I learned about F’s existence on my twentieth birthday.

I was newly married, still in college, and completely unprepared. Nick and I have been blessed to have a strong connection from the start and I’ve never once regretted marrying young. In fact, there is a lot I think about in retrospect that led me to bring F into the world at such a young age.

I had adventurous plans in sight. Missionary work, traveling to Italy, getting my masters degree in New York City, normal young adult plans. Instead I fell in love young and tied the knot (still never regretted this), and had a little baby boy at the age of twenty.

My pregnancy was hard. I could blame it on the fact that I was young and poor, or on naivety that I expected to have it all figured out already. Really truly, I had a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum.

My frail twenty year old body vomited for months, terrified of the lack of control I was already experiencing in motherhood. I struggled to bond with the baby as he grew inside me. I kept thinking that this was temporary and that my maternal instincts would kick in at any moment.

Finally, on a stormy Friday at thirty nine and half weeks pregnant, I was induced, and gave birth to a six pound twelve ounce little human.

I don’t remember much from the beginning days. It’s a huge blur. Although I do remember the way his foreign face looked as I glanced at him for the very first time. I remember my body shaking uncontrollably as the hormones settled and reality struck. I remember being starved as I hadn’t eaten in over ten hours. I loved him so deeply, however, I remember feeling like something was irrevocably wrong with me. Right away. This complete stranger that I had puked for. I didn’t want to hold and caress him all day. I was terrified of being alone, and I was so so tired.

Yes, of course I loved him. I would die for him. But could I live for him too?

I don’t mean that in a grim, I don’t want to live, way.

I mean that in a, can I really do this, can I hold onto myself through this experience?

I’ll always remember the nurses who walked me to the bathroom shortly after birth, showing me how to handle post partum recovery. I’ll never forget how that hot shower felt and the way that my hormones broke me right then and there- the shaking wouldn’t stop and I sobbed. I had no idea why, I just sobbed.

They wheeled me from my room to the recovery unit, my teeny newborn cuddled up in my arms. I glanced around at the smiling nurses in the hallway as I continued to cry, completely out of control of my own body.

We came home from the hospital with this perfect little baby. We were in awe, and so in over our heads.

Things were beautiful. His tiny toes, thin blonde little hairs, the way that his newborn clothes wore him.

Things were also bland. I didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t sleep. I kept crying. I was completely afraid of being alone. Breastfeeding was excruciating and we battled for weeks with failure. He was gassy, he wouldn’t sleep, I still wouldn’t eat.

I remember studying other women around me thinking how they too had newborn babies at one point or another. Did they handle this better than me? Did they find joy in this? Why can’t I? What’s wrong with me? Where’s my motherly instinct?

When F was about a month old, we went on a walk with him comfortably strapped to my chest in the baby carrier. I’m sure that I had dark circles under my eyes and my hair was a greasy mess. A stranger smiled at me and said “happy Mother’s Day”.

I hadn’t fully considered it, but yes, I was a mom. This was my human.

Her words stuck with me as I searched for healing. Was he really mine?

Time etched by and I looked everywhere that I could for confidence in this role.

I had bad days where I cried, and lots of good days where I loved and laughed with my baby. Mostly though, I had in-between days where the clock dragged on and I tried to make sense of this foreign role.

Still waiting for those motherly instincts to kick in.

When F was six weeks old, we joined a family vacation at Yellowstone. Most of the trip was a haze along with the rest of post-partum. One day we were hiking and we saw a buffalo a bit closer than it should have been. F was fast asleep against his daddy in the baby carrier. We were totally safe in that moment but somewhere deep inside me, an overwhelming desire to defend that little boy jumped into my brain. I yapped at Nick to get away from the animal (which, if you know Nick, he’s all about doing the opposite of any safe request) and took my baby back from him.

Motherly instinct.

I cried inside.

I really was a mom. He really was mine.

It took a stupid animal for me to realize that I really truly was a mother.

Maybe I should have gotten help right away, medication help, therapy help. I was so obviously experiencing post-partum depression. I didn’t realize it at the time. I just thought I failed at being a mom. I’ve gone on to give birth to two more sweet little boys and with them I learned my lesson and I did get help, right away, and had completely different experiences.

But with my Foster, I was not instantly shifted into a mother. I grew into it. And I’m still growing.

With every obstacle that we have faced together, I’ve found my motherly instinct a little bit more.

It’s been almost six years since that hormone ridden day in the hospital. We’ve continued to have had bad days where I cry, and we’ve continued to have lots of good days where I love and laugh with my child. Mostly though, we have in-between days where the clock drags on.

Mostly, we bicker about tablet time and fruit snack privilege.

Mostly, I hear things like “I want Japanese words” every single time I turn the tv on.

Mostly, I play damage control through emailed conversations with his school staff about behaviors.

Mostly, I’m opening cheese stick wrappers and juice boxes as I trip over his tantruming brother and bounce the baby on my hip.

I wasn’t born with this instinct. That’s okay. No matter what the pristine instagram model moms convey, instinct is not a given. There are still days where I feel so disconnected with my life and there are days when I have it all under control.

What I do know, however, is that our children teach us instinct. We don’t have children just to care for them. We have children to grow ourselves as people, to learn how to love and protect, to learn how to LIVE for someone else.

I wish I could embrace the version of myself six years ago, shaking in a delivery room, and tell her that she will live for this little boy. I wish I could tell her about all the bad days AND good days.

Mostly, I wish I could tell her about the hundreds of in-between days that she would spend with this boy. Leaning on him, learning from him, and growing her motherly instinct.

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