“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”
― Donna Ball, At Home on Ladybug Farm
It’s been nearly 15 years since my first child burst from my loins. I believed, at that moment, at 6:48am on October 25, 2000, I was officially a mother. I had passed through the hallowed hallways into the secret passageway, through the magical door. I knew the password, had the special knock memorized and was allowed entry into this strange and foreign place. Foolishly, I believed, that 9 months of pregnancy, gallons of water retention, stretch marks, hemorrhoids, 15 hours of labor and an emergency c-section were the rites of passage required to officially the don the label of MOTHER.
I was young. I was drugged. I was naive. I was foolish. When they handed my first born child to me (after I awoke from my sedated state that mercifully was provided after not quite enough epidural and far too much pain during that sudden cesarean), I was madly in love. Never before had I experienced such pure and endless love. I had heard that some women instantly fall in love with their babies and I feared for months that I would be one of the mothers who stared into their child’s eyes but would not be able to summon that magical adoration. Thankfully, I fell into my baby’s trance and I was consumed with emotion, sobbing when they presented to him in the delivery room (probably a combination of delirium and exhaustion, at that point) and then stared endlessly at him once we were transported to our private sanctuary in the maternity ward. I didn’t want to put him down or let him go. My eyes were fixed on his tiny body, studying every element of his being and trying to connect his pieces to my own. I studied his face looking for my DNA, making sure that, in fact, this precious gem was actually mine to keep. It seemed almost too good to be true. How could I have been so fortunate to have been given this incredible gift? What had I done so right to be granted this state of euphoria that chemically could never be replicated? The world around us stopped and, for the 3 1/2 days that we were nestled away in my hospital bed, working through our introductions and getting all the formalities out of the way (he refused to breast feed; I had no idea how to handle that mutilated little penis; I feared I would break him by pulling his legs up too hard when I changed his diapers) it was all about us and falling in love. It was our own special honeymoon where we were waited on hand and foot and, occasionally, I would allow others to breathe in the special tonic that was created uniquely for me.
I went through the whole process again three years later and, while there was a little less drama in the delivery, the outcome was just the same. The second boy was a bit more accommodating and latched on immediately. He had me wrapped around his tiny, chubby little finger from his first howl. Unlike his older sibling, he acquiesced, nuzzling me and seemingly attempting to climb back into the womb until he was about 8 or 9 years old. He could not get close enough to his mama. Through all of this, despite how much I adored my boys and regardless of my commitment to love and support them through the days of their lives, I became increasingly aware that motherhood is not a one-step process. There is not a doorway that you pass through and, upon entry, you earn your stripes. Motherhood is a long, harrowing process that requires continued focus, passion and effort in order to achieve any level of mastery. You will be required to take tests, be re-certified (on a fairly regular basis) and, just when you think you have cracked the code, you will be reminded that you have not even scratched the surface of what you need to learn.
I never really wanted to be a mother. It was not on my bucket list of endeavors. Frankly, I never thought much about it one way or the other. I was far more focused on the elements of my life that I could grasp – education, career, maybe love. If it was not in my line of sight, it was really not on my mind. But then, after several years of marriage, that proverbial biological clock started to tick so loudly that it was deafening. Suddenly, everywhere I turned, my friends were having babies. And I would hold these babies and feel this warmth wash over me and I was left feeling empty when I had to return these bundles of joy to their respective mothers. I started finding myself envious of my exhausted and disheveled friends while I sat put-together and carefree. I was no longer interested in my easy life of going to work, going out to dinner, hopping in the car for a weekend getaway or vacations that required a few pairs of underwear (or maybe none at all!). There was no longer a question or debate about whether or not I wanted to have children. Now the conversation turned to when we would start a family. I feared, rightfully so, that I would have trouble conceiving and, I suppose, I might have been avoiding the hard truth by not seriously beginning my effort to become pregnant. Alas, after lots of intervention and a medical device resembling a turkey baster, baby number one arrived – despite the doctor’s admonitions that I should not get my hopes up for a pregnancy the first time around. Ha! He had no idea what an overachiever I am! Pregnancy number two was easy and came way faster than we had expected and ended far more horribly than we could have imagined. 5 weeks along, something was very wrong. My doctors assumed it was a miscarriage but I was certain it was worse. The pain was intolerable. Two emergency room visits later and I was in emergency surgery to deal with a ruptured fallopian tube that left me with just one that was blocked by scar tissue from the cesarean. I left the hospital a day later bewildered and depressed. No second baby and even more infertility. It was time to take this effort to the next level and so began the injections and every other day visits to the fertility clinic. We had thirteen fertilized embryos and two of them were gingerly placed into my uterus, in hopes that one (just one, please) would be welcomed into our world 9 months later. Laser focused on my goal, I was fortunate enough to see one little heartbeat 8 weeks later. Before we got the news that we had successfully conceived our second child, we had to make the decision whether or not we wanted to freeze the 11 remaining embryos as an insurance policy (or for our future family expansion). We were pretty confident that we were set with the two kids and, frankly, we were out of money. We had spent a fortune on the drugs and treatments and simply couldn’t bear another cent – and the cryogenics were not cheap. We rolled the dice and were blessed with our little test tube boy.
This morning, I sat with my husband and my two boys – who are now a long way from those pink 8 lb. bundles that I swaddled so tenderly so many years ago – and thought about the gift that I was given in the form of both of my children. They are each so different from the other and, yet, they are a perfect combination of my husband and me. Their wit and their determination are decidedly mine (although my husband will say the humor is all him). They are boys that I am proud of and, when I think about why I wanted to have children, it is for moments like today when I can look at their now adolescent faces and feel the sheer amazement that these people are a pure part of me. I work hard to be a good mother to my children and make every effort to create an environment for them to feel loved and secure. And, I set boundaries that are difficult and continue to grow as I make one mistake after another. I don’t compare myself to other mothers because that is a foolish endeavor. We are all different but we share one commonality. We all have that secret handshake knowing that we love our children more than ourselves. We would die for them. Regardless of how old they are or how difficult they might be, whether their skin is covered in acne or their hair has started to grey, we still see those tiny faces, all pink and chubby, and we remember that they are a part of us. And even for those whose children came to them from other mothers, that moment when your child becomes yours or calls you “mommy” or holds your hand or hugs you tight, you are whisked away to the island of motherhood. It is the hardest job we will ever have – one where there is no proper training to provide you with the skills you will need – and it is the most rewarding and gratifying experience you will ever have. No matter how difficult my life gets, no matter how many bumps I need to endure, my children always ground me and help me find reality. For, because of them, I am in a constant state of growth and evolution and will continue to strive to be a better person. I am a mother and, therefore, I am blessed.