Motherhood ambushed me. The day I took a pregnancy test and confirmed my suspicions about those suspicious, frequent waves of nausea, I had also hung the last picture on the wall of our splurge: a small one-bedroom apartment in downtown Portland – with a gorgeous view of Mt. Hood. When my husband and I married five years before that first pregnancy, the plan was ours alone: no kids, no pets, just adventure. Africa had imprinted a deep love on my husband’s heart when he taught secondary school in Tanzania just a year before we met, and while I’d wrestled over it when we first began dating, I had made my peace with the path of adventure I assumed awaited me when I joined my life with this man. While we love making lofty plans, we ultimately love following the Lord’s adventures, and so had found ourselves on a winding, albeit more traditional than anticipated, path that led to me standing in a brand-new apartment with a great view, but no room for a baby.
After that positive pregnancy test, I passed the afternoon aimlessly wandering the city, astonished a life was growing inside me, and muttering a muddled, accusatory prayer of “What were You thinking?” as I shuffled along leaf-strewn streets. This was not my plan. Still a far cry from peaceful, I set out that evening to pick my husband up from work. I greeted him with a brusque announcement: “Well, I’m pregnant.” In what I imagine will be lauded as one of his best moments in our marriage, my husband graciously responded to my curt announcement with a smile and asked, “Now what?”
Aside from family and a few local friends, I kept the news quiet until exactly 14 weeks, partially because I am a rule follower, and partially because I simply wasn’t ready for all the talk of baby gear, mom life, and pregnancy. My guilt was palpable. Women I cherish have struggled painfully with infertility issues, experiencing the monthly heartache that comes with yet another negative test. Other women I also cherish – including my own stellar mother – are excellent stay-at-home, work-at-home, and working mothers. Nonetheless, I simply couldn’t picture myself as a mother. Without having dreamt of this role, ever, how could I possibly fill it well?
Over the course of my pregnancy, the ultra sounds, onesies waiting on pink hangers, and elated family and friends shifted me from singularly terrified to terrified – but also excited.
When my chubby pink bundle (affectionally dubbed “chunk”) arrived that July, she transformed me into a mother, ready or not. Even in those early, exhausted days, the sheer joy of this role washed over me, yet I found myself worrying my sweet daughter would somehow suspect my initial resistance. In response, I started to speak over her: you are safe, you are wanted, you are so loved. It became a chant whispered in habit, one that I proclaimed to her hair when she fought sleep, or spoke to her cheek when she screamed in my ear, unconsolable, as tiny people sometimes are. As she passed her second birthday, we dealt with night terrors, and I waddled downstairs, pregnant again, and hoisted her into my arms. For nearly every night those last months of that pregnancy, I rested her on my baby bump, and whispered to her again: you are safe, you are wanted, you are so loved. A silly little chant from mommy to baby, it become a calming routine, lulling me into familiar, soothing, rhythm when I didn’t think I could bear one more sleep-deprived night.
As with all phases, the poor sleeping eased to good sleeping. Her baby brother joined us. We settled into a new family pattern, entering a season where she simply seemed to need less soothing. Now two and a half, she was pretending to put me to bed recently before dinner, tucking me in on the living room floor in that painful but sweet way toddlers have, half suffocating me with her stinky blanket and clumsily mimicking the way I pat her tummy as I tuck her in.
I asked if she was trying to say wanted.
“Yes! Mommy, wanted.”
So she had heard those whispers after all, those moments I thought she was sleeping or beyond reason or otherwise unaware. The realization leveled me: those words mattered to her. My mothering matters to her. I am the right mom for my little girl; for my children. My words, spurred by fear and guilt, have left a beautiful impression upon my little girl. This is the grace, and gift, of motherhood: God lays out this hard and good work, and He gives the position of mother to the specific, right person for the role. And what I may otherwise have remembered with a twinge of guilt, He will instead reframe through my daughter’s loving, chubby arms and imaginative play, leaving the sweet gift of knowing that I am exactly where I should be: mothering the children He has always had planned for me, and giving me the words they need.
Kelsi Roberts lives in Seattle, Washington, where she and her husband are raising their two kids (36 and 6 months). Kelsi works full time from a home office, and recently launched a copywriting and marketing services company. She strives to make space for the important things and model what it looks like to love Jesus, raise babies, and work full time for her observant little people. She has learned this requires a lot of grace and a lot of Pinterest fails. You can find her navigating this on Instagram.