Expectations of Motherhood
When Virginia was in the NICU, I must have asked the same two questions a thousand times. “Will she be able to talk? Will she be able to walk?”
I asked these questions of anyone who would listen as I was absolutely panic-stricken that what she had been through would have an ill-effect on her future. Finally, my father, tired of answering me for the thousandth time, said, “Ab, you can’t have any expectations for your children.”
“But, Dad,” I pleaded. “I don’t have extreme expectations for her. I’m not saying she has to go to Harvard or dance the part of Clara in The Nutcracker. I just want her to be able to move and communicate.”
“But those are expectations nonetheless,” he replied. “We are just going to have to wait and see, but don’t worry. I know you. You will be able to meet her wherever she is.”
I have thought a lot about Dad’s words over the last six years. I absolutely did have expectations for what my child would be like. I had expectations for the level of care she and I would receive during her delivery. I had expectations for what motherhood itself would be like. And all of them were shattered within minutes of the start of Virginia’s life.
I know I have unusual circumstances, but I don’t know one mother who wouldn’t join me in saying that motherhood is not what she expected. I pictured cookie baking and patti-cake playing. I imagined listening in awe as she learned to talk and laughing at all the adorable little questions she would ask me. In those, the frivolous details of motherhood, I can say that it has not lived up to my expectations. But in all the ways that matter, it has far exceeded them.
I love Virginia more than I ever imagined. When she smiles, my whole countenance is lifted. I never dreamed of the bond I would have with her or just how much my heart would be intertwined with hers. Sure, I didn’t imagine the heartbreak of watching her suffer either, but it is part of the privilege of being Virginia’s mother. It is part of learning to meet my daughter where she is.
The suffering she goes through teaches us to soak up every second of joy and we do.We don’t overlook a minute of goodness- I can promise you that. What she goes through also reminds me that life is short. I won’t always have these little ones at home. And one day, when I am sleeping through the night and brushing my teeth again on a regular basis, I know I will look back and long for these chaotic days. Sometimes when I am nursing Eliza, I look down at the top of her head and think it’s Virginia- that’s how fast these last six years have gone.
There are lots of things I dreamed of doing with Virginia that I won’t be able to. The sorrow is not in what I lost, but in what has been taken from her. But the most important part of life, the relationships between loved ones (in this case, the bond between mother and daughter) have escaped this tragedy not only unscathed, but amplified.
Anyone who knows me at all can attest to the fact that my favorite thing to do has always been spending time with my family. It is Virginia’s favorite thing, too, and the joy her presence adds to our family is immeasurable. We may not be baking cookies or drawing pictures. We may not even be communicating in the traditional sense, but we have a communion. We are together. And for this mother, that is really all that matters.