When It Felt Real

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine from high school posted this question on Facebook:

“When did you really feel like a parent for the first time?”

Most people answered with statements like, “As soon as I saw those two line on the pregnancy test” or “When she wrapped her little hand around my fingers for the first time” or “When he stopped crying as soon as he heard my voice.”


I don’t question the sincerity of those anecdotes. I know how powerful those experiences are having gone through each of them with my own child. But my first “real parent moment” was a little less expected…a little less Instagram-worthy…a whole lot grosser.

My son was what you call “a spitter” during his first couple months of life—you know, as his esophagus and stomach worked together to figure out the whole eating thing. Pretty much after every feeding, he’d offer up a nice burp, and then a stream of spit-up would bubble out of his mouth onto him, me, and pretty much every surface in our general area.

I eventually learned to keep multiple burp cloths around at all times: one under his head on the nursing pillow, one on my shoulder, usually a couple on the arm of the chair. That seems excessive now that I’m typing it out, but better to be prepared when dealing with an unpredictable fount of bodily fluids coming out of your baby’s face. I rarely needed that many anyway.

Except, of course, the one time I didn’t have them.

I remember the moment so well. I sat down in my bed and brought my freshly diapered son to my breast. I felt my milk let down as I reached for the remote to turn on an episode of Jon & Kate Plus 8 (don’t judge) and settled back onto my pillow.

My son pulled off about 10 minutes later, and I propped him up on my knee, cradled his little face in my right hand, and gently rubbed his back to coax out a burp.

One bubbled up right away. I felt around for a burp cloth to collect the inevitable spillage.

Nothing. Because you don’t get burp cloths when you choose to tool around on Facebook instead of retrieving that load of baby accoutrement out of the dryer before getting your son up from his nap.

And yet, the subsequent events unfolded like a perfectly choreographed dance…

My son hiccuped.

Another burp. A wet one this time.

The flow began.

I cupped my hand under his chin.

The spit-up pooled in the center of my palm.

I waited for the second round. Because there is always a second round.

When it was all over, I looked at my puke-filled hand then at my baby’s chubby, milk-drunk face. Then back at my hand. And back at my baby.

“Worth it,” I thought.

Using my free (and clean) hand, I settled him into the nook of the nursing pillow and walked into the bathroom. As I washed up, I realized how not grossed out I was by an experience that I would otherwise find completely disgusting. But it just wasn’t. Because it was my baby. I was someone’s mother—his mother.

It wasn’t until that moment—already several weeks into this whole parenting gig—that the truth of that statement truly filled me up, from the top of my head to the tip of my toes.

I am a mother. I am this boy’s mother.

I’m really glad I ignored the laundry that morning.

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