On or around this day 18 years ago I learned that I was pregnant with my first child. I had just finished a whirlwind shopping trip through the overpriced boutiques of the swanky coastal town my husband and I were living in at the time, and I was feeling poor and tired when I returned to our rented shack we called ours nestled in between million dollar mansions.
We’d been trying to conceive for several months and somehow, I got it into my head that God must really not want me to be a mother. Either that or he was punishing me for something, some sin committed in my childhood or young adult life. (Good ol’ Catholic guilt pops up in the weirdest places people, but I’m okay with it.)
Anyway, what business did I have trying to take care of anybody? I was the kind of woman who bought all of her presents the day before Christmas. I used every dish that I owned before I did dishes; I brought my clothes to the laundromat by the trash bag, and my idea of home cooking consisted of warming up last night’s leftovers.
Was I really the kind of person who should have a kid?
Much to my husband’s credit, he told me that if it was my dream to be a mom then it was his dream to be a dad. Isn’t that beautiful, to make someone else’s dream your dream because you love them? That’s the man I married folks.
That afternoon I walked into our two room cottage by the sea and dropped all of the frantically purchased Christmas gifts by the door. My back hurt. My feet hurt. And I was in need of a good, long nap. With all of the wrapping still to do and one day before we left for our parents’ places now was no time for a pity party for a Last Minute Lucy like me.
On a whim I decided to take the last pregnancy test in the three pack kit I’d picked up months ago. Every month I’d do the same thing — inform Matt that I was going to pee on a stick, tell him I had a good feeling, and then cry my eyes out when one line showed up where two should have been.
Ironically, this month I had no such plan. I just figured I’d get rid of the last one I had lying around reminding me of all of the ways I’d never measure up to mom material. If conception was this hard, what would parenthood be like? (Don’t get me wrong — baby making definitely had its perks, but one of them was not continuous disappointment.)
“I’ll be out in a minute, barren and childless, then you and I are going to have a wine-filled wrap party,” I said.
Oh, yes. That was the other reason I wanted to take the last test. I’d been abstaining from alcohol since we started trying but my abstinence was now in direct conflict with a long held tradition for the mothers in my family to get well schnockered while they wrap gifts.
Some traditions are worth keeping sacred, and I intended on observing this one in their honor.
This must have been the reason I found myself thinking about my mother and grandmother as I set the test down on the counter beside me to wait. I remembered the way the glasses of wine (or rather wine coolers that they’d poured into glasses) sounded as they clinked in Meme’s kitchen on Christmas eve.
I remembered the sparkle in her eyes as she would unwrap a gift from one of us and how she’d say, “Oh, Ter-e-sa/ Barb-bah-ra/ Hel-en-na, you shouldn’t have done this. You should save your money!”
Our gift was watching her open hers.
My own mother is and always has been an amazing gift-giver, and she doesn’t just reserve her generosity for the holidays. She’s a strong, French-Canadian woman who makes every other week a holiday in our family. She doesn’t need a special day on the calendar to share what she has — Mom shows her love in big and small ways 365 days a year.
So you see, I had a lot to live up to and on that day I was almost certain I was better off being the girl who couldn’t remember to keep gas in the car than a woman who inspired hero worship. It takes a really special person to put others first all-the-time (or even remember to plan ahead for stuff), and I just didn’t have what it took.
“Are you done yet?” Matt asked through the door.
“Almost, I just need to watch my hands then we’re good to get wrapping.”
I came out of the bath closet (it was literally the size of a closet) and started dragging out all the new rolls of wrapping paper and bags of bows and boxes I’d just picked up at K-Mart and forgot it was even there, waiting for me.
Somewhere around the fifth or sixth present I remembered what I’d forgotten and decided to get it over with as soon as possible and move the hell on. It would happen when and if it was meant to happen and this was Christmas for Baby Jesus’s sake. Wasn’t there enough for me to be happy about already?
I can’t describe to you this moment any clearer because in my head it sorta transcends reality. All I know was that I walked into the world’s tiniest excuse for a bathroom, I stepped in front of the mirror and saw a cross — two lines, a plus sign, a tiny pink symbol of new life — and I sobbed.
Matt was there in a heartbeat.
“Em, it’s okay. We’re okay. It’s just not meant to be yet. We’ll get there,” he said.
A natural life coach, Matt’s exceedingly good at giving pep talks. He’s given me one everyday since the moment we met, which is one of the many reasons I wanted to have babies with him.
“No, you don’t understand. It’s positive…” Cry, hiccup, sob. “It’s a… plus… sign.” More crying, hiccuping, sobbing.
“What? Why are you crying then?” he asked in disbelief.
“Because I’m going to be a mom.”
There are a lot of moments I remember from that day — some of them funny, some of them sweet, some of them shocking (like my father’s reaction when I told him over the phone). Not all of my stories are fit to print, and trust me, it’s better this way, but my favorite memory is actually walking the beach that night and looking up at the stars with my hand on my sweet little baby.
Four years later, on our way back to our house one Christmas vacation, Addie looked up at the night sky through her backseat window and said, “Look at the stars Mumma. Don’t you think every one of them has a story? Isn’t it amazing? I’m going to write them someday.”
How profound. My little girl looked at the universe and understood that everything in it was alive, had a life, had a story to tell, even the things we didn’t think we’re living.
I must have been thinking some version of this that night as I looked up at the stars, what story was in them for me, for my little one, what new path we were going to chart together? Maybe I was praying without knowing it, thanking Meme for her Christmas gift, thanking God for finding me worthy, feeling grateful for the chance to clink glasses with my child someday in a kitchen that wasn’t the size of a garret.
As I sit here this morning almost two decades later, reflecting on all of the small wonders in my life, I feel so much gratitude for the miracle of motherhood. Maybe this is what Mary felt when she looked down and saw her baby in her arms that night. She knew he would be the one to change our hearts, renew our hope, and save our broken world.
This is how I feel about my children, too. They heal my heart, give me hope, and save me from myself every blessed day. Where would I be without them?
I’d be buying all my gifts a day before Christmas, eating on paper plates, visiting the laundromat every other week, and warming up last night’s take over every other night.
Okay, I still do three of those, but you get the idea.
The miracle of Christmas, of all of our days really, is the gift of real, true love.
Wishing you all joy and love today and always.