The Unexpected Joy of Parenthood

Their faces keep surfacing on the evening news, in snapshots pulled from fireplace mantels or the pages of the family album. These are photos never meant to be here, at the tragic center of a swirl of frightening images—police detectives, disbelieving neighbors, yellow-taped crime scenes. To my horror it goes on and on, the story beginning again every few days.

Another child vanished, snatched from the sidewalk or her bed or while walking to school. Mercifully I am only a bystander. I have little to do but shut off my television and pray, and turn to my belief that God is with those who suffer.

Once, stories of stolen children disturbed me. Now, two years into my unexpected motherhood, they have a cold, haunting terror. The ordinary world of playgrounds and Wal-Marts, the curving streets of suburbia, are suddenly dangerous. How could I have been so unthinking, bringing a baby into this?

I didn’t exactly plan it, having a little one so soon. Like my friends, I dreamed of career first, family last, with years in between to get ready for the children I would bear in my mid-thirties. Kids would be among my final accomplishments in a carefully plotted life. But along came Rob, and being engaged to him, and a wedding where my relatives joked about all those rugrats we would soon be having. We were married not even two months when a blue line showed up on the little white stick I brought home from the drugstore. I can’t say our first reaction was joy. Rob sat on the couch, stunned, and made feeble jokes about natural family planning.

For months we prepared for our baby’s arrival. We accumulated things. The right gear, tiny yellow sleepers, facts about stages of fetal development. What we learned, like countless parents before us, is that no amount of shopping or number of pregnancy books is preparation for that moment of holding your newborn and being completely overwhelmed by love. The feeling never relents; it only grows, constantly surprising you, all through the difficult first months of night-feedings and diaper changes.

It’s hard to write about my son without sounding like a syrupy, overwrought Hallmark card. Babies are a gift from God—growing up in a large, chaotic Catholic family where each new kid meant more noise, more competing for attention, I early-on dismissed this as sentimental cliché. I should have known, if just from my mother’s endless willingness to go through it all, that the cliché was true. Babies are a gift from God. They are also a wakeup call from God, a lifeline to God. My son has given me the best chance I’ll ever have to become patient, wise, not so selfish. He has given me a million new reasons to pray. I pray that he’ll be OK in this fallen, dangerous world. I pray just to thank God my original plans fell through.