As I aimlessly check out all the new baby products at the Target store near where we are vacationing in Florida, I notice a woman anxiously examining car seat/stroller combinations. She looks to be in her mid to late 40s and as she is not visibly pregnant, I assume she is looking at baby equipment meant for someone else--perhaps a daughter, niece or sister.
There is an urgency in her body language. She seems to be very rushed and uncertain, but definitely on a mission to buy something right then and there. She looks over at me and asks if I know anything about this particular system. Sure, I reply, and give her my somewhat expert advice after having four children.
After we struggle to put the huge box into her cart she says to me "We've been waiting seven years to adopt a baby and the social worker called me this afternoon to tell me we can pick our baby girl up tomorrow morning."
I am speechless as she continues "We need everything - blankets, sleepers, I don't even know what else."
"Congratulations!" I manage to blurt out and she smiles and hurries to the cash. I continue to saunter through the store, enjoying my free time as my husband referees a game of mini-golf with our four boys a few blocks away. I am smiling, as I think about the wonderful story that woman shared with me.
Rewind to 30 minutes earlier. I am in a fitting room, staring in the mirror, feeling less than wonderful. Trying on swimsuits, T-shirts, cute little sundresses without a little one to entertain in the fitting room is a refreshing change, but it also means it is harder for me to ignore how my body has changed over 12 years and 4 pregnancies. Four healthy pregnancies, four healthy children. But standing there in the change room, I only see what is no longer there.
Becoming a mom has changed me so much on the inside -- who I am is fundamentally different now because of my four boys. But when I look in the fitting room mirror, my inner transformations disappear and all I can see is the T-shirt that pulls at my stomach or the sleeves that are too tight. I realize that so much of who I used to be was based on how I looked and now, the parts of me that are most toned are on the inside. I feel awkward and self conscious.
When I get back to the car, I tell my family the story of the woman and her new daughter and I start to cry. I am so happy for her and her new addition. And I am so grateful for a body that allowed me to so easily conceive, carry and birth my children. The grief I felt in the dressing room has been replaced, for now, by a sense of gratitude.
There will always be opportunities to dwell on what has been lost, my youthful appearance, my chance to have a daughter, my opportunity to be on any 40 under 40 success list, and probably my hope for a Best Actress Oscar.
But I will choose to focus on all I can do, all I have accomplished, and all the chances that lay ahead.
At least today.
Winner of the Voices of Motherhood Writing Contest