The Motherhood Gene

by Julia Abelsohn
Alberta, Canada
genre: General

Motherhood hadn't been her dream; it was not a biological urge that had driven her to take the plunge. It was, plain and simple, an accident. A broken condom, and suddenly she was in the baby stream; no matter how fast she paddled, she was swept away by the current.
Most of her friends had already taken the plunge and were knee-deep in diapers, baby slings and onesies and yet all she could focus on was how inadequate she felt; what would she bring to the table as a mother? She didn't ooh and ahh over her friends' babies. She had no younger siblings growing up, and her mother hadn't been the picture of nurture. She hoped that time and hormones would magically transform her into what was expected of her but she feared the worst.
"This Momaroo is just an absolute life-saver," her friend Stella raved. "I can put her in there and actually go to the toilet undisturbed. You definitely have to get one, Jan."
Jan hadn't been captivated by the cute little socks and receiving blankets that were now neatly stacked in their baskets on top of the change table in the nursery. She had picked out the stroller, the crib and the car seat without waves of excitement flooding her hormone-filled body. She had quietly gone through the expected motions of an expectant mother without the rapture that seemed to emanate from all of her pregnant friends. She wondered if she was defective in some way. Maybe she just lacked the motherhood gene.
Dan had been ecstatic about becoming a father, so there was no talk about terminating the pregnancy, but in a very secret part of her psyche, she was terrified and hoped she'd lose the baby. She didn't share her fears with anyone, not even Dan. Instead, she watched the baby settle into her womb, and day-by-day take over her body. Secretly she called him the parasite, which she knew was not a very motherly thing to do.
Jan had read all the books and prepared herself for the labour and delivery studiously; at least this much she felt was in her control. It all went pretty much according to plan, her body seeming to know what to do to open and push this little human out into the world. And now he is here, no longer a tiny hitchhiker inside of her, but an actual little person in her care. She sees his tiny pink hands reach out, clutching at space. His hungry mouth is sucking, drawing on her tender, engorged breasts with an urgency that frightens her.
He is certainly not beautiful. He is far from the classic "Gerber baby" with his tiny wrinkled forehead, overwhelmed by a mass of dark unruly hair. She is relieved when the nurse snatches him from her clumsy arms to weigh him and check his vitals. They inform her that his temperature is down slightly, nothing to worry about, but he needs to be incubated for a few hours. She exhales; her body will be hers again.
Now she lies in the pale light of the morning, feeling bruised and alone in the narrow hospital cot. She feels a soldier's fatigue after a battle, unsure whether her side has won or lost. Finally, she drifts off into a dreamless sleep, the darkness enfolding her in a welcome embrace.
The hospital intercom comes on, and she wakes up with a gasp. She begins to feel an ache. Is it hunger? A half-eaten apple sits on the bedside table. But no, the ache comes from deep within her belly and sends out shock waves almost as intense as the contractions that had wracked her body only a short time ago.
She can no longer lie still. She flings herself out of bed with a sudden and surprising force and begins padding barefoot down the busy hospital corridor. She becomes a bloodhound following her nose, even though she doesn't know where she is going. She finds him lying in the little plexiglass cocoon wriggling inside the tight swaddling. Her whole body is shaking now; the intensity of this feeling, so new, overwhelms her.
She walks past the nurse sitting sentry, reading her magazine by the door. She walks over to the incubator and rips open the lid. The nurse looks at her with a mixture of surprise and admonishment but says nothing. Jan picks him up and holds him tightly to her breast. Her body aches for him like an amputee for a discarded limb. Holding him now, the pain begins to subside.
"That's my baby," Jan says. "I want my baby."
Now that he is here in her arms, she begins to see that the transformation into motherhood is gradual and measured; it has its rhythm, form and mystery. It is not defined or scripted; she must find her way. The fear begins to soften, and she glimpses the subtle outline, the shape of what they might become together. Her body knows how to nurture this little being, which surprises and pleases her. The room fills with something primordial but thick with goodness. Surely this must be love.

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