Let's get real about the responsibility of motherhood.
Updated: Apr 5, 2022
I’ve been pretty quiet over here, since launching the new private practice in late February.
There are reasons for that. Covid recovery. Random concussion. Kid colds and too many days home from school. There’s my “other job" as a school nurse, where the teachers were striking (I LOVE teachers and they should each get a couple million $ right now in my opinion). There’s the ceaseless work of being Mom and holding down the business of our family life.
Admittedly, there’s also my private nature, which has only become more pronounced these past two years. I really pared down on my social media sharing during Covid, for reasons I don’t quite understand yet. I do know that life is full enough as it is, and given how much my digital consumption has increased in the past ten years or so, I just got fried after awhile.
Stepping into the spotlight is significantly out of my comfort zone, but I’m here for it. My voice might shake a little sometimes, but I have a lot to share with you all.
My older son turned 11 a couple weeks ago. It’s amazing to me how much has happened in those years. Sometimes I look back and try to remember what life was like “before kids,” as I’m sure many parents do.
There’s so much I am grateful for, and there’s so much I would do differently, looking back. I don’t love the idea of “no regrets,” that’s a bunch of boloney in the real world. I wish I had been more patient, more present when they were little. I wish I had been more prepared for the massive amount of emotional work that this would take. Our kids show up, and they essentially hand us a mirror, saying “where and what and how do you need to heal yourself?” And while I cannot imagine it any other way, once they arrive there is no turning back. The sense of responsibility is more than I ever imagined.
This morning on my walk, I had a flashback to 11 years ago. Two days after my firstborn arrived, I was already fraying around the edges. He was nursing constantly, my nipples were cracked and painful, and I couldn’t sit down without using one of those inflatable donut cushions on my bruised and battered booty. I was already in survival mode—minimal sleep (deal with it), physical pain (deal with it), emotional overwhelm (no time to process, just be grateful you have a healthy baby). Don’t get me wrong…I was also resourced in ways that so many new mothers are not—food and housing secure, support from family and friends, two midwives who guided me through a difficult but profoundly rewarding home birth, and a husband who was present, calm and attaching deeply to our newborn son.
I had been through the physical rite of passage into motherhood.
I just didn’t know that what I needed next, was exactly what would unfold around day three postpartum.
My very wise mother-in-law, who had been there through it all, noticed my subtle panic and took over the baby for a few hours on the second night. She basically had to pry him out of my arms and order me to bed, where I finally got my first few consecutive hours of sleep since the birth. The next morning, after nursing my son and handing him off to his Dad, I went into the guest room to thank my son's grandmother for her support.
Lay down, she said, offering to do some of her signature craniosacral energetic work on me.
I laid on the big bed and she put her healing hands on my head. Within a minute or two, big salty tears were rolling down my face.
The old me is dying, I said.
I will never walk through the world again and not be a mother to this child, and my love for him is frightening.
The joy and the burden of that felt so immense, and I needed a witness.
I know, she said.
She did not say “it will be so great.”
She did not say “but you wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
There was no judgement, none of this: “Motherhood is going to be the best. Chin up! This is what you wanted. You are so lucky.”
This was probably the most powerful gift anyone gave to me after the birth of my son, and upon my initiation into this new and foreign role.
I did not grow up in a multi-generational household, witnessing the transformation from maiden to mother. Most of us in this culture do not. We aren’t well prepared for the intensity of this passage into having families of our own. Pregnancy is peppered with rose-colored impressions of “how it’s all going to look.” We are fooled by TV shows, movies, capitalist ploys of “buy this and it will all be so perfect.” We are so focused on the birth that we neglect to highlight the glaring fact that this baby will be completely dependent upon us from day one, and for ALL the days, months and years to come.
When it boils down to it, that baby is born and now we are eternally blessed and cursed with the feeling of wearing our hearts forever on our sleeves.
It’s a lot to digest.
I guess my point is this: let’s give new mothers and parents the space to grieve the lives they are leaving behind. Let’s not shame and judge them when they shed tears over the immensity of the responsibility. I do believe that given the chance to feel the grief, as I did that day, we are fulfilling a need that, if left unfulfilled, will likely come back to haunt us.
I do think it’s true that we are always all the ages we have ever been.
But there is a distinct and powerful passage we take when that first baby is born (I imagine there are ways for similarly crossing that bridge without having children, and I'm curious to hear what those are). There is a letting go of the freedom of total self-determination, which can feel a little like the severing of a soul. There is a rearrangement of our spirits that cannot be taken lightly, in my opinion. When we bow our heads to it, maybe we create the space for new life to take root and grow.
With the birth of each new baby, a family is reborn again, leaving behind what was.
How do we want to welcome our children into the world? Hopefully by honoring what we are leaving behind and, sometimes even dubiously, embracing what will be.