This post is dedicated to my lovely wife, Maria-Renee. She very nobly allowed me to share her experience through this piece, and her vulnerability is reflective of her strength.
Everybody has an opinion about everything. There’s a right time and a right place and a right way for everything. And oddly enough, their opinions matter immensely to us. So when it comes to something life-altering—like having a baby—it’s impossible not to imagine what everyone else must be saying.
For a while, we really didn’t care what people thought. We knew what we wanted, we were prayerful, and we pondered the general implications of spawning new life into this insane world. We wanted a Bootleg Baby.
The aforementioned term for our yet-to-be-born child originated from a tour we took of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Oak Park, IL (pictured above. It’s incredible). During said tour, we learned about how Wright built houses in violation of his contract, and thus they earned the name “bootleg houses.” Since we figured everyone and their mother would have an opinion about the proper time and place to have a child, we started yearning for our little Bootleg.
Part of what made us feel rebel-like for having a child was that we were following the expectations laid out for us by the world. It will be the best gift ever! But it will be expensive. You’ll experience the miracle of life! But you’ll never sleep again. You’ll feel so much love while you’re pregnant! But you’ll be incessantly uncomfortable.
As we became more and more certain we wanted to expand our family, one set of expectations set in pretty firmly for us: if my wife did get pregnant, we’d be constantly excited and never stop smiling. We fell into the trap of expectations.
I personally matched up pretty harmoniously with the expectations. As the man, I don’t have to bear the physical burden in any way. I basically get to keep doing what I normally do. I have been incredibly excited, giggling and shaking at the ultrasound appointments, staring excitedly at the spot tentatively reserved for a crib, drifting off into a daydream of me snuggling with my child. Maria-Renee, meanwhile, has felt her world change significantly. Sure, there was the expectation of pain and nausea. But her energy level plummeted, and on some days, she felt down, sunken, and even depressed. No one had told us to expect that.
So here was this gaping abyss between expectation and reality. And in these gaps, thoughts and fantasies fester, further inflaming the uncertainties of impending parenthood. Maria-Renee began to wonder if she would ever love the baby. Wasn’t she supposed to feel ecstatic? Would this sadness ever pass?
These feelings are difficult enough to handle. But upon reflection, the thing that exacerbated them the most was that so few people wanted to describe motherhood in terms other than pure joy. The ugly, uncertain, undesirable features aren’t what make those beautiful bump pics so trendy on Instagram or mommy blogs. Genuine, heartfelt bonding about the raging hormones and the expenditure of the body doesn’t make for nice light conversation. After a while, the expectation is that pregnancy is about glee and felicity despite general physical discomfort.
We’ve since come to realize that there’s no perfect way to feel while pregnant. There’s not an emotional experience you’re supposed to have. It hits everyone differently. And honestly, this applies to life in general. Emotions can be fickle mental events, and they are not necessarily an indication of some inner blight that needs correction.
That said, Maria-Renee has been an absolute marvel to behold. She goes to work every day at a job where she covers tasks that ought to take at least three employees. She cooks incredible meals and spontaneously emerges from the kitchen with delicious homemade bread. She listens to my meandering stories. She petrifies me with laughter at her jokes and impressions. All this while she is LITERALLY GROWING A HUMAN BEING INSIDE OF HER. My wife is the best, and I have no doubt she will be an incredible mother.
So somehow, we have to cling onto our actual experiences and keep expectations at arm’s length. And in an oddly, somewhat disjointed, roundabout way, this is kind of like Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes. When you view them from the outside, they look flat and wide, blending in with nature. You expect them to be filled with fancy details, but based on their outer appearance, they don’t look all that large. When you begin the tour, however, you become astonished that there is room after room after room. You’ve spent hours on a tour you though would take minutes. His architecture is a task of subverting expectations.
As we keep catching our expectations, and as we keep moving ahead day by day, feelings of excitement have become more salient for Maria-Renee. She has good days, and bad days. But as we try to wrangle expectations and live life as it is, not as we think it somehow ought to be, we move forward, preparing for our life’s next adventure.
So buckle up, Bootleg. We’ll be doing our best to be ready for you.
Matt Coldagelli (’14) majored in English writing and psychology at Calvin. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology with an emphasis on children and adolescents. He watches an absurd amount of TV and is a certified craft beer snob. Matt lives with his lovely wife in Oak Park, IL.