This isn’t easy for me to admit.
But it’s the truth.
Here are eight reasons why I should never have been a mother:
As a child, I never really saw myself as a parent. I played with dolls and committed to one of them for a while—I dressed her in real baby clothes and diapers, and the neighbor across the street saved cleaned baby food jars for me. But that’s all it was. Play. When I thought of my grown-up self, getting married was in the picture, but children weren’t anywhere near the frame.
I’m a lot like my dad, and he was emotionally absent for most of my childhood. I’m happy to say we have a loving, present relationship now. But growing up, I had no reason to believe I would be any different.
At 16 years old and after an unexpected surgery, I was told I would most likely never conceive because of a “female problem.” I almost lost the ability entirely due to the decisive surgeon who couldn’t imagine I’d have any use for my reproductive parts if I couldn’t have children.
In my early 20s, I worked in a doctor’s office with a woman who struggled with infertility. Almost daily I’d watch her direct her manic grin at all the babies and moments later I’d find her crouched in an empty exam room sobbing. That was enough to convince me I didn’t want any part of that.
The maternal bone was buried so far outside my body, I walked around in a bag of childless flesh. I didn’t think babies were cute, feared holding them, and felt anxious and annoyed around them. I heard no ticking clocks. Ever.
I wondered sometimes if all that poking around during my earlier surgery had severed some maternal artery or vein—the mother juice never made it to my brain or heart.
There were examples of childless families all around me growing up (and plenty of people who said without children you weren’t a real family). In college I wrote a research paper about childfree-by-choice couples. The ones I interviewed were content with their lives and had devoted, couple-focused marriages (similar to the parents in this TIME article). They seemed serene in a way I’d never seen in my own parents or friends’ parents. (Full disclosure: One couple got divorced, but it wasn’t because of not having children.)
The couples who had children? They looked exhausted and battered, and lived more like two friends than husband and wife (on good days). It seemed as if they had deferred their lives until the kids were grown and they could go their own separate ways. To me, in my 20s, it looked like this:
When I became pregnant, I was devastated, for all the reasons above, but mostly because I didn’t want to share my husband with another person. We hadn’t spent near enough time alone: We got engaged six weeks after we met, married six months later, and were pregnant within five more.
Due to reason number four above, we thought trying to prevent a pregnancy would be like wearing seat belts in a vacant parking lot—an unnecessary precaution.
When our daughter was born, I developed postpartum depression and anxiety before we even left the hospital. That was the icing on the I-shouldn’t-have-children cake. But that cake was already baked and slathered with frosting, and I couldn’t put it back in the box.
When I stared in the mirror during those first few weeks, I didn’t look like the other mothers around me. Not like the ones on TV, in the movies, or in real life, like my best friend who had her daughter two months before ours.
She floated. I drowned.
She glowed. I faded.
I wanted to run, far away, and never come back. I was insane from the anxiety. I looked at my daughter and all I could see were the next 18 years of my life being sucked into the black hole of motherhood. If I was so different from all the mothers around me, didn’t that mean it was all a big mistake? Didn’t it mean I should have never been a mother?
No, it didn’t.
Here are seven reasons why I turned out to be a damn good mom, despite those eight above:
I learned from others’ less-than-successful attempts, mostly my dad’s in his earlier parenting days. I’m present, interested in, and curious about my daughter’s life. (In my dad’s defense, he did the best he could with the skills he learned from his parents—I love you dad.)
My marriage, after some weathered and rubbed-raw patches, is now front and center (what we’d vowed to do when we got pregnant). We are husband and wife first, parents second. We are a team, and support each other in everything we do. The best gift we give our daughter isn’t an iPad, a car or a college education. It’s a strong marriage.
My husband and I decided within days after our daughter was born that one child was enough for us, and we’ve never regretted that decision. We wanted the time and energy to live as multi-faceted individuals. When we looked around, those two commodities seemed in shorter supply with each additional child.
As our daughter grows, my non-mom roles evolve and blossom. I’ll always be her mom, but she doesn’t need me in the same way she did when she was three—she and I recognize that, and know it’s okay and natural at this stage of her life. We celebrate her independence.
I know now that the mom with postpartum depression/anxiety wasn’t the real me. I had an illness courtesy of deranged hormones, amplified by lack of sleep, and new-parent inexperience and floundering. Those weeks when I was lost and detached did not make me a bad mother or person…just a sick one who was much better after some help.
I’m not my daughter’s best friend. She already has best friends and will have more later. But she only has one mom. And I’m willing to bear her anger and resentment as part of that role (like Brianne McDonald talks about in #10…the rest of them are pretty interesting too).
Growing a human in your body
Seeing bits of yourself (the good and bad) in the person you made
Watching that person develop into a wondrous human being
Loving someone in a way unequaled in other relationships
Feeling the agony of that person’s fear, uncertainty, confusion, alienation, and heartbreak
Experiencing the bliss and relief in the results of that person’s hard-learned lessons
All of which I’d have missed if my daughter hadn’t careened into my life.
And I am so, so grateful she did.
A final thought: This post is a reflection on my specific life experiences and that’s all, no matter what others may read into it. I speak only for and about myself.