Who I Am as a Mother Is Not Who I Thought I'd Be

Adiba Nelson, author of the newly released memoir Ain’t That a Mother, shares how even when parenting goes left, she trusts that her and her daughter are going to be all right.

Mother and daughter take a selfie together
Photo: Adiba Nelson

I am not the mother I thought I'd be.

Heck, I'm not even the mother I want to be. But my daughter is still here, alive and thriving, so I guess I'm kind of OK at this comedy of errors I call motherhood, right?

I tell my daughter all the time, "I'm new to this so don't expect me to be true to this. This whole mother-daughter thing could go left any minute." I'm mostly kidding. Mostly. And she knows this, but, really, that's what it feels like—a comedy of errors, especially now that I'm parenting a teenager. Well, she's almost a teenager. She has a few days to go, and if I'm being honest (and I can't even believe I'm saying this given the start we had), I'm in no hurry to get there.

I know everyone says the teen years are a lot, especially raising girls, but I'm here for it. I'm here for the sass that gets stronger and stronger by the minute, the crushes, the decidedly indecisive moments—you know which ones I'm talking about. The moments when you're in a hurry so you're pushing them to make a decision, so in true teen fashion they decide that they simply are not going to decide, tell you to "do whatever you want," and then walk away. Yes, those moments—I'm here for those, too. Except in my house, after the battle I get the blank stare followed by the swiveling around of her wheelchair as she rolls away.

I want to be mad at this behavior. In these moments I want to call her by her full name and tell her to roll her little narrow behind right back to the kitchen and make a decision like I've asked her to. But that's not who my kid is. From minute one she's always known who she was, what she wanted, and how she wanted it.

This was evidenced by her outright refusal to breastfeed. At just hours old, the hospital lactation specialist told me to hold my baby like a football, pop her on to my nipple and she'd latch on and start drinking.

Well, in true football fashion, my daughter, at just two hours into life, struck a Willie Heisman pose and stiff-armed my breast like she was holding off an offensive lineman. She pulled her head back, pressed her tiny baby fist into my breast, pressed her lips together and all but dared me to try to put her eyeball to my areola one more time.

I think it may have been the first time in history a newborn flat out said, "Nah." But this is who she is: a girl who refuses to settle. She wants what she wants and will not stop until she gets it.

Have I learned a thing or two from her? Maybe.

Ain't That a Mother: Postpartum, Palsy, and Everything in Between by Adiba Nelson is available May 3, 2022.

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