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Essay: The Woman I Didn’t Know

Honorable Mention for essay

The Woman I Didn’t Know

I was aware of the Woman I Didn’t Want to Be from an early age and decided that The Woman I Wanted to Be would hold her at bay. In my mind The Woman I Didn’t Want to Be was the domesticated dallier. She was epitomized by every churchy woman in a flowery frock who relished the children-and-casserole ministries. She bemoaned her lack of sleep with a knowing nod at her cohort, cooed at every baby that passed, got irrationally excited about recipes, and her unbelievably saccharine existence was decoupaged around her house. I maintained a certain necessary politeness to coexist but avoided prolonged contact for fear of infection.

I started as the Woman I Wanted to Be. I got my MS-degree before my MRS-diamond.  I networked, I taught, I created, I risked, I developed, I did. I started as a part-time event planner in a repurposed janitor’s closet and within five years was part of the senior leadership team with a coveted office in the executive suite. This was the Woman I Wanted to Be: married but independent, a resume of accomplishments, structured but flexible, and internally rooted with an insatiable desire to go. I was also caustic, dismissive, arrogant, selfish, devoid of any energy for altruistic causes, and religious without being faithful.

I knew that having children didn’t mean I had to get decked out in flowing pastels, embrace the kitchen, and inhale deeply on a strange child’s head just to get a whiff of “that baby smell,” but neither did I know the alternative. After five years of wedded bliss, a Mediterranean cruise, and a few professional accolades to round out the resume, it was time to find out. There was no incandescent uterus and no interest to hold every baby within a five-mile radius. It was a pragmatic decision: I’m getting older, family is part of our check-list, let’s go.

Almost immediately the Woman I Wanted to Be started throwing snide glances at the Woman I Didn’t Want to Be. I received several long-pursued job perks and a prestigious international award at the same time that I piddled in a cup to confirm our first pregnancy. My instinct to add ticks to my resume grappled with my growing interest to be available to our child during the first few years. We had not decided yet whether I would be a stay-at-home-mom or whether I would continue my career, but it seemed that if I passed up these job opportunities I would be acquiescing without a fight.

Then, it happened.

I called my mom and between sobs and gasps asked “How much bleeding is too much?” “Call the doctor,” she said, “and we’ll be praying for you.”

I dialed the number but couldn’t get through a sentence without crying. My husband talked to the doctor on my behalf and relayed the news to our parents: I was a “threatened miscarriage.” I couldn’t do anything but cry and keep my feet up until the holiday weekend was over.

The tears were more than the disappointment of not being able to complete a task on my checklist; they revealed an unexplainable urge to protect someone I did not yet know and a grasping frustration that I could not. That night, without my permission or even my involvement, The Woman I Didn’t Want to Be traded places with The Woman I Wanted to Be. I pleaded and bargained with God all night long. I prayed over and over again “Thy will be done….but, if you could manage it, could it please be that we keep our little baby. I promise to love him or her completely.”

A couple long days later the nurse put cold goo on my stomach and, after much searching and several reminders to breathe, located our little one’s heartbeat. The decisions that I had been putting off came into clear focus. I would not go on the international trips that I had been offered, I would decline the recognition, and ultimately, I would stay at home.

I choked on the title the first time it came out of my mouth in an introduction, and I questioned my sanity regularly. In the first three months our new bundle cried when she wasn’t sleeping or eating, flicked me off two different times while feeding, and pooped ferociously.

Then, as children are apt to do, slowly and quickly she grew. She used all five senses to explore her world – with a clear preference for tasting most of it. She had periodic spurts of crankiness which produced teeth. She started gurgling and jabbering. She was fast to crawl and, it seemed, even faster to walk and climb. Slowly and quickly, I was changing, too: married with a dependent, working with no clearly defined parameters of success, managing a 1400-square-foot place to call home, and exploring the primary-colored world of child-friendly destinations. I was also gentle, giving, patient, reveling in simplicity, creative, discovering untapped sources of energy, and at peace with God.

Though I avoid floral dresses like a telemarketer’s phone call, I have adopted the jeans-and-t-shirt “momiform.” I still can’t whip up a casserole if green beans, chicken, cheese, and noodles were to jump in a 9×13 pan, but I’m increasingly comfortable with the Crock-Pot.  The Woman I Knew I Didn’t Want to Be shares a resemblance to the Woman I Didn’t Know I Wanted to Be who is, in fact, The Woman I Am.

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