A WALK TO REMEMBER
LAURA deCARUFEL LETS GO OF HER NEW- PARENT PANIC ONE STEP AT A TIME.
Before my baby was born, I thought I understood fear. I’d waitressed in a London pub during the World Cup. I’d once talked my way backstage at Prada. I’d interviewed Tilda Swinton. Butterflies? I was familiar. But when little Charlie arrived, on a rainy Wednesday in November, the rush of love I had expected to feel was
pounding like a marathoner’s heartbeat. Jessica Alba, for instance, is known for her role in “you know, that movie with that guy” and yet has built a $1-billion product empire around her transition into motherhood.
“It’s exciting,” a woman breathed conspiratorially to me in the office kitchen when she spied my swelling belly. “You’re going to have all new priorities and not care about anything you used to.” I gaped at her. Her enthusiasm twisted into a raw-edged threat. The prospect of becoming someone else was terrifying. As a writer, I’ve worked hard to harness my voice. What if motherhood made it sound as unfamiliar as a tinny old voice-mail message? I became consumed with the worry that getting pregnant was somehow admitting I wanted to lose the professional ground I was gaining—that I was choosing poo over promotions.
My impending familial joy felt like another priority that threatened to derail my career, because the fact is that, while expectant superstars often get a boxoffice boost from their bump, it’s not a career coup for real women. I’d likely be left scrabbling around with deadlines, diapers and frizzy hair like some perverted version of a Cathy cartoon.
I started resenting celebrities who preened and caressed their pregnant bellies, with paparazzi in tow, like hens sitting on golden eggs. Screw North’s and Suri’s moms, I grumbled. They have staff and somehow get to “have it all”—a concept my generation is slowly acknowledging is seemingly impossible. (Granted, this was a particularly unfair way to feel for someone who has spent many days interviewing thoughtful and interesting actresses.)
Then, when I was nearing the end of my pregnancy, I had a liberating moment in a Las Vegas bathroom. (Weird, I know.) I was there on business. It was late. Everyone else was popping bottles. My silk dress stretched conspicuously across my round midriff in the crowd of hard bodies. Nonetheless, h
STAT SCAN NEARLY EVERY CANADIAN WOMAN POLLED IN THE ELLE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN IN SOCIETY SURVEY FEELS WE ARE
DISCRIMINATED AGAINST AT WORK AFTER BECOMING
accompanied by a low hum of terror that I had not.
This was next-level, laser-focused fear: I just wanted him to live, and I worried all the time that he wouldn’t. I watched him sleep, listening for his tiny pterodactyl breaths. I asked every visitor who held him close “Are his eyes open?” which was code for “Look down and tell me that he’s okay.” I worried that he was colicky, that he was going blind, that he didn’t like me.
Then, when Charlie was two weeks old, I left the house for the first time in days, hoping to escape my paranoid haze. We went for our first walk together, Charlie nestled in his slick Bugaboo stroller. Before Charlie, I’d thought of the celebrityfavoured carriage as another jewel in my stable of designer pieces—as lovingly crafted as my hand-stitched Mulberry bag or my perfectly cut Phillip Lim jacket. I’d picked it out as carefully as I chose which heels to wear to Fashion Week. But suddenly, as we turned toward the park, I realized that what really mattered about the stroller wasn’t its pedigree; it was that I trusted it was strong enough to protect him. It was beautiful armour at a time when I needed as much strength as I could get.
The winter sun hung low, casting the kind of grey light that makes everything seem hyperreal—a highdef afternoon. It rained a little. Charlie slept. I stopped every once in a while to check on him. He was fine. He was better than fine—he was wonderful. Cumulus clouds slid quickly across the sky, and my heart lightened along with my step. Suddenly, a rainbow appeared. Then, almost unbelievably, a second rainbow shadowed it. It felt like a blessing, a huge cosmic grin. I stood still, watching my perfect baby boy sleep in his handsome stroller. Slowly, gratitude overtook fear. We walked on toward home, baby steps into our luminous, uncertain future.
I was having a good time, soaking up the heavy bass and watching absurd laser-breasted aerial performers.
As I waddled into the coed bathroom, I could feel a set of eyes burning into me. “God.... What are you doing here?” asked some half-drunk clubland douchebag accusingly, panning over my ripe belly.
I’m not sure if I’m proud of what followed, but here is a statement of the facts: I realized I could learn something from celebrities who deal with relentless criticism about their choices. And I held up two middle fingers and walked out.
I was sick of judging myself. I was finished with feeling awkward about being pregnant and fretting about whether it signalled a lack of commitment to my craft. I probably would have felt more empowered if I’d ripped open my coat like Beyoncé instead of stumbling awkwardly into my boss’ office and confessing that I’d gotten myself knocked up. (My boss, by the way, showed nothing but unwavering support.)
Mostly, I stopped wishing that other women—no matter how famous—would fail just so I’d feel better about my own fears. Because, if I’m being honest, one of the most reassuring conversations I’ve ever had about motherhood was with Drew Barrymore, who cried and told me she felt “like a total box of hair” and then looked into my eyes and promised me it would be wonderful anyway. Or the seemingly perfect Jennifer Garner, who sat across from me in a crisply pressed cotton dress while acutely pregnant and admitted she felt “neurotic.” “It must be a hormonal thing,” she sighed.
So, in that Vegas bathroom, I decided to let go of the pointless shame and envy that had been holding me back. I would stay up late if I wanted to, dedicate myself to my career if I wanted to, be a good mother if I wanted to.
It didn’t feel like the end anymore. It finally felt like the beginning.
Bugaboo Bee3 + Van Gogh stroller, $869 (bugaboo.com)