Mother’s Day means different things to different moms.
For me, it is often a reflection on the act of childbirth itself, on that most profound physical journey that changed me permanently.
And at times I think of my children’s births as metaphors for the journey we women take throughout our mothering years.
It is a transformative event, one in which we ourselves become reborn into something new.
It is that huge transition from living life only for yourself, into molding one that has at its center your child.
I used to work as a doula at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill so I’ve seen a lot of births. My job was to be on call for any pregnant woman on the floor who needed support, emotionally and physically. The job description was to offer comfort measures during the entire labor and delivery, to never leave the mother’s side.
Statistics show that just having another person present at a birth shortens the mother’s labor significantly and lessens the need for intervention.
Just another presence.
And it was such a rewarding job in so many ways. Assisting women who essentially have no support person to be with them, to help them during this marathon ordeal, witnessing their courage and determination, it was incredibly inspiring.
And I came away from the whole experience with a huge respect for women’s bodies – the way they work to birth the baby, their endurance and flexibility, their huge capacity for pain.
And also for the emotional bravery that women can show in handling it when they are all alone.
But in all honesty, it’s a pretty basic process.
Yes, there are occasionally complications – high blood pressure, baby failing to descend, breech position, ineffective contractions, etc, cesarean sections.
But most of the time it’s a predictable line that progresses between A and B. A curvy, winding, excruciating and seemingly endless line, but a line nonetheless.
Most every birth follows a very similar trajectory.
And many women I worked with blossomed with confidence and surprise in what their bodies were capable of as they traversed that unfamiliar road. Who knew they held such power?
And I always hoped that their newly fledged confidence would continue and grow long after they left the hospital. I hoped that they would build on it as the baby matured and the real parenting began.
Because the harder times to come demand so much more determination and endurance than labor and delivery.
I knew that what lay ahead held pain that could be just as jagged.
The frustration and fear just as fierce.
The questions and uncertainty of where the whole endeavor is taking you – it was all down the road.
But as a new mom of course we savor the newness of it, and it feels like time stands still, we’re in a snow globe of fresh delight.
But over time we recognize that motherhood is also a reckoning with loss, of letting go, of knowing that a particular moment in time might be the last of its kind.
The last time I nursed my baby.
The last time my toddler lay next to me as I read to him before bed.
The last time I walked him to school.
The last time he held onto my legs and I was the first one to break away.
The last time he called me from a party to tell me he was spending the night, not to worry.
The last time he sought my opinion before anyone else’s.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but each of those moments were finite, with an origin, a middle and an end. And I could never know when that little chapter would be the last one.
And like the act of childbirth, this motherhood gig is a process that flows along a winding line from A to B too.
We don’t want to think too hard about the fact, but we have only a set amount of time with our babies.
They grow up, they leave home, the get married, my God, they have their own babies,
But even though there are these losses, there are some new configurations, new beginnings, as well. For me next month my little family is getting a little bigger, I will suddenly have a new son, as it were.
Life goes on.
But once you become a mom, you are thrust upon a road that bends and curves and seems to stretch out infinitely before us, but it doesn’t.
That is just a necessary illusion that helps us come to terms with the fact that we won’t be moms forever, even though their little bodies have carved out permanent spaces in our own:
We will continue to sleep with one ear tuned to the ring of the cellphone in the middle of the night.
Our heads will cock and ears prick when we hear a child call for its mom in the grocery store.
When we sit on the couch with a book there will always be a crook where a little one can fit.
And when we see the war-torn countries with children being killed and mothers suffering we will cry, ashamed.
Our tears are the tracks laid down for all of humanity, a suffering and loss that we mothers bear together.
Because to experience labor is to know the beginning and also the ending.
We know that these are well-worn paths that each of us must hike, where our own mothers have gone on ahead.
And still our task is to continue to nurture and care with our whole hearts and bodies for as long as we are here on this earth. From the start, through the middle and right up until the end.
And when it is our time (the big question as in labor) we must breathe deeply and let our bodies do their work, keep pace faithfully on this journey that is at once terrifying and unknown.
But over time there’s this funny thing – we begin to sense a comforting symmetry to the births we experienced so many years ago.
And as our hands were held and spirits uplifted back then during childbirth, may we also be served (when the time comes) by the doulas and caregivers beside us, maybe our own children.
Maybe they will guide us lovingly and confidently from this point on our trip to the next.
Just a presence.
Just a hand to hold.
From A to B – what a thought for a Mother’s Day, huh?
3 thoughts on “Motherhood A To B”
What a mother you have been and continue to be. Lovely.
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This is a beautiful ode to mothers. I visited a young couple today for lunch. They have a newborn son, Owen. Much of what you wrote connected with conversation I had with this new mother. I am sending your piece on to her. Final word: You are a marvelous mother. If I were a son in search of a mother, I would find you!
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Oh Lordy. This precious and eternal journey you describe is truly central to being a woman even one like me. I really cherish to line “we’re in a snow globe of fresh delight”. That really caught me up short and I cried through the rest of it. I also wrote a few paragraphs about what unlocked for me while reading it. If you ever doubt your ability to write well, just think of me!
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