Suddenly Falling In Love
I always thought that becoming a mother, falling in love with your baby, would happen all at once, automatically. After all, you generally have nine months to prepare for it, to see and feel changes in your body and come to think of yourself, not just as a woman, but as a mother. When the baby finally comes, you at last know who you're a mother to, but you already knew yourself to be a mother, and you already loved that baby sight unseen. Or, if you adopt, it's after a great deal of time and effort, soul-searching to come to the decision in the first place that it's time to become a mother and that you'll take a stranger into your life and love them, so again, once you finally get the baby it's just a matter of meeting the person you're now the mother of. You would already by that time be a mother in your own mind.
The idea that it could happen the other way around, that you could meet the baby first and then become its mother, never occurred to me until I met Karl.
I was not much of a baby person. An MD/PhD is a challenging course of study to pursue, where you not only go through the grueling hell of medical school, but need to do research and produce a thesis. It takes enormous amounts of time and energy, and the women who pursue it subtly discourage one another from the idea of having a family. We all know that children take too much time and that we probably have boyfriends who are also intelligent, ambitious, and have career plans too time-intensive to support them doing full-time child care. Professors, mentors, older students -- both male and female -- all reinforce the notion that if you really love babies, if you're very maternal and earth-mothery and your biological clock is too obviously ticking, then you aren't really serious about your profession. It's fine to be feminine in a sexual aspect, to like to dress up sexy, to go on dates, but actual reproduction is a no-no. Spend enough time in such an environment, and either you're going to start to believe that having children is for other women, women who just don't have the dedication to their work you do -- women who are in some sense less important than you -- or you're going to feel as if you're being forced out by the undercurrents of hostility toward motherhood that everyone else feels. It's worse if you're a telepath, and worse still if you have a secret alternate profession, if you're engaged in a challenging course of study after hours, learning to manage your own mutant powers and even fight with them. How could I possibly ever have a child? I was far too busy.
Charles and Ororo used to go out on the calls to pick up abandoned mutant infants. Sometimes I was involved as a genetics researcher and doctor who was well known to be an expert on mutations -- I was called in to consult with parents about whether or not an unusual-looking child was a mutant, and if so, what could that child expect from life -- but the calls I was on were the ones where the parents were still involved, not the ones where babies were abandoned. So I could, and did, play the role of concerned doctor, and I could coo over a baby while giving it a physical without any sense that I was being somehow motherly. No, I was a professional, a doctor, and cooing over cute mutant babies was part of the bedside manner, reassuring nervous parents that their mutant baby was still a baby, still lovable. When Charles and Ororo brought the abandoned ones back to the mansion for a day or two before handing them off to adoptive parents, I did the physicals, and I fed bottles and changed diapers when it was needed -- I wasn't ignorant of how to care for a baby. I just wasn't willing to think of myself as anything like a mom. Not yet.
The truth is, I'd developed a bias. By the time I was 30 and involved in a long-term relationship with Scott, my work was almost all at the mansion, or going out on consultation briefly. There was no longer any real reason I couldn't devote time to a child. But I'd gotten the idea into my head that being a mother was for less professional women. It didn't help that Scott was younger than me, and with his family issues, not exactly desperate to become a dad, or that Charles was actually profoundly unnerved by babies, or that Ororo, for all her strength of will and spirituality, and various street-smart skills I'd never have, was barely literate. Ororo loved babies and was comfortable being motherly to them, but... I'm ashamed to say that what I thought of this was that Ororo was the kind of woman who should love babies, because she wasn't exactly an intellectual powerhouse. Ororo is a very intelligent woman, but having no formal education whatsoever until she manifested her powers and came to the school, she had little interest in the world of academia and high-powered professionalism I lived in, and part of me looked down on her for that.
So when Scott brought the baby home -- he wasn't Karl yet -- I didn't feel a sense of sudden maternal instinct kicking in. I didn't think "My baby!" I did think that there was something monstrously wrong with a parent, mother or father, who could give up such a sweet baby -- aside from the pointed ears, and the tail (which you couldn't even see with his diaper on), and the unusual size and golden color of the irises, and the fingernails being retractable claws, he looked no different from a fully human albino baby, and I hadn't yet heard of a parent giving up a child for being an albino. I couldn't look at him the way a human might, and see his differences from human standard -- I looked at him and saw a cute baby, and the unusual aspects of his appearance only excited the mutant researcher in me, making me wonder what to expect in terms of his powers, and what unseen changes might go along with the catlike aspects of his appearance. But I didn't see anything more than that. He was just a cute baby, like the babies I saw strolling down the street or the mall in their carriages or carried by their mothers or riding around in supermarket carts. He was sweet, like any baby, but not special.
The whole reason Scott had gone to get him was that Ororo had a bad cold, and I wasn't letting a bad cold anywhere near a premature infant, and Charles was overseas. So when it fell on someone to take care of the baby, it fell on Scott and Hank and me -- teenage girls love babies, and many of them were good babysitters, but a preemie needs more than a teen with classes can be asked to do. And since I knew physical contact with other people was vital for a baby to thrive, I thought it was better to keep him in a bedroom where he could frequently be taken out of his incubator and snuggled in bed. That, and babies wake up and want to be fed half a dozen times a night, and it was more convenient to do that right there in the bedroom than to sleep in the infirmary or to put on a baby monitor and head down there every time he cried in the middle of the night. Since Scott and I were two people in one bedroom and neither of us had colds, it was obvious it should be us. So there we were, with a baby in our bedroom, but I still wasn't a mother. All of this was just being a responsible doctor. Including the part about taking my shirt off and letting the baby snuggle against my bare breasts. After all babies evolved to breast-feed, and while I couldn't lactate without having been pregnant, I could try to give the little boy as close to an ideal experience of having a mother as I could. Without being one. Because I wasn't a mother.
