What to Really Expect…

Jean-Honoré Fragonard - The Good Mother

Like many moms-to-be in the late ’80’s (which extended to the mid-2000’s for me), I had a copy of the now maternity classic, What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. They gave us the low down on what to expect in the first, second and third trimesters, what to expect during labor and what to expect afterwards. But, if I recall, there was a lot of information missing. As a experienced mom of way too many kids, I have gleaned some things that were unexpected. So here are a few things to really expect….

A Newborn’s Smell

I think the book may have mentioned that a newborn smells nice. I’m not talking about how they smell after they are bathed. Just their essential smell. A new sweet presence. A smell that instinctively causes you to draw them near. To cuddle. No one told me about that sensation. No one told me how emotionally powerful that simple smell would feel like. Also, nobody said how transient it would be. You only get a couple months of newborn smell….drink it in!

Intense Joy

There are times when I’d watch my kids and be overcome with a joy that was mingled with contentment, wonder and love. They do things that tap into that well of joy, and sometimes so unexpectedly, you are in tears while you drive. One of my kids, one of the very frugal ones, was on his way home. I was picking him up at BART. You have to understand we rarely had extra money. But this kind-hearted, sweet soul of a son, parted with a five dollar bill to one who according to him, “I just thought he needed it more than me.” When my kids do things like that, a wellspring of joy, pride and admiration spring up and seep out my eyes. I don’t think the book mentioned that feeling.

Terrifying Fear

I had always been fearful. An anxious and highly imaginative father, a deep connection to Catholic guilt and a hyperactive constitution was a perfect recipe for anxious foreboding. As much as I was afraid of things temporal and eternal before I had kids, after I had them, things got worse. All of a sudden I became acutely aware of the dangers that preyed on little kids. We lived in Northern California at a time where many little girls were kidnapped…often out in the open. My kids were not allowed out the gate because of that. They still don’t get it. The book didn’t mention how worried you’ll be. And that doesn’t go away. I like the line from “What a Girl Wants” with Amanda Bynes, Kelly Preston and uhm, the handsome Colin Firth. He calls Kelly’s character, Amanda’s mom, and complains their daughter went off on a motorcycle with her boyfriend. He then asks her, “Does it ever go away?” “What, Henry?” she responds. “Worry.” “No, Henry, it doesn’t” The book doesn’t really mention that you’re gonna worry about your twenty-three year old as much as you worry about your three year old. Just different circumstances. Be prepared!


I had ten kids. Grandchildren were never on my radar. Many of my kids, especially my oldest, declared they were not having children. “Mom, don’t expect grandkids.” more than one announced. Uhm, I was still raising kids so I didn’t really care. Not until one March afternoon when I received a downloading photo text from my son-in-law. What could James be sending me? A picture. A grainy, black and white sonogram image with the message “Congratulations, Grandma!” My coworker thought there was a death in the family when she heard my response.

The book didn’t tell me what to expect when I was expecting grandchildren. Maybe that was out of their purview. But, after the scream, I wept. I didn’t think I was going to respond that way. And I pretty much did the same thing with the three others that came after little Elena.

What to really expect when you’re expecting…expect intense, joyful emotions, fierce protective instincts, love that you didn’t think you were capable of and unimaginable blessings.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

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