I’d wanted a baby all my life. I’d wanted one for so long it turned into a need. This need for motherhood occupied my thoughts; it was the chisel that shaped present-day decisions, and it inevitably found its way into all plans for the future. I would have a child of my own, I decided, one way or another.
Five years of blissful marriage went by and so did my original target date for pregnancy — the one I had regrettably scheduled in my adolescence. I must have spent a small fortune on pregnancy tests. Each time before I looked at the screen, I’d take a deep breath and think positively for a positive result. I thought I could will a baby into being. I believed I could summon those two pink lines with the power of my mind. I grappled against the ticking clock and the failure of my own body resisting something so natural — what it was designed to do. Another two years went by and people stopped asking when we’d start a family. It seemed even they had lost hope in my ability to carry a child. Then, two months after my seven-year wedding anniversary, the unthinkable happened: I was pregnant.
My husband and I planned for our son’s arrival as best as we could. The nursery was magazine-worthy. The go-bag was ready to go. The parenting books had been committed to memory. The items on the birth plan had been thoroughly researched, edited, and drafted into an obsessive-compulsive masterpiece.
But all of our planning did not prepare us for the E. coli infection I contracted, then passed onto our son who was born premature and struggling for breath and life in the ICU. The moment I’d been waiting 27 years for was a horrific scene of disquiet and vulnerability. I was not prepared to helplessly wait by my newborn’s bedside during the day and leave him in a stranger’s care at night.
I was not prepared to spend a week recovering in the hospital or to develop a severe allergy to the medicine meant to provide relief. I was not prepared for my son’s fierce opposition to breastfeeding or his sudden colicky behavior during his second month. Nothing was going according to plan; nothing was how it was supposed to be. Where was the beautifully posed newborn photo session? Where was the instant bond we’d share during feedings? Where was my anticipated maternal instinct that would know how to instantly soothe my baby’s cries? Why was I not satisfied even though the child-shaped hole in my heart had finally been filled?
My dream had come true, and I felt deceived. This is what I’d been hoping and praying for? This is the reason I had secretly cried jealous tears at every pregnancy announcement?
Sadly, I’ve felt this way before — many times. I felt it during the first challenging year of marriage when I achieved my heart’s desire for lifelong companionship. I felt it during my brief and humbling time as a teacher when I achieved my heart’s desire for a noble occupation. I felt it during the paycheck-draining period of new home ownership when I achieved my heart’s desire for respect and an elevated social status.
All of these moments had one thing in common — they had been conceived from unrealistic expectations of what having a baby is like. I fully expected each realized dream to satisfy me absolutely. Each disappointment drove me to seek a new dream, a better dream. I thought up until now I was merely pursuing happiness, my unalienable right. But I wasn’t pursuing happiness; I was pursuing perfection. I wanted all of the good and none of the bad, but real satisfaction is not found at a superficial level.
Happiness is knowing my son survived against so many odds and is now thriving. Happiness is being a testimony to women who are pained by infertility or reeling from birth complications. Happiness is seeing how my struggles have prepared me and given me confidence in my abilities as a mother. Happiness is already seeing the fruits of my labor in one healthy, happy, and kind little boy.
I had placed such a heavy burden on such small shoulders when I expected my son to be the solution to my problems. I did him a disservice; I expected the world from him and limited him at the same time. But my son is more than my happy feelings or the number of likes his pictures get on Facebook. He is so much more than my unrealistic expectations and my need to feel whole. He is more than the compliments from strangers or the approval from my parents. He is wonderfully imperfect but a constant source of joy and fulfillment nonetheless.
Giving up my pursuit of perfection will be a continual battle, but it is necessary and worthwhile. Every time I revere reality over fantasy, I experience the fullness of my blessings and appreciate the richness of my life, because when I’m busy searching for perfection, I miss out on the goodness right in front of me. I miss out on moments so unexpected and beautiful — moments I’d never be able to dream up on my own. I don’t want to miss a single second with my son or this wild life we share, be it good or bad. I want it all.