Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8, 2011 ~ Day 150
Mother's Day

With the exception of a few years in early high school when motherhood didn't sound like a 'cool' enough long-term plan, I have always wanted to be a mother. As a small child I played "school", "office" and "family" with my stuffed animals and dolls ~ and while there was rarely a daddy doll attending the many tea parties in my room, there were always lots of baby rabbits and bears for me to take care of.

I didn't give much thought to what my actual day-to-day life would be like with kids. I just knew that I wanted them, at least three and maybe as many as five. I grew up in a family with five children so that number seemed attainable (before I actually had kids, hahaha).

It probably sounds irresponsible or thoughtless, but I didn't ever give much thought to whether the guys I dated in my late teens and early to mid-twenties would be good prospective fathers. I figured that there was no way to know whether or not a guy was going to be a good or devoted dad until he actually had kids; and my view was that the most important thing was to find a life partner that I really connected with... where there was a strong love and bond. Someone who also wanted kids. Together, I reasoned, we'd figure the rest out.

When I fell in love with my now-husband, I had never once watched him in a situation with small children. In fact, I don't think I ever saw him hold a baby until we were already pregnant with our first son. I literally had no idea whether or not he would be a good father.

There were many times when I would come home to our house at night and find his car keys still stuck in our front door while he was in bed sleeping, or the gas stove still burning brightly with him out in the yard gardening, when I seriously questioned if he might become the kind of father that accidentally forgot his child strapped into the safety seat of the car while he went to work.

My husband is a genius, literally, and so it isn't that he means to do things like that... it's merely that he was so busy thinking of something complex and esoteric in his mind, he didn't notice the minutia of the key or the flame.

However something really profound shifted in my husband when he learned that he was going to be a father. I watched it happen, and it took place seemingly overnight. One day he was wide-eyed and overwhelmed, like me, to learn that we were going to become parents... and the next day, he was a new man. He'd made the mental and emotional leap right away into his new role and threw himself into fatherhood with devotion and gusto. He really rose to the occasion and knocked my socks off with his excellence.

My husband is a fun, delighted, adoring dad. He works hard at his two jobs and we miss him so much when he is gone, but when he is around and able to spend time with the kids he is just about the most magnificent parent you could wish to see. He is fun, cheerful, handy, playful and loving. He's the kind of guy that will take the kids out to build a reverse osmosis water system from scratch, teach them how to plant sunflower seeds in a planter box, take them on a long bike ride and cook them a homemade dinner. He takes pride and pleasure in being a father. I would say that deep down, fatherhood is easily the most important thing to him.

All this, and he has never yet left a baby in the car. I love you, honey.

* * * * *

For me, on the other hand, parenthood really did not unfold the way I'd always expected it to.

I thought I would be a good mother, a natural mother from the get-go. I had wanted to experience pregnancy and motherhood for a long time, always hoping that I would become a mother before I turned 34 (the age when all of the "high risk" statistics seemed to go up for pregnancy).

I am so type-A though... such a planner. When we found out unexpectedly that we were pregnant, it really knocked me for a loop. I'd only just gotten my engagement ring sized by the jewelers, had only begun to look at beautiful wedding dresses and wedding catalogues for our upcoming Summer wedding.

"How am I going to wear this size four dress next Summer?" I moaned. "I'll be giving birth!"

This was actually a literal fact... in a spiritual coincidence of incredible timing, the OB told us on our first prenatal visit that our son was due to be born on July 9... the exact date we had already chosen for our Summer wedding.

It became obvious to us very quickly that we'd rather get married sooner than later. As a teacher of 7th grade students, I wanted to set a good example for my class. I didn't want them to look up at me and think to themselves, "See, I don't need a life partner to be a parent, I can have a baby on my own!" because those young girls at the age of twelve and thirteen were just beginning to enter the zone of sexual decision making. I didn't want to become their validation for becoming sexually active too young.

My body was also changing rapidly, much moreso than I had been led to believe would happen.

I'd been told that most women didn't begin to "show" in their pregnancies until they were at least 5 months along. I, on the other hand, began to gain weight rapidly. Shopping for a wedding dress became a total nightmare, as my body was already out of proportion to all of the dresses I tried on. The bust was too big and the belly too small on many outfits, thanks to my expanding hips and abdomen.

Vividly I remember bawling in a Macy's dressing room, as I tried on the tenth or twelfth dress of that store, unable to zip it up. I had always been petite - a size 2 or 4 - and now had trouble fitting correctly into a size 10.

Hormones had also begun to jump violently out of whack, and my usually calm and upbeat attitude seemed to have been hijacked by some pregnancy beast. Out of nowhere I would cry - at everything; Billboards, Hallmark cards, television shows, looking at old photographs, even just thinking about my work. I cried all of the time.

I wonder how many brides are reeling from morning-sickness as they cheerfully smile and say 'I do!' My husband, bless his heart, wept tears of joy as he made his solemn vows to me in front of our best friends/witnesses. I, with my heart full of love, had to excuse myself from the wedding brunch after the ceremony to go and throw up.

I have never had a single day as a wife that I was not also a mother, then, and there is no question about the fact that parenthood has shaped everything about our lives as a married couple. Most of our married friends went on honeymoons... we gave up our honeymoon and bought a "baby car" that would safely hold a carseat instead. It's been like that all the way through.

At our big formal reception party held many months later when I was seven months pregnant, I avoided photographers as much as I could. I never dreamed of being a huge, ungainly bride with arms the size of small tree trunks. And while I loved every second of having our friends together there to celebrate our love, it was also really humiliating for me to stand on stage so extremely pregnant in front of all of 175 people - many of whom were seeing us as man and wife for the first time, since they'd flown in from out of town or were friends of our parents.

