A column about how emptying yourself as a mother can become a fulfilling lifestyle. The adage that mothers continually give, give, give is nothing new. If you’re at the entrance of motherhood this universal is right at the forefront…at 2 am, when your nipples are bleeding from breastfeeding. Or at 8 pm when you have to leave everything early because it’s bedtime, of course.
I truly view Gabriel’s birth as my own birth as well—the birth of a mother. I strongly believe that life begins at conception, and so I know I had been a mother for nine months already, but birthing my son brought something out of me that wasn’t there before. I also view Gabriel’s first 12 weeks of life as my “chrysalis” stage, if you will. I felt cocooned into myself, separated from the world, and cut off from the person I used to be, as I attempted to transform into a mother and, in the process, die to my old self. (This sounds very dramatic, I know…but please bear with the illustration). I emerged, not a perfect butterfly mother, but a mother nonetheless. One willing to give of myself. One willing to find joy in giving, and thus embrace the gift of giving. One of my favorite quotes about mothers is from Tenneva Jordan: “A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.” To me, it’s such a funny and practical illustration of what I want to be—not fulfilled by eating the pie (and I do LOVE pie, and would have a hard time denying it), but fulfilled by watching my family enjoy eating the pie.
One of my biggest fears about motherhood is not what I’ll do wrong to my kids, but what I’ll do wrong with my heart. I fear the bitterness and resentment that I see overcome attitudes in moms—something that will harm me, my husband and my kids. I fear the temptations to say “You don’t know how hard it is to be a mom,” or “I never get a break as a mom,” or “why do you always need, need, need.” These feelings are embarrassing to even admit. Especially when I am rewarded with the love of my son, that smile when I treat him to something special, the unexpected (though snotty) kisses I get on my nose, and the way his arms reach out to me when I pick him up from childcare.
These things and more make it all worth it. They fill me with more joy than my petty, selfish complaints. They give me a fresher outlook than my inward focused one. They give me more energy than my self-pity.
The gift of giving becomes fulfilling when we ponder all things motherhood in our hearts. During this time of year I am reminded of the nativity story, and how Mary rode on a donkey at 9 months pregnant, was denied even a private bed and room for birthing, labored and birthed in a stable surrounded by the smell of manure, and wrapped her newborn in strips of cloth (go mama, right?). Their only visitors were shepherds (again with the manure). What does it say at the end of this humble story (which I doubt went according to her birth plan)? Mary pondered all these things in her heart. Not just when the heating blankets arrived, or the sitz bath, or lactation consultant (because she probably had none of these things). She pondered the treasure and gift she had been given.
I was surprised when I looked up the verb “to ponder.” These days, it means “to consider something deeply and thoroughly,” but I like the archaic meaning, “to estimate the worth of, to appraise.”
This holiday season, I am encouraged to ponder the worth of motherhood, to appraise how it can satisfy me when I sacrificially give. It is a priceless gift. This may not make the days less hard, but it will certainly make them more worthwhile.