By Shalay Lindsey
I always thought I'd be a good mother, on paper and by others standards, but I am a good mother in actuality. Let me explain…
I have been a caretaker since the age of two when my newest baby cousin came home. By the age of four, I was helping my grandmother care for her bed-ridden mother with Alzheimer's. I have always cared for those who need care the most, so I believed I had the experience to handle motherhood.
I was prepared and competent at care taking, but being pregnant and giving birth was going to be a whole other thing! In all of my youthful years of imagining my future family, I had never really imagined giving birth as an insurmountable challenge or with fear; my mother always told me that what we saw on TV and in movies was not realistic, in turn, telling me her own birth stories and how important it was to be in tune with your womb.
Pre-puberty, I revered birth as both a natural process and a miracle. Still, I had never seen or known of a woman who had the type of birth experience I desired- I thought water births were reserved for California/Hollywood, and I had No Idea the impact that pregnancy had on the body besides growth and weight gain.
Truth is, morning sickness is not reserved for mornings, there is a list of ailments you become more susceptible to, like gingivitis and diabetes, during pregnancy and that growth is made possible by broken muscles and displaced organs. I thought I'd be a cute, out-and-about socialite taking a sabbatical from my teaching job to have my first child- a boy- and be a stay-at-home mom and wife at twenty five years old. Reality had a different version of my dream in store for me.
At twenty five years old I was over "higher education", having realized the investment was way too high considering I was still unsure about what I really wanted to do; I was underemployed; I was underweight; and in a complicated romantic situation that got more complicated by an unplanned pregnancy, but being pregnant at twenty five was part of the original plan.
Everything else was opposite, completely wrong, or so I thought when I first saw the positive pregnancy test. After all of my "training" I felt unprepared. Having been raised a Christian, I knew I could find comfort and answers in prayer- and definitely felt like only God could help me- but denial mixed with years of societal programming and high expectations kept me frozen and numb for about a week. Nothing was going as planned, but my plan was never really complete and I am a firm believer in "Everything Happens For A Reason!" so I dug into my faith, believing God was working His plan, and got into prep mode.
It turned out that having the non-hospital, non-medical-industry-dictated birth of my dreams wasn't too big of an ask for my hometown of Brooklyn, NY, and I was elated! The relationship I had with my child's father was complicated, but we were a united front as soon-to-be new parents who wanted the best for our baby immediately.
Thanks to recommendations from friends who had recently become moms, I was able to find, for Free, childbirth education classes, a doula, a visiting nurse, parent education programs and other resources I didn't know I'd need. Our family and friends were surprised by the news of my pregnancy but overall happy and supportive.
Once I accepted that I was really pregnant with a child, a tiny human that I would have to birth and be responsible for helping safely grow into a well rounded adult, I was able to overcome any doubts and obstacles that got in the way of my Divine Mission- bearing life. I had no choice but to give it my all now, my life was no longer just mine, I owed not only myself and my unborn child my best efforts, but also God and my Ancestors who were trusting me with new life.
I wasn't out and about, being a socialite, while pregnant as I had imagined and haven't really been since, because one of the long lasting, unexpected, side effects of motherhood for me has been increased anxiety; which is totally exacerbated by cycles of crime and community violence in NYC and an overall moral decline of society.
If I wasn't working, at an appointment, out to eat or accompanied by my partner or mother, I did not want to be out. I felt too vulnerable, which was unexpected because I remembered pregnant women seeming adored by society and invincible despite fragility, in my youth. No one dared to watch a pregnant woman stand on the bus or train or desired to harm her, but that is not the reality I was pregnant in; these days anyone is "fair game."
The tribe I inevitably built through childbirth classes, support groups for new/nursing moms and participating in educational programs was my saving grace to not becoming a disconnected hermit. So many aspects of my life are different or even opposite of what young me imagined, but young me couldn't foresee how the world around her was going to change her or how nuanced adulthood truly is.
Acceptance of self has been the key to not dwelling on the dreams of my youth in a mournful way while remembering I did nothing wrong by not staying on the traditional path, because while the life I live is not what I thought it would be, I can not deny its beauty and alignment with who I am truly meant to be. Things not going how I thought I wanted them to go is not a punishment. I am still a stay at home mom; I had my peaceful, non-hospital birth not once, but twice.
I nursed both of my children for fourteen months each, and my once complicated relationship has grown into an ever evolving partnership that makes me and my partner great parents. I have the realistic version of my fantasy life with plenty of room to continue to grow and dream.
It isn't always the easiest perspective to maintain, but it is a core truth, a fact, that, despite any temporary emotions or doubts, is backed by my everyday life, by all of the support I received, knowledge I gained, and connections I made as a new mom utilizing family-centered and parent-affirming community resources that I hope are around for the generations of moms and families to come.
It is not often that life works out exactly how we thought, hoped or planned, but accepting your truths and living for the silver lining, because even rain clouds have purpose- nature needs hydration, can be a key to lifting the weight of outward expectations.
I know I am not the parent or person I thought I'd be when I was a daydreaming teenager, but that is perfectly ok, because I happily accept and am proud to be the woman and mother I am always growing to be.
Shalay Lindsey is a Brooklynite who resides in Bedford Stuyvesant with her partner and two children. She is a Community Ambassador for Power of Two, a Brooklyn-based parenting organization who partners with Black and Brown parents with young children in order to promote healthy early bonds and intergenerational growth and healing as a response to historical and current racial and economic inequities.