Imagining Motherhood

This is my reality: I live in Guatemala city, and twice a year I visit ‘home’, in Southern Ontario, where many of my friends and all of my family live. The next visit is scheduled for this summer, a nice long 2.5 month stay, right after baby is born. This means, less than 2 months into motherhood, my partner and I are taking the show on the road. And we are thrilled, because being in Canada means precious time with family, weddings and joyful birthday celebrations, fresh air and parks, lake swimming, walks on sidewalks, all wonderful things.

And this year, we get to take Q with us. Not that s/he will realize or care where we are, as long as there’s milk and body warmth, but we’ll know, and we can all continue getting to know each other better in some of our favourite places. Being on the road also means no regular spot for night feedings, no crib or change table in the houses (and tents) where we’ll stay temporarily (for better or worse, we don’t have some of those things at our more permanent location, either), no real bedtime routine. Will we survive? That depends on your view of how to raise a child, your view of motherhood, and, as always, your expectations.

In my heart, I feel prepared and confident, up for the challenge. I have read some books and gathered the opinions of those I look up to. I have found great blogs on ‘camping with an infant’ or ‘traveling parenting’. I feel capable, ready to adapt, willing to change, learn, and grow. Therefore, because I feel this way, I am going ahead and making my summer plans. I am booking flights and places to stay, planning BBQ’s, organizing the borrowing of cars for drives to other towns. So. Am I crazy? Am I brave? Am I getting ahead of myself?

The people in various areas of my life seem to have different ideas of how to answer that. Sometimes, though I hate to admit it, their comments crack the veneer of my confidence. I feel vulnerable to attack because I can’t defend myself; the truth, of course, is that I don’t really know what it will be like. I have only what I imagine, and what I can gather to the best of my ability from the informative resources I have carefully curated, all of which, naturally, affirm the bias I already had, which is that my life will continue, baby in arms. At times, the comments seem to be sending me this message from the universe: don’t plan and don’t be yourself; this baby will absorb all your time and energy, and you won’t have anything left to give; you must stop everything and do only this one thing for a very long time. Is that truly the way? Then, others tell me, just pack hir up and off you go! Keep hir warm, offer milk, accept the tiredness, enjoy your life and time together. I like to imagine myself in this world, instead. Is it my choice? I’m not sure. I know a lot depends on what kind of baby I have, what hir personality is like, how s/he reacts to change.

Then I look around me. In this city where I live, in the countryside we drive through, there are babies everywhere. They get strapped to their mothers’ backs while they sell fruits and vegetables in the market, all day long. They are carried down the street in the arms of dads dropping them, by foot, at daycare, on the way to work. They toddle down the streets, having just learned to walk, several metres from the older sibling in charge of their care. Babies are born in garbage dumps and in farmers’ fields. Their porridge is warmed on an open flame in a house with a dirt floor. They smile and wave when we drive by, and we wave back.

Do you see mothers as permanently devoted, sacrificial, vessels of life, or as people going through a new time of change and growth? When friends say, you’re so brave for making plans, what are they trying to protect me from? That I may have to cancel? I can handle that. That I may have to breastfeed or change a diaper in public? I can handle that, too. That my child will suffer from an irregular sleep pattern? If pregnancy has taught me anything, it’s that ‘eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired’ is the way of life I aspire to above all others. It’s a precious gift in a crazy world and my baby and I will enjoy it for as long as we can. We can do that anywhere… can’t we? So seriously, what on earth are my imagination and I missing??

Perhaps you’re thinking I will be eating these words soon enough and if I must, you better believe I’ll be open to admitting it. Imagining motherhood isn’t easy, especially since everyone has their own experience and therefore their own bias. On top of that, pregnancy is long, leaving lots of time for getting attached to the way it has to be, and lots of time for inventing stories we may not even realize we are telling ourselves. I’m trying to bring my stories to the surface, to own them, while at the same time committing myself to being a great mom, but also still being me. One way to do this, for me, is to keep moving. I have never had my own permanent, adult address; I have been on the road since I was 23 and daydreaming and preparing for it long before that. My partner and I own a tent, a computer, a bed and a car between us. All sellable around whatever corner we turn. We are not vagabonds, gypsies, or nomads; we work full time jobs and moving is not permanent but it is prevalent, and it helps to define us. We do not know which country we will live in next, or what turn our lives will take. And Q, we hope you’ll be delighted to come along because we have a great big world to show you. It doesn’t always run on a schedule and it isn’t the same every night and it can be nerve-wracking sometimes, coming face to face with just how temporary it all really is. Trust me, I know. But our love will be your constant, our heartbeats your roots, and our arms your home. We will work on your circadian rhythms in different time zones, and bring you to explore the houses, yards and customs of many different people who love you around the world. Are you game, little child? Are you ready to start your life of trying new things, doing our best, and seeing how far we can go together? We are waiting for you, and although I have spent a lot of time imagining how it will be when you’re finally here, I want you to know that, just like our location, the reality is adjustable and adaptable with time.

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