I wasn’t ready.
The 33 weeks I was pregnant was barely enough time to read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and the million other pregnancy and parenting books I should have read before I attempted to be a mother.
My twin boys are now 10 years old and I am still coming to terms with the fact that I have been a mother for a decade and I’m only 32. I feel older. I feel much wiser than I was 10 years ago and I keep thinking what I would and could do differently if I were to have my children now instead of then.
Motherhood is hard. It may arguably be the hardest job ever to be responsible for rearing a child, loving him, fostering his growth, disciplining him not so much that he loses his self respect but just enough so I keep mine.
You’ve got to try your best to keep them from getting sick, from getting hurt, from forming bad habits, and from developing rotten teeth. It’s hard, and now that I am considering my future and perhaps someday expanding my family with another child, I feel its somehow unfair to my twins that their younger sibling will have it better off, me using my mistakes the first time around as a lesson and motivation to do better the second.
Still, I can’t help but to resolve to do four things differently.
1. Maternity photos.
I have two pictures of myself when I was pregnant. Two. The year was 2005. Camera phones weren’t really a thing yet except for a select few and I didn’t have the money for one of those expensive photographers that dress you up in some long flowy thing and put you up against a forest or an ocean for the artistic effect. I wish I did.
For me, pregnancy has only happened once and may never happen again. I have a grand imagination but I’d love to have pictures that others can see.
I tried this. I really did. But after a month of trying to remember to pump and transport my milk to the hospital for my premature little ones, I couldn’t keep up.
Once I did bring the twins home, I couldn’t generate enough milk to keep them both fed well. They started doing this thing called cluster feeding where it became completely useless to ever put my breasts away. I tried a combination of formula and breastmilk but it all became so taxing. After 3 months, I gave up.
I wish I hadn’t. Breastmilk has proven time and again to be the absolute best thing for a baby’s health and immune system for years into their childhood. It promotes brain development much better than any formula can. And then there is the bonding.
I see other mothers breastfeeding so well… In church service, at the supermarket. I saw one woman walking down Broadway in Soho, with her child on her hip, his lips wrapped tightly around her exposed nipple. I didn’t cringe as some would.
Instead I felt that sting of jealousy that bites for a brief moment. How sweet. I wanted that kind of thing for me and mine.
3. Stay home longer.
I had my twins at the age of 21 when I was just teetering on the edge of adulthood still trying to figure out what I was going to make of my life.
I was unwed, broke, and trying to salvage the wreckage that was left of a toxic relationship. My babies were born 2 months early, at the beginning of spring when the weather was just starting to change and the earth was turning green again. I’ve always seen the birth of my babies coinciding with the end of winter as a kind of symbolism of new life.
I stayed home with them for three months and recuperated from a painful C-section. But I didn’t have a maternity leave package or a rich husband. One could say I didn’t plan well so I had to improvise.
I got a job working nights at Dave and Buster’s for $9.50 an hour while the twins stayed home with Dad. Pretty soon I added classes twice a week to my schedule to finish up my bachelor’s degree and the amount of time I shared with my little ones dwindled.
If I had it to do over, I’d wait as long as I could to return to the regularly scheduled programming of my life.
Any mother worth her soul will tell you kids grow up too fast. One minute you’re in a hospital bed laying a first gaze on your offspring, and the next you’re sending them off to college to embark on life on their own. Life is very short and if nothing else, I’ve learned there are few things that matter in the long run. Savoring the moments with your children before the world gets to them is one.
4. Use Caution in Dating.
This is not easy… being a single mother and dating. The design for how to do this has changed for me several times over the last 10 years.
At first, I was very cautious. After the demise of my toxic relationship less than a year into my children’s life, I moved into my own place with the twins, decorated my home and after I had mastered that, decided it was time to decorate my life.
I was 23 years old when I met the first one and really I shouldn’t have to say more. For me, I wasn’t good at being an adult and in turn, I wasn’t good at being a partner. That relationship turned sour quickly and I resolved to be more careful the next time around.
In the middle of the second relationship, I became a born again Christian and began to see my life differently. I ended things after a year in at the fork in the road where he took one path and I took another. My children were 4 at this point and I felt horrible for disrupting their life again.
Three years later it happened one more time. I was getting better at defining what I wanted but I hadn’t arrived yet. I blamed my past, my parents rearing methods, mistakes I made when I was 11… I blamed everyone and everything else for my emotional disorders.
What is wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just stick to what I said I would wait for? I had one of those Oprah “Ah Ha” moments when I realized I could never really love anyone well unless I knew who I was first, and loved the hell out of that.
I berated myself for screwing up my children’s lives. Then I cried for a few days, forgave myself, and decided to try again.
I went through the growing pains of any maturing 20-something woman. The difference is I had children while doing it and so my mistakes weren’t mine alone.
I heard once on one of those radio advice shows that a single woman should introduce her children to a potential husband as soon as possible. The instinct is to want to wait until you know your relationship is solid, but the truth is you can never really know that for sure, especially when you have never seen him interact with your children. The bigger mistake would be to wait months or years, begin planning a wedding only to finally make the introduction and see blood red flags that could have been seen earlier on.
So when I say I would wait next time around to introduce my children to a suitor, what I am really saying is that I would wait until I met the one that was in line with my beliefs and I could realistically see this person as my husband.
That is something I would see within the first month of knowing a man and if he had interest in meeting my children, which he would if he was serious about me, I would move forward in the most natural way. Not in the “Let’s pencil in next Wednesday… You are going to meet the children” kind of way. More of a “I’ll see you at church Sunday morning… we can grab pizza with the kids after” kind of way. It would kind of just happen organically.
I believe we err tremendously when we think we have passed the point of no return in life. I’ve traveled down some winding roads and have collected a healthy list of regrets, but my saving grace comes in knowing it is never really the end.
Mistakes grow us up into the people we were really meant to be and our choices good or bad, grow our children into the people they were meant to be. The story of life and parenthood has layers. As with an onion, you peel each layer off one at a time… and sometimes you weep.
Herina Ayot is a writer documenting her journey through life. Find her work at Herinaayot.com. Friend her on Facebook and Tweet her @ReeExperience