Oh, but there it is. The agony and the ecstasy of being able to carry new life within your body and then, also, nurture new life with that same body. It’s incredible.
It’s also so hard.
Pregnancy has been, for me at least, a 10 month mental and physical endurance event with a very clearly marked finish line.
If only I can make it to d-day. Just wait till this baby comes out and I can sleep on my stomach again. I can’t wait to burn all my maternity jeans.
And so on.
There’s kind of a never ending list of “can’t waits,” built up in my mind, but the crazy thing is that at no point does life ever, ever actuallygo back to the way things were, pre baby.
Every baby changes you into a completely new mother. Whether you carry that baby to term or say goodbye too early.
(And before we go any further in this meditation on vanity and temporal suffering, let me all caps this for you NOT CURRENTLY PREGNANT)
I’ll be 33 years old tomorrow. And I’ve had 4 children in 5 years. My body does not look – nor will it ever again look – like it did when it, when I, was 27. Oddly enough, however, I recall being very certain that I was a little on the fat side about 6 years and 40 pounds ago.
C’est la vie, amiright?
My sisters and I were remarking to one another a week or so ago that, actually, right now, even this fluffy juncture in time, at 12 months and 12 months and 4 months postpartum, respectively, will one day in the not-too-distant future be a “before” shot we will look back upon with fondness.
What is my point?
I don’t know. I do tend to get awfully introspective around the holidays. And I haven’t slept in 4 days, to be honest. Because children. And while I wouldn’t trade them for all the world, I never could have envisioned how all-consuming motherhood would be. How my heart would swell and break and it would be painful, every single day, to see the ways I fall short in loving them and meeting their needs.
I never could have predicted that a tiny 5-year-old male version of myself could make me so angry and so proud, by turns. That I’d feel such fierce annoyance with a 3-year-old for being, well, a three year old. And that more nights than I’d like to admit, I crawl sheepishly into his toddler bed after he’s asleep and stroke his soft hair, whispering apologies and prayers and vowing to start over again in the morning. I would never have thought myself capable of engaging in verbal fisticuffs with a 2-year-old. And I definitely couldn’t have foreseen the incredible emotional tug of war that is breastfeeding, or the feeing of existential dread one might experience when confronted with the cries of a 4-month-old at 3 am, just 90 minutes after the last feeding.
I am not one of those lucky ladies who lactate and lose weight. I am in the (perhaps statistically significant, according to a casual Instagram survey?) pool of mammalian mothers who hold onto baby weight for dear life while nursing.
At least until solids come on the scene at month six.
Even then, I’m never back in my “normal” jeans before baby blows out that first candle. And by then I look so good that there’s a younger sibling on the way.
It’s an immense blessing to be the mother to these children, and to be married to a man who loves them and wants them, too. I pray that I never forget that, and that gratitude for the incredible gifts inherent to my vocation overshadows every other emotion I process on a daily basis.
It’s also very, very hard. Particularly living in a contraceptive and intensely materialistic and perfectionistic culture.
And I cannot blame the culture. I am a part of the culture, and a product of the culture, to a certain extent.
I’m not using contraceptives, but I contracept in my heart when I recoil in fear at the thought of another pregnancy in the future, all the hard-won effort at the gym and all the restored self-image dashed upon the alter of another 12-24 months of gestation and lactation.
I’m not choosing nicer cars and a house of our own over the 4 precious lives entrusted to us in rapid succession, but I do cast an envious eye over my neighbor’s brand-new Suburban and her 5 bedroom house. I would choose my kids over an HOA if I had to make the call, but I still pine for quartz counter tops and dark hardwood floors and a mudroom designed by Joanna Gaines.
What am I saying? I guess that I’m still working on the concept of acceptance with joy.
That as beautiful as my life is, for as reckless and foolish as we look in the eyes of the world, sometimes I feel that way in my own eyes, too.
Sometimes I look at my crew of kids rolling deep in the double cart at Costco and I see myself through the eyes of a stranger, stretched out Old Navy activewear doing absolutely nothing for me and not enough makeup to hide the bags from sleepless nights and I wonder if it is worth it.
I know with all my heart it’s worth it on an intellectual level. But overweight and sleep deprivation do funny things to a person, and there are definitely dark-night-of-the-soul moments in this vocation when I see the mess I feel I must look, and I want to reach out and grab myself by the shoulder and say “you don’t have to do this.”
And it’s true. I don’t.
And I make a hundred little choices every day that range along the spectrum from graceful surrender to stubborn rejection.
It’s a refining process. And it’s gradual and it’s painful and it’s – please God – effective. But not all at once.
Time marches on, ravaging us all. I am perhaps just coming to grips with it a decade or three sooner than I might otherwise, were we making other choices with our bodies and with our hearts.
But my God, the struggle in the accepting of it.
Maybe a mother grows continuously alongside her children. Maybe, over the lifespan of the enormous task of forming and raising human beings, I myself will become molded and chiseled into something more significant. And dare I say, more beautiful?
I’m thinking Mother Teresa here, though I sound like Mommy Dearest. But then, I’m just getting started with this work still. There’s time for me yet.