When Frans and I announced the news, we said that we had a “Dutch bun in the American oven.” Mostly because it was cheesy and weird and we’re freaks like that, but as much of a lame joke as that saying is, a part of me has been fiercely insisting that our bun was (and is) equal parts Dutch and American.
And then our Estella was born and she looks exactly like Frans.
But being an immigrant, or expat, or whatever you want to call a third culture person in an international marriage and living outside of her homeland is interesting enough, and then you add pregnancy. Oh, the hormonal, wonderful, ‘mama bear’ emotional parts of pregnancy that get magnified under that new identity.
I was peeved because I didn’t get the attention here that I wanted and expected based upon my experiences with American culture. I found myself pregnant and running after buses. I stood for a half hour on the very full tram, and no one offered to give up his seat.
All of that changed in the last month of pregnancy, when my waddle and girth became undeniable. Then people began to give up seats and make cute facial expressions and ask, “Wanneer ben je uitgerekend?” When are you due? But by then I was near due or overdue, and the facial expressions quickly changed into alarm as I waddled determinedly through our neighborhood. I was going to walk that baby out and people jumped out of the way. I could see the fear in their eyes when I got into an elevator.
Because of the six-hour time difference between my mom and sister-in-law and the fact that I couldn’t connect to them through Facetime the way someone might be hooked up intravenously, I was a total google-er during pregnancy. I googled every symptom, feeling, picture-in-utero, fact, and statistic. And then I had to stop because all of that googling took me to these really super unhelpful online forums of other nervous pregnant women obsessing over every detail. And that’s when I realized that the key to becoming a mother didn’t begin when my baby’s head emerged, but began now, in my heart, with all of these emotions and fears and grasping for knowledge (er, control).
And at some point I had to close that Pinterest page of newborn checklists and find a quiet place to meditate. For me this usually involves a candle, a Bible, pen, and journal. And doing this multiple times throughout my pregnancy helped me to uncurl my clenched fists a bit, and open them into receiving hands.
If you’ve read the story of Frans and me, you know that open hands were a part of that story too.
So, expecting women (either now or hopefully one day in the future): chances are, the more thought you give to motherhood, the more you’ve read. There are countless books, articles, checklists, and advice about how to prepare, what to expect, etc. etc. etc. And some of these ideas are very helpful.
See, you’re already a good mother.
But I’ve found that there is a more important checklist that exists for new mamas. And, if you choose to read my version, then keep in mind a lot of these things are still in process for me. They can’t magically happen or be perfectly prepared before the arrival of the new little human(s) you will be mother to.
In my experience, you are going to need…
- A whole lot of grace. For yourself, for your man. And even more grace for those who do things differently than you.
- A sense of humor. For obvious reasons.
- Open hands. Letting things go is the watermark of motherhood.
- Be able to embrace the mess. Perfectionism will rob you of joy. Trust me.
- Grains of salt. Like, many, many grains of salt to go with all the advice you’ll get.
- Intuition. What are your instincts and can you trust them?
- Trust in others. Let people help you. Not letting them is foolishness, pure and simple.
- To remember how to care for yourself. Start with 10 minutes of meditation a day.
- Community. You may be able to do this on your own, but you don’t want to.
- Self-sacrifice. It’s never been so obvious that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Be ready to surprise yourself with how strong you’re going to be! And how much joy you will experience, just maybe not in the ways you think. Let this also be a surprise.
If a friend asked me for one piece of advice for how to prepare for motherhood during pregnancy, I would say something that may sound strange or even counterproductive. But for me it’s been essential:
Take ten minutes per day, light a candle maybe, and sit alone with your hands open. Speak your worries, fears, and desires out loud. They might include these: Are you afraid that you won’t be a good enough mother? That something will happen to your baby? That you won’t love him or her the way that you should? That something will come in between you and your man? Talk those fears out, write them out…and then ask for grace and wisdom.
Ask. Keep those hands open. And wait.