The Reluctant Mummy

IMG_9123The truth of the matter, the truth we will tell Dubsie one day, is that Mummy never wanted to be a Mummy. She told me a revealing story once. She was on a hike in New Zealand and met this happy, gray-haired woman in her 70s who had never had a child. “No children, no regrets,” the woman said briskly, and that agreed with how Mummy saw her life unfolding. Mummy is a doctor, a woman who intended to devote her passionate heart toward toward patients and students and research projects, toward her husband, toward her friends and their children and her nieces and nephews. She felt no urge to add to that roster her own flesh-and-blood child.

I had different ideas. I’d always wanted children. Not for any other reason that I had always imagined I would enjoy them. I saw the stages of my life pegged to those of a younger one, from diaper changes, to first days of school, to giving a shove as he/she wobbles away on a bicycle, to attending horrible piano recitals and snapping pictures at high school graduation. It was for me the natural order of things in the exact way that to Mummy it was not.

This would seem a dangerous gulf of opinion for a couple planning to spend their lives together. And a lot of our friends and family were concerned that when it came to something as important as children, we had simply agreed to disagree. Those worries made all kinds of sense. But I had a gut feeling that the question would work itself out.

Then, in the spring of 2012, on my birthday, Mummy informed me that for my gift, we would try.

Now that is the greatest present ever, or what?!? After some trying (not much trying at all, really), the signals of pregnancy made themselves known. There was Dubsie, on the ultrasound machine, waving her arms and doing deep knee bends in the warm lagoon of Mummy’s amniotic fluid.

Pregnancy proceeded in textbook fashion, anatomically speaking. In every other way Mummy deviated from the American pregnancy textbook. Some mothers, you know, proudly show off their bellies, celebrate their flushed cheeks, complain on Facebook about their aching backs, sign up in advance for Mommy & Me classes at the gym, participate in passionate debates on the pros and cons of various binkies.

Mummy, on the other hand, could write a handbook on How to Have a Pregnancy With No One Knowing.

After forbidding anyone from throwing her a baby shower, Mummy went to Marshall’s and did not shop for maternity clothes, but rather picked out blousy tops that would conceal from her co-workers and patients that she was anything other than a hardworking doctor. Then she vanished, starting her maternity leave four months before Dubsie was born, leaving her with only six weeks afterward to spend with the newborn. Many moms want to spend every moment with the new arrival, but Mummy wanted to hustle back to work. She had no qualms about delegating duties like diaper changes and burping. Pregnancy, she reasoned, “is the only part that I can’t outsource.” (Though she did have earnest conversations with a lawyer who specializes in surrogates.)

Now it’s two-plus years later and Dubsie is a toddler. At this point, it is almost like there are two Mummies. One is the fiercely fancy-free and independent one, the one who still imagines herself arriving solo at seventy, the one who can blow out the door for the hospital in the morning with barely a wave to her daughter. It isn’t that she doesn’t take care of Dubsie’s needs — she does and very well. It’s just that Dubsie is an accessory rather than the whole outfit. Earlier, when Dubsie was smaller, Mummy would wrap Dubsie so tightly to herself that we could hit the bars until 1 a.m. without her ever waking up.

IMG_9188Then there is the other Mummy.

This one complains that Dubsie is ruining her life, then spends fifteen minutes gathering her stubby little curls into pigtails. Hospital departures are delayed as Dubsie is deliberately piled into Mummy’s lap, to pantomime her mother’s application of lipstick and mascara.  In the midst a task-filled weekend day, Mummy’s pulse of urgency will unexpectedly stop. She will hoist Dubsie face to face and they will have long discourses on what happened yesterday. They will sing “Skiddy-Mer-Rink-A-Doo” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” When we go on a hike, no one other than Mummy can carry her; when we go to a restaurant, no one other than Mummy can feed her.

“She is so cute, Ferris,” Mummy will say to me. “She is such a liiiiittle bun-bun. She is sooooooo sweet. And she has such a tiiiiiiiiny face.” Mummy squeezes her fingertips together, hard, as if the presence of such tiny cuteness were almost too much for her to bear. Her voice takes on a tone of revelation. “I didn’t expect to love her so much.”


2 comments to The Reluctant Mummy

  • Caroline

    I ALWAYS knew she had it in her! Motherhood has all sorts of flavors. As long as you’re genuine and true to yourself, it is beautiful and joyful (in between the stresses and messes)!

  • Chris King

    Love it! Sharing this with my wife.

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