In the beginning Penny was jaundiced and lost 13% of her birthweight after leaving the hospital, so we were putting in regular appearances at the pediatrician’s office.
Bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, I held my daughter so a lab technician could prick Penny’s heel and draw blood to test her bilirubin levels.
“Name?” asked the lab tech.
“Penelope Van Sant.”
“Date of birth?”
A long, long pause. “Uh, hers or mine?”
The technician gave me a pitying laugh. “Hers.”
That was the first time I realized that I was a parent. The first time it really sunk in. All my life, the only birthdate that had ever been requested of me was my own. Until now.
There’s a new layer to my identity. In addition to so many other things, I am now also Mama. I’m not sure what that means, just yet.
I love my daughter. I was actually a little bit worried about this before she was born, because I’ve been told that sometimes the love doesn’t come right away. That I might feel awe, that I would surely feel responsibility, but that love–real love–might take a little bit longer, and that it would be normal if that were the case. But it wasn’t. I loved Penelope completely as soon as I saw her. Awe and responsibility, too. But I was full to bursting with so much love.
I’m still exploring what it means to be a mother. It means feeding Penny, changing her, keeping her alive. It means cooing at her and delighting in her smiles. It means holding her and rocking her and getting up in the middle of the night. It means doing these things over and over and over again until I’ve lost all sense of time. It means doing these things even when I do not want to do them. Even when I am tired or stressed or angry or sad or overwhelmed. I take care of her anyway, no matter what, because I am her mother.
But that is only for a little while, and those are only the tasks of being a mother right in this moment. Those are the things I do, but not who I am.
And that part, I think, will take a little longer. I have only recently gotten used to being a wife. It took over a year to fold that into my identity, to say my new surname with confidence. I still haven’t recorded a new voicemail message, though. Being a wife is something I grew into, and I imagine motherhood will be the same.
For now, being Mama is strange, but so sweet.