When Motherhood Looks Absolutely Nothing Like Your Vision Board

Even Shonda Rhimes couldn’t have made this story up.

Recently I was hit with one of those Facebook memories, from a year ago, and I had to laugh. There I was in the photo: a bright-eyed girl full of love and hope, my arm draped casually around my fiancée, after a night of Paint and Sip ― one of those fun evenings where you paint on a canvas, while drinking wine and listening to loud hip hop. Looking at that picture-perfect moment just 12 months later, it seemed like another lifetime.

We were childless and carefree then, but in a serious, committed relationship, ready to start our family. We’d been trying to get me pregnant with donor sperm ― I could often be found hanging out on our bed with my legs in the air ― but that never took. After that, we’d switched to the private adoption path.

Adoption was an expensive tedious process involving FBI and police checks; a medical exam, character references; questions about our childhoods, our bank accounts and our exes from a social worker; and tons and tons of paperwork. But my partner kept us on task. After we finished our home study in record time, the two of us high-fived. We’d already picked out baby names, explored local childcare options and read a pile of parenting books. We were going to make the best Team Moms ever.

“I was aching so much to be a mom that by that point I didn’t care if the baby was purple with blue polka dots”

Too many plot twists

But what came next, the matching process, really put us to the test.

Two of the pregnant birth moms who chose us changed their minds about adoption, after their babies arrived.

Another told the social worker she’d rather place her African-American twin boys in a white household than let her children be raised by two Black, gay women.

Then as we were still reeling from the blatant homophobia, a few days later yet another pregnant birth mom picked us. This time papers were signed and it was a done deal.

We booked our flights to go pick up our baby in California and called family and friends to say the wait was over. But then just hours before our departure, in a conversation with the birth mom, who was biracial, we discovered that the baby’s father was white, so the baby was essentially a quarter black and would probably be white passing or extremely light skin.

By that point I didn’t care if the baby was purple with blue polka dots, but transracial adoption had not been our plan, and this raised huge issues around what family life would look like for this child whose race and culture was not a match with our own. Ultimately, after the biggest row we’d ever had, we decided not to go ahead.

The heartbreak was taking a toll, so we agreed to take time off to regroup, reconnect and heal. Six months later, after a lot of couple’s therapy, we got back on the horse. We even moved into a new two-bedroom condo, so we could nest, as we waited for our child.

Just two weeks after our move, our adoption worker called. We’d once again been chosen. Our baby girl was to be born right before Christmas. Thrilled, we started buying gifts and decorating our home. This was it.

Then right before the due date, our lawyer called. The birth mom had gone missing. There would be no baby.

How much more of this could we take?

Taking a break

Emotionally drained, we got off the adoption rollercoaster and booked a trip to Bali over Christmas with friends. My partner wanted to wait until the New Year, before we started again..

But just a week later, I got another call.

A mother had given birth to a beautiful Black baby boy. The adoption worker asked if she should submit us as prospective parents.

She cautioned that she was presenting four other couples who were heterosexual. And since the mother lived in the heart of the Bible Belt, she might not be open to gay families. But I wanted to at least throw our hat in the ring. So I said a little prayer: “God I surrender this to you, may your will be done.” And then I asked the social worker to submit us.

To my surprise two days later I got the call. We had a baby! He was ours! We could come and pick him up right away!

Next, what should have been a joyful event quickly became a breaking point. I’d gone ahead and submitted us for this baby, when my partner had asked me to hold off. I’d gone rogue, thinking the end result would be what mattered most. But after I shared the news, there was no reaching a middle ground. Just like that, our four-year relationship was over.

A solo journey

My son came home four days later, on Christmas Eve. He was just twelve days old. I was newly single, heartbroken and soon to be without a home. If you’d given me a glimpse of that future back on Paint-and-Sip night, I would have said, “No way girl, you’re doing the most.”

The day Trey Anthony met her son
The day Trey Anthony met her son

I’d expected that when I adopted a child, the love would be instant. It wasn’t. In our first few days together, I swear this kid was giving me serious baby side eye, as I changed his diapers and warmed his bottles. He didn’t seem to be sure if I was indeed “the one.” He had reason for concern, because I had no damn clue what I was doing.

Somehow, in spite of all my research, I hadn’t really grasped that a baby needed to be fed every couple hours and the expectation was that I had to get up and feed him. All night long. When he started crying again for more milk, I wanted to scream, Come on kid you just ate!But instead, I shuffled to the kitchen in a zombie state to make another bottle.

I was so tired that I could barely form a sentence. Most days I didn’t even have time to pee. I honestly thought about getting adult diapers to have more time to sleep.

