At first I thought it was a conspiracy. Since having my first baby nearly a year and a half ago, and my second in July, the question everyone asks me -- and I mean everyone: friends, relatives, acquaintances, total strangers -- is how I like being a mom. It seems innocuous enough, but they might as well ask me if I'm a good person, or if I've ever lied on my taxes. Of course, you're not supposed to actually think of an answer. You're supposed to give an immediate, knee-jerk, how-could-it-be-otherwise response: "It's great." A pause. A broad smile. "Just great!"
But I've never been one to say "fine" when people ask me how I'm doing, unless I really am. I'm not one to tell you the dress doesn't make you look fat if it does. And I almost never laugh at jokes that I don't find funny. (My husband thinks this is why we're no longer invited to parties.) So when I'm asked how I like being a mom, I typically stammer something about lack of sleep and truckloads of diapers that leaves people wondering whether they should call child protective services.
The truth is I came to be a mother reluctantly. My husband and I had been married six years and had established careers. And although we were only in our early thirties -- by no means running out of time -- we were at the point where it was time to decide whether we wanted to take the next logical step and start a family.
For my husband, it was easy. He was certain he wanted children. He always wanted to be a father and pretty much always assumed he would be.
For me, it was harder. I had never been a woman who dreamt her whole life of being a mom. I liked my life just as it was. I had a husband whom I loved, dogs I loved, and horses I loved, and they all loved me. What was the point of children? And between the dogs and the horses, I did all the nurturing I needed. I would sleep on the couch with our dog during thunderstorms. Once, after my horse was kicked badly by another horse, my husband and I spent three hours at the vet on a Saturday night holding her, stroking her neck, talking to her softly while the doctor put more than 100 stitches in her leg. For two months, I had to soak her leg and reapply bandages every day -- a routine that easily took an hour and a half. It never bothered me.
But the idea of being up at night with a sick child or having another human being totally dependent on me just made me want to lie down and sleep for a long, long time.
Instead, I went to therapy. The conversations usually went something like this:
ME: How do I know if I'll like being a mother?
THERAPIST: You don't.
ME: Well, what if I become a mother and then hate it?
THERAPIST: It's possible.
ME: Why do people have kids?
THERAPIST: For all sorts of reasons.
ME: So what do I do?
THERAPIST: You're standing on the edge of the cliff. Now you need to decide whether you're going to jump.
ME: This isn't helping.
THERAPIST: I know.
So I decided to jump. I'm not sure why. Part of it was having a husband who absolutely wanted children. But the larger part was something else my therapist said: "If you have children, for the rest of your life you'll wonder if you made the right decision. But if you decide not to have kids, you'll always wonder what life would have been like if you had. Either way, you're making a choice, and choices have consequences."
Two years later, I have a wonderful son and daughter. Now if this is the part where you expect me to say, "And you know what, when I rock my daughter to sleep at night, or my son throws his arms around my neck, pats my shoulder and lovingly whispers, 'Mama,' it makes it all worthwhile. I know that I made the right decision," then I'm sorry to disappoint. It's not that I don't feel those things, but it's more complicated than that. And I think television and magazines, parents and friends are telling only half the truth when they feed us the "It's the most rewarding thing you'll ever do" line.
The fact is, you can't possibly know if it's the most rewarding thing you could ever do because by having a child, you don't do all those other things that might have been just as rewarding.
Yes, when I rock my daughter to sleep or when my son hugs me, it fills me with so much love my heart aches. Since having children, I feel more connected to life and the world around me in a strangely comforting way. And I would lay down my life for theirs without a second thought.
But that's only half the story.
Every day I remember my life before children, and I miss it. I miss spending my days walking my dogs and riding my horses. I miss not having to coordinate my meals with a baby's nap schedule. I miss being able to fit into my old jeans. I miss going to dinner and a movie on Saturday nights. And while I've never been particularly spontaneous, I miss the freedom of knowing that I could be if I wanted.
So do I enjoy being a mom? I asked a friend with a new baby the same question and have decided to steal her answer: "I love everything about it, except for the parts I don't." And that's the truth.