child?” That every plane crash, every fire will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.
I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of “Mom!” will cause her to drop a souffle or her best crystal without a moment’s hesitation.
I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for child care, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting, and she will think about her baby’s sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of her discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.
I want my friend to know that everyday decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy’s desire to go to the men’s room rather than the women’s at McDonalds will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom.
However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother. Looking at my attractive friend, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give it up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years — not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.
I want her to know that a cesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor. My friend’s relationship with her husband will change, but not in the ways she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is always careful to powder the baby or never hesitates to play with his child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.
I wish my friend could sense the bond she’ll feel with women throughout history who have tried desperately to stop war and prejudice and drunk driving. I hope she will understand why I can think rationally about most issues, but become temporarily insane when I discuss the threat of nuclear war to my children’s future.
I want to describe to my friend the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real, it actually hurts.
My friend’s quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. “You’ll never regret it,” I say finally. Then I reach across the table, squeeze my friend’s hand, and offer a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all of the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings. The blessed gift of God and that of being a Mother.