You are addressing The Issue that almost nobody ever approaches.
Product vs. Process.
The basic difference is that "a photograph" is a sort of commodity, a material object, and, as such, passive. When you have made it, you can put it in a box.
You seem to be interested in something very different from that, and like what most interests me: photography as a verb, an active process, done without undue regard for what is going to result from the activity. How do you know what is going to result? Do you need to know, or is the activity a process of discovery?
The result, if "successful" might be regarded as a gift, or a surprise, and if really successful, maybe even a miracle.
Along the way, there will be a lot of what others may regard as "failures" but for the process worker, each of these represents something learned. There are no failures.
Good for you, Stephanie! You have revealed yourself as a traveller on the golden road. You are an alchemist!
I had a co-worker bring in an OM-1 with a lens and some misc. other stuff and asked me if I wanted it. He was going to throw it away in the lab if I didn't want it. The camera was like new and came with the instruction manual (in German). He is from Germany originally.
Salvation Army finds are great. I found an OM-1 mint with lens for $7. Also, Nikon L35. Olympus Mjiu. Canonet Ql-17 etc. though none were primary shooters but exceptional. As a new mother the only advice I can give to you is that "no matter how many photos you take it will not be enough." Another thing photographers are notorious for being poor evaluators of their work and pitiful analyzers. Its not the camera or film: It is the image.