I am almost always with my kids. We are together. All. The. Time. Home business, homeschooling, homebody. We rarely go our separate ways. I like it like that.
But sometimes I crave a little time alone. Pete recently took them both on a trip for a few days, allowing me a deep silence in which to reflect on how my sense-of-self has been shaped my motherhood.
How motherhood has changed me.
I have been a mother for most of a decade.
Looking back over the past 9-plus years since I became pregnant with my first child I am stunned by what I have discovered and learned so far. I have grown and evolved on account of motherhood more than at any other time in my life.
Even more amazing though is the vast abyss of "what I do not yet know" that lies before me.
The foundation of motherhood, perhaps, (aside from unconditional love) is embracing that gap in knowledge while we find gratitude for what we've learned so far.
And trusting that we'll find our way.
Really, we know so little, don't we? We can read and research and look at statistics and talk to other parents, but really becoming a parent is one big question mark. We learn as we go, making it up along the way. We're all on this ride together with no telling what comes next or where we'll end up.
So we hold tight to trust, lest we get mired in worry and miss all the fun.
When I was first pregnant there was much that I did know. I knew (and had since childhood) that I wanted to be a mother. I knew that I would someday have a daughter but that this one was going to be a boy. (I thought that Pete, who grew up without a father, needed a son first to be the dad he never had so I decided long before we had kids that we'd have a boy first. We did.)
I knew that I would parent from the heart rather than from the advice of a physician, book, or well-meaning family or friends. (I did not know how hard that would be at times.) I knew that I trusted myself more than I trusted western medicine and I was going to be a relentless questioner when it came to my child's care.
I knew that I wanted to raise my own kids, full-time. Day care and pre-school weren't in our plan. (Neither was school as it turns out.) We'd tighten our belts and cut our income nearly in half. One of us would stay home to raise our baby.
I knew I wanted a homebirth. I knew that my boy would remain intact (un-circumcised). I knew that I would nurse and maybe for a long time and he would sleep in our bed. ("Six months," said Pete. So we borrowed a crib for when he was bigger. We didn't know that almost a decade later we'd still co-sleep with one or both kids most nights.)
Yes. I knew some things that turned out to be true.
And yet, there was so much more that I did not know. There still is.
I didn't know what it would be like to be a mama.
Not at all. I knew there would be tears and giggles, diapers and nursing, bedtimes and early mornings. I knew that eventually there would be first smiles, first signs, first words, and first steps.
But I didn't know how different "mama" would be from "papa" in our world. I thought they were interchangeable. Mom. Dad. Same difference.
"50/50," I said.
From my career mind I rationalized that we'd each have our job during the day – I would stay home to be with Sage and Pete would go to work. But the rest of the week we'd be 50/50. Evenings. Bedtime. Nights. Days off.
But it didn't shake out that way.
I didn't know just how much of the parenting would fall to me. Sage, in his baby-way demanded it. And my heart told me to give him what he needed. I remember feeling tired. Resentful. Overwhelmed.
And while I remember being frustrated at not being able to take a shower or finish a meal without a baby fussing his way into in my arms, I also remember surrendering. Releasing the resistance I had to it and embracing – eventually – what was my new life.
What a gift that was to learn to let go and be present in what is.
Sage arrived into our life, born in the front doorway of our house in the middle of a sunny August afternoon, a few feet from a four-way stop.
I let the screen door close behind me as I turned back into the house and yelled "F************K!" louder than I had ever yelled before. I was standing there in my bathrobe, my foot on the coffee table, my backside to the street with the midwives and Pete around me in a semi-circle. We were heading to the hospital as our homebirth plan started to unravel but Sage was determined to be born at home.
There we stood – all four of us – the midwife's car idling outside, dumbfounded, staring at this baby who decided not to wait. (I'm so glad.)
I remember his wrinkled forhead, his focused, watchful eyes, and his powerful cry. I can see him perfectly in my mind – born twice the size I expected him to be, red faced and wet, gazing deep into me. The words "old soul" echoed in my head as he held my stare, the two of us still joined still by his umbilical cord.
Sage, aware of every nuance around him. Sage, with his hair-trigger startle reflex. Sage, with his stunning ability to shake the hell our of everything we thought we knew. Amazing. World-turned-upside-down kind of amazing.
Sage reminded us immediately of how very little we really knew.
He cried. A lot. (And so did I.) I was worried about everything and he felt my discord and let me know that he was worried too.
It was hard. Really hard.
I remember when Sage was two weeks old Pete and I looked at each other wild eyed and one of us whispered, "No one told us it was going to be like this. No one said it would be this hard." And then I think I cried. Again.
But it was. It was really unbelievably hard. I didn't know it would be like that.
I told my midwife some months later that we would never have another baby. That I didn't know if we could survive. She said she was sad that I would never have "the pleasure of an easy baby" and I remember thinking – did she just use "pleasure" and "baby" in the same sentence?
I didn't know how amazing it was going to be once we hit our groove.
I didn't know I would indeed do it again (on purpose) and yes, it would be a pleasure to have an easy baby. And I didn't know that the lessons that I had learned through the teacher of my truly not easy and highly sensitive baby would carry me through motherhood with a clarity I could not have found without that trying time.
That hardest time of my life shaped me into a better mother than I every could have been without it.
That struggle would be a bigger blessing in many ways than ease would have been. I didn't know.
Someone bought us a stroller as a baby shower gift. I would push the empty stroller around town with one hand, holding Sage in my arms after just a few moments of riding (and protesting). He wanted to stay close. Finally I gave up on the stroller that I never wanted anyway and put him in the sling that a new mama friend brought me to use. (You know who you are. I still thank you for that.)
He settled. I settled. We found our groove.
I didn't know that he needed my arms. That he needed quiet. That he needed to nurse on a pillow so I didn't overwhelm him with touch. That he needed rhythm and routine and clothes without tags. I didn't know. But I learned. I listened and he taught me.
Sage's crib sat unoccupied, the world's largest laundry basket until we packed it up and gave it back. He never spent a night in it. I didn't know that we didn't need a nursery. Or a stroller. Or a pack-and-play. I didn't know that what I needed was someone to show up with a meal and help with the dishes and tell me to listen to my heart. Someone to tell me to trust my instincts. Someone to tell me that it was really unbelievably hard this mothering business but that actually I did know what I was doing and it would all be okay soon.
I didn't know.
I didn't know that every priority I thought I had would be shuffled and jumbled up and come out in a new amazing arrangement that would direct the rest of my life. And because of becoming a mother the pieces would begin to fall into place and I would find purpose and meaning in this life beyond anything I had imagined.
I didn't know that becoming a mother would take the identity that I had been working so hard to build for myself and turn it to dust in an instant. And then from that dust a brand new and far more meaningful sense-of-self would slowly emerge and define me for much of my life. Likely all of my life.
I am not only a mother, but being one has been the most powerful force in shaping the person I have become.
Most importantly, I did not know how deeply I could love. I had no idea.
Love was surely deep before motherhood, but I can not compare it to the love I felt for my newborn, nursing away in my arms, eyes darting beneath sleeping lids, counting on me to understand and deliver what he needed in each moment.
Looking back I celebrate all that I have discovered. There is more to learn each day as I strive to grow as a person and as a mother.
To find balance. To be patient. To connect. To play. To live fully in this now. To trust myself, my partner, my child, and the universe.
To be free of worry and fear and find joy in the magic of this day.
I didn't know that becoming a mother would simultaneously be the hardest thing I had ever done and the thing that I would hold closest to my heart. Motherhood would be my most important role ever.
I didn't know that motherhood would change everything.
Originally published in 2011.