I was 19 years old, without a clue about what it meant to be a mother, when my daughter was born on this day, 44 years ago. It will come as no surprise to her to read that she was not exactly a planned child.
I was expecting her to be born two to three weeks later than she was, and was working towards that date; checklist in hand of what had to be done.
Final Christmas exam: check
Term papers finished: check
House decorated for the holiday season: check
Festive season gifts bought and wrapped: check
Think about childbirth: soon
Get baby supplies: not yet
Think about being a mother: not at all
Why would I think about those pesky details when I had two whole weeks ahead of me? It was a lot easier to concentrate on finishing term papers, studying for exams and preparing for my first Christmas with my almost-brand-new husband.
I sailed into motherhood with little preparation other than being the oldest of six siblings and having earned my Brownie babysitting badge. I seemed to have forgotten the Girl Guide motto “be prepared” in my approach to impending motherhood. I did not read any books about pregnancy, childbirth or parenting. I did not go to any childbirth classes. I did not drink vats of milk. I did not knit little booties or hats.
And, when Kate was presented to me, I did not have a clue about what to do with her.
My mother-in-law, who loved babies more than anyone I have ever known, immediately swung into action. She, it turned out, had bought a Christmas gift for the not-expected-until-January baby: a beautiful copy of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. She and my father-in-law swept into the hospital a few hours after Kate was born, to find both Kate’s father and me in a full blown stupor of uncertainty about what lay ahead. Hilda and Jim were full of hugs, kisses, flowers, the book and, from Hilda, the comment: “You are so clever!”
In the three days I spent at the hospital, the two of them managed – despite the busy-ness of those days leading up to Christmas – to buy sleepers, blankets, towels, diapers, baby bottles and most of the other equipment they deemed necessary for a new baby.
Clever, oh so clever
Great as that was, what really helped me the most, in those early days and for months and years to come, was Hilda’s comment that I was clever.
I had felt anything but for most of my pregnancy. After all, a baby had not been part of my master plan. It had certainly not been in the master plan of Kate’s father; a folk musician and Classics student. How had I let this happen? (It never occurred to me at the time that there were two of us responsible for this situation.) Whatever was I going to do with a baby? Would I be able to continue with my education? Would my parents ever forgive me? What if I didn’t like my baby? What if my baby didn’t like me?
In the 44 years since Kate was born, largely because of her obliging nature, I have sorted my way through most of those questions, all the while supported by Hilda’s belief that I was clever.
I continued with my education. My parents forgave me. It turned out, I did (and still do) like Kate, quite a lot. It seems she likes me, too. I figured out what to do with a baby, then a toddler, then a kid, and now a fully grown adult. I started a day care centre; boycotted California grapes; started a food co-op.
The making of a feminist
Did I get it right every time? Hardly. Are there things I regret? Definitely. (Would it have destroyed my feminist principles to let her have a nail polish drying machine when she was 13 and craved one desperately? At the time, the answer seemed to be yes, but I really don’t think so anymore.) Are there things I would do differently? Yes, but not so many that I am wracked with guilt.
Having a baby at 19 may not have been part of my master plan, but it changed my life in almost entirely positive ways. Most of all, it made me a feminist and an activist.
For that I thank my daughter every day, especially on her birthday.