Most of us have experienced imposter syndrome at some point: How did they let me into this college--I can't really be smart enough to go here! Did they know what they were doing when they hired me? They're letting me take this child home...by myself?
I don't know about you, but identities have always taken some time to "click" with me. I felt like I was playing house for the first part of my marriage and serving as longtime round-the-clock babysitter during the initial months with my children. Even those identities I always "had"--Christian, woman, southerner--dawned on me suddenly. I may have grown up in the church, but there was a moment when I realized, "Huh. Not everyone would share these same stories and faith." I learned being a woman was far more complicated than cultural gender norms made it out to be, and I did not even know I had an accent until I left Alabama. I didn't know that I was swimming in a different pool of water than others until I left it.
Many of my friends and mentors talked to me about a fundamental shift that they experienced upon becoming parents. Everything else that mattered so much before became less important. They viewed the world through their new lens as their child's caretaker, and their entire self-understanding changed. That didn't happen for me, or at least not right away.
Since becoming an adoptive parent, I give more credit to biology than I did before. As much as I want to believe that intention and determinedness and nurture are all that we need, I think pheromones and hormones and shared DNA are not altogether insignificant. I love my children, and I always have, but in those initial days, the love was far more cognitive--I should and I will love this child that has been gifted to me--than instinctive. Now both kinds of love are there, but it took time. I did not have the nine months of pregnancy to prepare for their arrivals, to dream up baby names and imagine whether they would get my nose or Dan's. I did not feel them kick in the womb or sing or talk to them in between spells of morning sickness. I did not have that immediate connection, where my body and theirs blurred together, and those early weeks of life, when the family's schedule morphs into a cycle of continuous feedings and changings and wakings.
I don't know if I had experienced motherhood in the traditional way--pregnancy, birth, and maternity leave--when I would have taken on the identity of mom. Would it have been at the moment of conception? Sometime during gestation? At birth? Might I have continued during the period of preparation to try the role on until it fit?
With fostering and adopting, there certainly can be long periods of waiting and anticipation. Such was the case for many of our friends. For us, however, the entrance into parenthood was sudden. I laugh with everyone that no one is ever ready to be a parent, and I wholeheartedly believe that is true, but in our situation, we had about a week before our daughter came to live with us and four hours before getting our son.
So the mom switch turned on gradually. The more often I wiped my son's snotty nose and learned what facial expressions to make to induce a smile, and the more I could predict our daughter's emotions and reactions before they came, the more I relaxed into being a mother. I no longer was an imposter or a babysitter or just another adult caretaker. I share an intimacy with each child that no one other than their father would have. I see every one of their daily rhythms, their good moments and bad, joys and triumphs, sadnesses and tears. I parent them so that they are in some ways an extension of me (my daughter already likes Brussels sprouts and putting things away into their assigned places and my son has a propensity for stripes--nevermind that right now I am in charge of dressing him). They are also their own people, and I will never no what it is like to share their genes. What is far more important, though, is that we share a life.
Some identities come and go. I no longer am a college student or a track athlete a newlywed. But I can tell that mom is one of those identities that never leaves. Once a mom, always a mom.