But doctors aren't the ones who feed babies every day, and burp them, and change their diapers. Doctors don't sing the silly songs and rock the babies. Doctors don't go to the baby store and pick out the most adorable fuzzy blue sleepers that make baby boys look like caterpillars. Someone needed to do those things, and even once Charles got home from Paris it wasn't going to be him-- perhaps due to the chaotic, non-rational nature of a baby's mind, and Charles's extreme cerebrality, he had never really gotten along with infants all that well. As motherly as Ororo could be, she didn't have a boyfriend who could spot her with some of the nighttime feedings and the baths and the playing. So it fell to Scott and me to play the roles of mommy and daddy, to clean up the spit-up and provide the nighttime bottles and buy the supplies. (Okay, it was me buying the supplies, with Ororo's help. Charles had provided the expense account, but it was Ororo and I who drove out to Babies R Us and did the shopping. And technically speaking, while a changing mat and diapers and baby clothes are supplies, a mobile and a baby swing and a little portable playpen are nursery furnishings, which we'd never bothered to get for any of the other four abandoned mutant babies we had rescued. Those had had adoptive parents lined up within a day or two -- even over the phone, without his powers, Charles is persuasive. Scott and Hank and Ororo and I simply didn't have that kind of skill, or the extensive mental database of contacts, so we simply put finding the baby a new home on hold until Charles could get back. In retrospect, this is probably what sealed our fate.)
Playing a part works a weird alchemy on the mind. Over time, pretending to be something, acting in the role of something, can make you into that thing. Scott and I gave the baby a name -- Karl -- by the third day we had him, because it felt wrong to be calling him nothing but "the baby" -- babies need names. By the sixth day I was feeling overprotective, mentally checking up on Karl every five minutes when I couldn't see him, to make sure he was still alive (never mind the monitors in his incubator). Charles came home, and started the process of trying to find an adoptive parent, and he called me in to talk to me about the baby from the perspective of Karl's mutation. I wasn't interested in Karl's mutation the way I had been when I first met him -- I was interested in how much weight he'd gained and his progress toward sleeping through the night (not much) and how his eyes seemed to track motion far more than a normal premature infant would do at his age. And that last was not from the perspective of a researcher thinking of the interesting aspects of a mutation but of a proud mother gloating that her baby could see better than other babies his age. I don't think Charles needed to read my mind to guess the direction my feelings were taking me -- he asked, then, if I was considering keeping Karl. It was the first time the idea had ever occurred to me, and so my knee-jerk reaction was to say "Well, no, not really." But at the same time, part of me thought -- Yes, yes actually. That would work, wouldn't it? Wouldn't that feel right?
I have a mental link with Scott. I try not to pry, but I do monitor his emotional state most of the time, as he monitors mine through the same link. So we never really exactly talked about it, but as soon as I had the thought -- well, what if we did keep Karl? -- I know Scott began to think of it as well, and we tried it on for size at the same time, testing to see if we could put on the idea of "parents" and make it fit our self-images. And what I found shocking was that, by the time Karl's umbilical cord fell off, it did.
I'd never planned to be a mother. I never really thought I even wanted it. And I hadn't started behaving like one toward Karl out of instinct or emotion -- it had been pure logic, a medical understanding of a baby's needs and the responsible desire to satisfy those needs for a child. I acted like a mother because someone had to, and I was the best suited for the role at the time. I never expected the role to take me over. I never expected to fall in love.
Before Karl was a month old, Scott and I were legally his new father and mother. Emotionally, however, it didn't even take that long.
We think of romantic attachment as something that can hit us out of the blue, that we see a stranger and within minutes, or weeks, or months, we know we want to bond the rest of our lives to that person. Parental attachment is something that's supposed to build, something you feel even before you meet the stranger because you've been preparing to feel it for months in advance.
But all love shares certain basic similarities. I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me so much that it was possible to fall in love with a baby, to transform into a mother in two weeks without ever expecting or planning to be.
Now my entire mindset has changed. I remember unconsciously thinking less of mothers because they were sacrificing so much of who they were to their children. It wasn't until after Karl that I even realized I had such a bias, let alone realized how staggeringly unfair such an idea is or how much it arises out of the compromises society forces professional women to make. I always considered myself a feminist -- hard not to be, when you're a professional woman heavily involved in a civil rights movement of any kind -- but I never realized the extent to which nearly everyone in society, whether repressed hardline conservatives or passionate feminists, participates in denigrating what it means to be a mother. Or the extent to which that holds the best and brightest women back from reproducing themselves, something that I fear we'll all pay for in time, over the course of evolution, if it persists. Mutants aren't immune -- I don't know any mutant women who have chosen to have children.
Our life as superheroes presents a lot of challenges to being good parents, but we're surrounded by good-hearted teenagers with an interest in babysitting, and adults who know what they're doing and usually stay behind at the mansion, and as much terror as I feel that there might be an attack at the mansion and Karl might be harmed, I was already fully dedicated to the idea of protecting the children here before one of them was my own. We're probably better off than a lot of parents. We worry about how he'll be accepted into society, but again, that was already a cause we were fighting for before it affected our own child. It's why we ended up in a position to become his parents in the first place, after all.
My name is Jean Grey, and I am a mom. And I no longer feel that there's any problem with that.
Author's Note: This is a remix of Minisinoo's "Five Pounds", done for the Remix Redux 2006. The challenge was to take someone else's story and retell it in your own way. Minisinoo's story focused on Scott; I realized how similar the events of the story were to how I acquired my two oldest children, and so Jean's point of view in this story is heavily autobiographical.