When you’re first married, there’s a particular rush you associate with uttering the phrase “my husband” or “my wife.” It’s a stamp of ownership—a claim to something outside of yourself. “This person chose to spend the rest of his or her life with me,” that one phrase implies. “I belong to someone and they belong to me.” The symbol of your attachment typically flashes on your fourth finger, a warning sign for singles trolling in bars, an emblem of solidarity to other pairs browsing aisles of complicated Swedish handiwork at Ikea.
And then you become a parent and the entire lexicon of words in the possessive form widens. Suddenly, every other word has an accompanying apostrophe: “my baby’s chubby feet,” “my daughter’s Frozen-themed sleepover,” “my son’s habit of picking his nose at the dinner table.” It’s a rush far superior to that of marriage and partnership: it’s the mark of someone who physically created another human being, who willed them into existence with an ovulation chart, a cycle of IVF, a night of tequila shooters that ended in a little blue plus sign and nine months of a perma-hangover.
It’s a heady feeling, to speak those words for the first time. A couple days after our son was born, I overheard my husband telling a nurse at the hospital about Chase’s breastfeeding habits. “Our son is always doing this thing where he pops off after latching,” my husband explained, like it was the habit of a lifetime much longer than 48 hours. It was adorably catching; I found myself going out of my way to expound on my son’s features and qualities, to offhandedly inform perfect strangers in line at Starbucks that I was a mother, the authority on exactly one thing in the known world. I felt like the universe had given me a pat on the back: “You’re really a mom now. Go ahead and help yourself to all the new possessives you’d like.”
Now that I’m pregnant with my second, I find there’s an equally fulfilling thrill that accompanies the phrase, “my firstborn,” because it tells the world that I’m responsible for creating and nurturing more than one entire human life, even if I can’t keep a houseplant green longer than two weeks.
I find myself talking about “my first pregnancy,” and wearing it like a badge of honor because, if I had a first, surely that means I had a second or a third or a ninth. The possessives crop up more often in my vocabulary—I use them in mommy groups on Facebook when dispensing advice to someone struggling with sleep training, in the checkout line at the grocery store when I lock eyes with another mom trying to keep three kids from swiping chocolate off the lowest shelves, in the ER waiting room when I plead with the receptionist to please find someone to see “my baby.”
This new symbol of ownership isn’t a diamond-encrusted ring that cost three months’ salary, but a diaper bag loaded down with every conceivable item my baby might need in the next three months, an SUV strewn with Happy Meal debris, a slightly stooped look from years of nursing, doling out piggyback rides and racing matchbox cars on the floor. I spot another mom browsing the aisles of overpriced swaddle blankets at Babies R’ Us and, even if she’s not with her kids, I know she’s one of us—she’s got the marks to prove it.
I’m relatively new to this expanded vocabulary, so perhaps I’ll learn in time that the novelty wears off. Maybe the words become commonplace after they dull from frequent use; it seems logical that they don’t provide that same zing of excitement when you’re on the receiving end of my preschooler’s temper tantrum or my teenager’s repeated eye rolls. When I witness the way my parent’s eyes still light up when they talk about my sister and I though, I tend to think these little apostrophes are going to be a permanent fixture from here on out.
But you won’t hear me complaining; my old vocabulary felt like it was lacking something anyway.