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Hesitant, I stood in the pharmacy aisle and stared at rows of boxed diapers. At almost 35 weeks pregnant, I could not delay it any longer. I needed newborn diapers for my hospital bag.
As I walked my sizable belly and my cocker spaniel, the original baby, home, I was justifying the purchase to my babyless self:
“It’s no different than getting an infant seat or a bassinet, and we already have those.”
“They told you to get diapers in your prenatal class.”
“They were on sale.”
Seven month earlier, I discovered I was pregnant. A very unexpected pregnancy. My first one at the age of 36. I locked myself in the office washroom and waited for the confirmation: Test No. 2 also produced the second line. Fat and pink, it was clear as day: My life was going to change.
“Will he marry you?” my mother asked.
This was the last question on my mind. Instead, dozens of others flashed through my jolted brain:
“What is it going to do to us?”
“Will the baby ruin our sex life?”
“Will I ever be able to visit Japan?”
The idea of motherhood was always amorphous to me. I wanted to have a kid “someday,” but my biological clock had been firmly silent. Sure, some toddlers looked cute, but I never wanted to bring them home. Sometimes kids tried to poke my pooch in the eyes, and I’d give dirty looks to inconsiderate mothers who blocked walkways with their SUV-sized strollers.
I had been a free spirit since the age of 19. I moved to Canada alone, took my studies seriously, worked hard and travelled extensively. I was careful to preserve my freedom throughout several long-term relationships. Pretty much none of my friends had children, and a few of them have consciously decided against it despite stable jobs and relationships.
In short, I lived on Freedom Island, where my time was carefully divided between working, exercising, dating, brunches, travelling, attempts at self-improvement and long summer evenings on the patio discussing all of the above over bottles of chilled white.
Even my dog was a big responsibility. Most people I knew didn’t have as much as a hamster.
My job didn’t help, either. I am a policy maker with a focus on gender equality and have written countless papers on how having children disadvantages women in the labour market. I can cite research on “motherhood gaps” by heart: Highly skilled, high-wage women experience the highest reduction in their earning potential by becoming mothers, about 10 per cent of foregone wages with each child. A recent study from Denmark found that the arrival of children creates a gender gap in earnings of around 20 per cent in the long run.
Plus, Canada lags other progressive countries on child-care spending, our parental benefits are a pittance (and therefore leaves are disproportionately taken by women) and women do twice as much unpaid child-care work as men.
In short, having children is a one-way ticket to a widened gender-pay gap, not to mention a widened waistline.
I told my partner the news that evening, when we were out on one of our long bike rides. The sun setting behind the lake turned the sky into a palette of spectacular orange as I pulled out the pregnancy tests from my backpack.
We had been together for just over a year, and I adored being in a relationship with him. We’d already had conversations about babies and family, so I wasn’t worried about being a single mom.
What scared me was the thought of this baby engulfing the relationship and the lifestyle I valued so much. That becoming a mother would devoid me of my personality and interests. That my vagina would be ruined forever.
I loved myself, my job and other childless women in my life, and never equated any woman’s worth with being a mother. At the same time, I didn’t want go through life without experiencing motherhood.
I was past 35. I had to take a leap of faith and go for it. “Better an oops than a what if,” said the T-shirt I bought in Montreal a few weeks later.
The months that followed taught me many lessons.
I realized that I can be pregnant and still overdeliver at work. Tales of pregnancy brain are much exaggerated.
I witnessed how freaky it is to see the growing baby on the ultrasound. “Have you seen the movie Aliens?” my partner asked, prompting the technician to raise her eyebrows.
I learned that I can continue to exercise long into the pregnancy, with the heartfelt encouragement of my obstetrician and enthusiastic support of my gym acquaintances.
I researched baby gear like any other unfamiliar policy issue: You can now quiz me on swaddling blankets, among other essentials.
I discovered that people can be obscure in discussing the joys of parenthood but are very specific in airing their grievances:
“You will never sleep again.”
“People with new babies … they just disappear.”
“Don’t tell me you’re never going to yell. Because you will.”
“Baby poop leaks out no matter how hard you try.”
Dear people, please don’t say these things to a pregnant woman. She needs optimism, not stories of a torn perineum.
Most important, I learned to look forward to the future. This baby grew on me literally and metaphorically. I spoke to him in the shower and imagined us going to the ROM and kiddie pizza-making classes (presumably, after yelling and cleaning up the leaking poop).
Five months after that day in the diaper aisle, our son is already trying to crawl. I cannot imagine how my world ever existed without this little human, who charms friends and strangers with his bright eyes and a wide toothless grin.
His arrival has prompted buying diapers in boxes by the hundreds, and, despite my best efforts, our stroller seems excessively large. But it has also markedly altered my perception of our life as parents and silenced my earlier fears: Our routine has changed, but we have not. My partner and I have not disappeared, we sleep fine and are still making travel plans. And brunches with my girlfriends aren’t off limits – only now, the baby is part of the party.
Motherhood has brought about love and patience I did not know I possessed. As a mother, I may still feel like an impostor at times, but I know to my son, I am not.
Olena Vidashenko lives in Toronto.