Our house in San José, Costa Rica sits atop a long hill. Someday I’ll point it out to my daughter and say, “That’s where I became a mom.”
“Ewwwww,” she’ll say.
No, no. Not like that. What I mean is this: walking up that hill one night, long before I actually held a child of my own in my arms, I discovered the freakish optimism, grit and guts that define motherhood for me, more than an actual baby, more than birth or nursing.
That morning I’d arrived at the doctor’s office with my husband, beaming, thrilled. After years of infertility, we were expecting. What followed is familiar to many women, and has been listened to uncomfortably by many more. It can be described in just a few words, short and bitter, rhythmic like the heartbeat that wasn’t there: Ultrasound. Doctor’s sigh. Nothingness. Darkness. Heartbreak.
It wasn’t 100% certain, he told us. We’d have to have a blood test, then another one in 48 hours. There was still hope, though his expression told us otherwise. We went back to work, numbly, apart. To me, the course ahead was clear: Cancellation of plans, our friend’s birthday that night. Purchase of ice cream. Commencement of sobbing. Fetal position.
It was astonishing, therefore, to find myself taking a long walk after work that day. It was astonishing that my feet led me into a little boutique I’d never had the courage to visit – and as a big ole 5’10” woman in a country of petites, I do mean courage. I bought a green off-the-shoulder blouse for the dinner party, a stack of bangles, some makeup. I swung the bag over my shoulder like a lady of leisure. I started homewards, an uphill slog through the slightest drizzle.
On the way, it happened. My stride lengthened. My breathing deepened. I realized, in a daze, that I wouldn’t cancel my plans that night at all. I realized that I would go about my business. That I would wait and wait and take the news like a woman. That I would endure. That I would go back for more shots and pills and visits to the doctor with his cruel lobby covered in baby photos, and IVF after that, and adoption after that, and whatever came next. That I would do all this and more until our child came home to us. That I would cry, surely, but not enough to slow me down. That if an army of thugs were to mug me at that very moment, I would fling them aside like rag dolls, so powerful was I.
That’s what mothers do, after all. That’s what mothers are. We are not all optimists in the cheery, rainbow sense. We are optimists when it comes to our own ability to endure. We share a belief in that ability, or we would not bring babies into the world, babies who become toddlers and teenagers, who poop on us and scream that they hate us. We share a belief in that ability, or we would never make it past the starting gate.