I made an easy punchline for "knocked up" jokes.

Throughout all of the transitions we went through that year, there were two constants. First, I adored my husband and felt like the luckiest girl in the world that he loved me and had asked me to marry him two months *before* we fell pregnant.

Second, I could not WAIT to meet my baby. I was so excited! I could not wait to experience the intense love and closeness that I'd heard would happen as soon as we met face to face. I loved him already! I sang to him all day long, every day. I read bedtime stories to my huge belly. I just knew that as soon as I actually had him safely out from 'under cover', everything was going to be perfect.

Some women are born with bodies built perfectly for making babies. They can literally drop a baby out in the middle of a field while harvesting a crop, and keep on working. They get their natural shape back in weeks. They amaze the world with the incredible way in which they unite motherhood with the rest of their persona.

As it turned out - and much to my dismay - I was not one of those women.

Our arduous labor lasted for nearly three full days. I endured sixty hours of incredible, outrageous pain engulfing my body every three to five minutes. I honestly didn't know a human body could DO that. I'd never heard of that kind of labor before... where your body is trying intensely to push a baby out but the cervix simply won't open. Somewhere around hour forty with no sleep and no breaks from contractions, I lost my mind and everything became a blur.

By the time I met my sweet son, he had been stuck in the birth canal for days. His head was long and cone-shaped, with a large red blood blister at its top (hematoma). He looked like a small red alien.

He cried. (My darling I adore you but it's true.) He cried all of the time, day and night. He cried until I thought his little wails would rupture a hole right in my heart. He cried whether I walked with him, held him, rocked him, or sang to him. He was a very sensitive baby.

I cried. I cried all of the time, thanks to feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm, and frustration.

I looked at my husband with his perfect thin body and easy, gentle way with our baby and felt truly jealous. My hormones were off the wall. I felt shocked that my own body and emotions had gone through nearly ten months of intense change and yet he seemed just the same, just as wonderful as ever - but now WITH a baby. I'd temporarily lost all sense of rationality and resented my husband for his seeming perfection.

I remember writing in my journal, a few weeks after my son was born, that I felt like a train had ripped right into our lives and my body, like I'd been struck down and didn't know how to pull myself back up and keep going. The problem wasn't the baby. I LOVEDLOVEDLOVED the baby. The problem was me. Somewhere along the way, I'd lost myself.

Becoming a mother changed me more than anything else ever has, or ever will.

It humbled me, rather vigorously. It took me from feeling like a hotshot on top of the world (my husband and I, a power couple, traveling and loving and sleeping in late... with outstanding career success and happiness) down to the very lowest part of myself where I had to look at all that was dark and ugly in me.

I, the Ivy League-type graduate, watched in wonder in the restroom of stores like Babies R'Us as girls ten years younger than me changed their babies's diapers with ease and laughter, making the whole incredible process of stroller-in and stroller-out and fumbling in the diaper bag for wipes and baggies and toys look so easy... while I bounced my howling son on my hip and held back my own tears.

I had always been an A+ student before. To my surprise, I entered motherhood at a solid D+ level, and slowly slowly slowly began to work my way toward passing.

Yesterday in this blog I wrote about having the courage to keep going, even when times are hard. "Giving up is the chicken way out," as my mother says. I'm glad to say that I never once tried to give up on myself as a mother, despite how obviously unfit I was in the beginning for my new role.

Years later a close friend would say to me about motherhood, "This ain't a job for punks!" I loved her for sharing that bit of spunk and wisdom, and for sharing that she too struggled with what it means to be a great mother.

Nearly six years have now passed since the day I kissed my son's precious small face for the first time, and to this very moment I am still working as hard as I can to get up to par as a mom. I haven't yet managed to live up to my expectations for myself, but I have improved a lot and I am very proud of that fact.

With three children now, ages nearly-6, nearly-4 and nearly-2, I've had a lot more practice and experience. I've read a lot more parenting books. I've learned great mothering skills and philosophies by watching many of my close friends (the 'natural mothers') in action. We've gone to see the play therapist and are working hard on modifying our own parenting strategies. Our kids are by and large thriving.

The hard work is paying off.

If someone were to ask me today, on my sixth official celebration of Mother's Day, what motherhood has meant to me - I would say that it's pretty simple. Nothing I ever did in my entire life before having children will ever matter as much as the mere existence of these three kids. I have never loved ~ and will never love ~ any human being more than I love them. I would do anything for them, sacrifice anything for them, become anything for them.

They are the flesh of my flesh, the blood of my blood. They change and shape me every day, just as much as I change and shape them. They are the teachers who have come into my life, like small angelic guides, to challenge my assumptions about the world and shake me into a new and deeper comprehension. They are my connectors to the life force. They are three distinct, vivid, incredible beings with endless potential.

Of all the mistakes I have made in my life, of all of the wrong turns I have taken, I have never regretted for a single moment becoming a mother. I know I never will.

On this Mother's Day then, when my adorable rapscallions woke me up with a homemade breakfast omelette and bacon (sweetly cooked by their daddy) and covered me with cards and kisses, I am a different woman than I was seven years ago... more patient, more grounded, more real... definitely more compassionate. (More gray hairs, more wrinkles, still sleep-deprived.)

I am honestly a better woman for having children. My darlings, I thank you with all of my heart for that enduring gift, and for all that you give to me every day. I love you each so much!

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