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‘Unconventional’ reactions to becoming a farm mom

Courtesy of Captured Blessings Photography Wade and Shelby Watson-Hampton
COMING IN SEPTEMBER: Harvest season is the busiest time of year for Shelby Watson-Hampton and her husband, Wade, but this season will be like no other. A baby is on the way.
Harvest season this year will come with lots more responsibility — and joy.

The only way this story can start is to describe the two best and unexpected reactions I received when revealing that my husband and I — who had previously made it known that we actually might never have kids — are now expecting a baby. 

We waited the prerequisite eight weeks before telling anyone — even my best girlfriends — until we were sure things were good.

After visiting our parents’ houses that evening — and yes, they were all shocked and very excited — I headed up the hill to the farmhouse to tell my grandma. 

She was setting the table for dinner, and we said hello and hugged. Then I told her I had found a picture I wanted to show her. 

I turned away, pulled the three-photo collage strip of the ultrasound out of my purse, stretched it across my belly and then turned back toward her. Excited, I waited for what I was sure would be her overjoyed reaction, considering that on the previous Mother’s Day when I wished her salutations, she had responded with a sassy and pointed, “I wish I could say the same for you.”  

I turned around and grinned at her. She looked down at the sonogram, looked up at me dead in the eyes and said, stone cold, “You’re lying, and that’s not yours.” 

I sputtered a surprised laugh. “Gram. I swear it’s mine. I’m pregnant.”

“No, you’re not,” she replied, “and that’s not a funny joke. I know you; no way you’re having a baby.”

The look on her face was one that could have frozen a pond. In a family known for practical jokes, she really thought I was trying to pull one over on her now. 

I put my hands on her shoulders, looked her straight in the eyes and said, “You’re right, Gram, you do know me, so you also know I would never joke about this. It’s real. I swear.” 

My words hung there for a moment between us … and then she busted out laughing. 

“Whooo, I can’t believe it,” she hollered as she flung the dish towel up in celebration. “I had given up hope on you!”

She then proceeded to do a little dance of joy around the kitchen as I, bemused, processed the entire interaction. 

The second-best response came the next morning. I had called a few of my closest girlfriends to tell them the news, and one of them relayed the announcement to her own two daughters — ages 5 and 7 — at the breakfast table. 

“Guess what girls? Aunt Shelby is going to have a baby! Isn’t that exciting?” she said as they dug into their waffles. The younger one paused, looked up at her mother and said, “Well, that’s cool. I guess everyone is just going to the sperm bank these days!” 

Most people assumed that we weren’t going to have any children, and for a long time that assumption was correct. 

Let me tell you a few reasons why. 

We both come from large, fun, slightly crazy, extended families. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and third cousins abound. We’re all overly involved in each other's lives, sharing joys, challenges, burdens and successes. We have a family already. We didn’t need to “start one,” as people kept telling us. I always found that vaguely offensive.  

We were very aware of all the money, time, effort, sleepless nights and stress that being a parent entails. I am “Aunt Shelby'' to no less than two dozen children of various cousins, friends and my actual siblings, and I’ve seen the stresses of parenthood.

I’ve always ascertained that the mothers in my sphere deserve a medal for raising their kids while (mostly) keeping their sanity, as well as their marriages and careers, intact. 

Speaking of careers, my husband and I have careers that we have carefully cultivated. I’m the director of a nonprofit regional agricultural entity that works with hundreds of farmers; he’s a farm planner with our county soil conservation district. Additionally, we both work in our family farm business, so we’re both doing two full-time jobs. I didn’t want to give any of that up for a baby. 

There was also a bigger lingering reason. We lost my older brother when he was 28. I was 18, and our youngest sibling was 16. Weathering that loss and watching my parents survive it has been an ongoing seminal event in my life. Unless you’ve experienced the traumatic loss of a child or sibling, I cannot describe it to you. It changes you, and it affects everything.

I wasn’t ready to be a parent when the loss of a child is a possibility in this unpredictable world we live in. 

I’ve had other concerns about bringing a child into the world: cost of child care, lack of maternity leave, the need for a dual income, the stress of being a working mother, a global pandemic, the state of politics and utter vileness apparent in the news these days — school shootings, racial tension, global warming and the list goes on. 

So, for a long time, my husband and I didn’t have children by choice, and we loved every minute of it. 

During it all, we heard the comments from family, friends, co-workers, even from random strangers at agricultural conferences.

“So, why don’t you have kids yet?”

“You need to have kids now, or you’ll regret not doing it later.”

“If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never do it.”

So, what changed? Well, in short, COVID-19 hit, and the whole world changed. 

No more travel for work or fun. No more late nights at the office, or attending conferences, workshops or meetings.  

My husband and I were at home, eating dinner together almost every night for the first time in our marriage. We were able to take a breath, slow down and refocus. We had time to reconnect, to plant a garden, to cook and to look at the future, instead of just focusing on the daily grind. 

Now that we’re older and have accomplished some things in our lives, the one thing we had not done began to weigh on us a little harder. 

After giving it some thought, doing some research and getting a little therapy for me, we decided to see what might happen. Our reasoning was, if we make ourselves open to the possibility, then God and the universe will decide. Either we would get pregnant and have a baby, or we wouldn't.

I yielded the decision to the higher power. 

Eight months later, I walked out of the bathroom holding a stick with two pink lines. I looked at my husband and said, “So ... we did a thing.” 

He looked at me and said, “Really? Oh wow. OK. Are you OK?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m OK,” I said. “Are you OK?” 

He grinned, “Yeah, I’m OK.”

We embraced and tenderly held onto that moment and each other. 

Then he pulled back and locked eyes with me. I could feel it before he said it; he’d done the math. At the same time we both said it: “Harvest.”

Yep. Nine months will be mid-September, right in the middle of harvest. The busiest time of the farm year.

“Well,” I said, “God and the universe apparently have a sense of humor. Looks like we’ll be harvesting grapes and a baby this year!”

I want every farm couple and every woman — married or single — to know this: No matter what your chosen family looks like — you and a bunch of cousins, you and your spouse and the dog, you and your foster kids, you and your closest friends — it is a legitimate family, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

That being said, I’ll catch you after the baby arrives, when, according to everyone, I will be a sleep-deprived zombie.

Watson-Hampton farms with her family on their fourth-generation family farm in Brandywine, Md.

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