I walked around in a daze, questioning what atomic bomb had just hit my life. But I was determined that I couldn’t fail at this, after all it was what I had waited for my entire life.

The thing was, if this was a dream come true, how come I was not enjoying it?

“NO! I’m NOT okay. I think I’ve made a huge mistake! I need you to come NOW!”

All the tears

I was so overwhelmed. In between feedings and diaper changes, I was packing up my old life into boxes. I had no time to grieve, because this new little being demanded all my attention. I kept waiting for the mother euphoria to take over. But nothing.

It all came to a head, not even a week after I brought my baby home, when I found myself at 1 am curled up in a fetal position on the floor of the shower — bawling my eyes out.

This was too much: The breakup. The move. A crying newborn who clearly hated me.

I desperately wanted to be one of those capable, beautiful, mothers, minus the blond hair, who wore a bright, butterfly-covered pencil skirt, white blouse and red shoes, and pink lipstick. But here I was, in a milk-stained fuzzy, grey onesie, braless, crying while wiping baby poop out of my hair as my unhappy baby watched suspiciously.

I was too embarrassed to admit how miserably I was failing at something I’d wanted so badly, so I didn’t share any of this with anyone.

“My mom, the Jamaican baby whisperer, had somehow sleep trained my son. Now that I was no longer in zombie mode, I had some time to think.”

A little help from my friends

Finally, that night at 1:15 am, from my bathroom floor, I took off my Superwoman cape and asked for help. As I held my baby in my arms, both of us in tears, I frantically dialled my friend’s number. In a sleepy voice, she inquired if I was okay.

“NO! I’m NOT okay. I can’t do this. I think I’ve made a huge mistake! I need you to come NOW!” I yelled back.

And then I called my sister and mum, who immediately jumped in their car to drive the seven hours from Florida to Atlanta to be with me. I was still on the phone with them, when my friend got there. She took one look at my dishevelled appearance, grabbed the baby and ordered me to go to bed, and she wasn’t having any of my protesting. So I climbed in between the sheets, my head hit the pillow and, within seconds, I fell into a deep sleep.

I don’t know exactly what happened while I was sleeping ― who called who and who did what ― but somehow several of my closest friends and family members showed up the next day. Some brought food and wine. Some helped me pack my apartment, and some signed up for the baby schedule that one of them had made, to ensure someone would be with me at all times to help with the baby.

Trey's mom, a.k.a. the Jamaican Baby Whisperer, with Trey's son
Trey's mom, a.k.a. the Jamaican Baby Whisperer, with Trey's son

We are family

Once the initial fog had lifted, I moved to Florida to stay with my mom and sister for a while. There I finally got some much-needed time to rest, to heal and to truly bond with my son. With mom’s Jamaican wisdom and home cooking, and with lots of extra arms to hold the baby, I no longer felt like a nervous wreck.

I started to become more confident in my mothering skills, and something slowly shifted. I will never forget the day when my son looked into my eyes and instead of giving his signature side eye, he just nuzzled his face into my arms, as if declaring, “You got this! You’re my mom!”

After two months of being cared for, I finally felt strong enough to head back to Atlanta, where my baby boy and I moved into a new apartment. There, we got into our own rhythm: a well-coordinated dance of early morning bottles, diaper changes and naps. My mom, the Jamaican baby whisperer, had somehow sleep trained my son, so now that I was no longer in zombie mode, I had some time to think. I realized that I needed to redefine what motherhood would look like for me.

“He was in awe of my rapping skills and jammed right along with me in his car seat.”

Letting go and falling in love

I started by unfollowing all those mommy bloggers who always looked so perfect on social media. And then, the hard part: I had to let go of how I’d dreamt it should have been: My parenting journey would not be shared with the love of my life ― there would be no Team Moms.

Then, I focused on the good.

I felt blessed to have the type of friends and family that creates a circle of love and protection around a new mom and her child.

The post-side-eye period
The post-side-eye period

And my son’s face now lit up every time I walked into the room. We shared the same cheeky humour, and this kid seemed to be amused by all my antics. He went with the flow when he discovered his mom was a wannabe rapper. In fact, he was in awe of my rapping skills and jammed right along with me in his car seat.

I couldn’t get enough of my son’s baby scent and his gummy smile. At nights I sometimes kidnapped him from his crib, so we could snuggle together. We had finally made a silent pact to say, “Hey, I choose you, and I love you.”

We were loved. We had each other. And we were a family.

It wasn’t how I’d imagined, but that was OK. It was a different kind of beautiful. Messy at times, but still beautiful.

Trey and Kai, bonding!
Trey and Kai, bonding!

Trey’s upcoming book, "Black Girl In Love (With Herself)," is available for pre-order here.