An ode to the reluctant mother

My entrance into motherhood felt a lot like my daughter’s entrance into the world: bumpy, laborious, unnatural. They poked me, they stuck things inside me, they measured me, and I kept hearing the same thing: Not dilated. Not softened. Not ready.

I didn’t need another reminder that I wasn’t prepared to be a mother. I was scared out of my mind, and now my body was betraying me, too.

We’ll have to induce you, they said. I heard, You’re gonna become a mom one way or another, even if we have to force it out of you.

They asked where I wanted to be during labor. The bed? Walking the halls? An exercise ball? As if I had done this before. As if I had any idea what was in store. 

I picked the bathtub. I squeezed my fists tight and breathed deep in that cold hard tub for twelve hours through the night. The doctor came in the morning to notify me my sleepless night of excruciating pain produced a centimeter of dilation. One centimeter. Some moms are quadruple that the moment they walk into the hospital, no medicine or hairy doctor arms up the you-know-what necessary.

I was afraid. How long would this last? Could I do it?

I was swollen. I didn’t recognize myself in mind or body.

I was ashamed. Why can’t my body do this on its own? Why do other moms seem to hold it together so beautifully? Where is the miracle in all this?

And then, three hours of pushing and screaming and bright lights and red hot pain later, my baby was born. The moment everyone says it’s all worth it. You forget the pain, everything around you fades to the background, and you get to look your precious angel in the eyes.

Or, in this particular case, the baby decides to take her first poop a little too early and now needs a bunch of machines hooked up to her and her pure little lungs are basically filled with poison and ouch, why does it feel like I’m pushing out another baby? Did I have twins? Oh, just kidding, that’s the placenta. Ew.

They say you’ll feel instant love.

I didn’t.

I felt insecure, fat, bloody, scared, exhausted, alone, and ill-equipped.

And that wasn’t even the hard part. Now you actually have to raise this thing. They don’t give you time to recover from what may have been the most traumatic experience of your life. Now they put the baby on you and expect you to be fine with an alien creature sucking all the life, energy, and, apparently milk, out of you. 

This is when I thought the motherly instincts would just…kick in. Instead, I felt like I was drowning. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information I didn’t know: SIDs, breastfeeding, swaddling. Don’t give them peanut butter or you’ll kill them. Oh wait…actually make sure to give them peanut butter or else they’ll die. 

I wanted to crumple up all the papers they brought to me and yell, “You fill it out! Can’t you see I’m a fat broken mess over here?” The next second I wanted to grab their hands tight and beg them to come home with me and continue changing the diapers and telling me when I should feed the baby next.

I remember crossing the threshold into our home with our fresh baby in her too-big hospital onesie, swimming in her new car seat I didn’t know how to install. 

I remember crumpling to the floor in tears because I felt like my life was over, which led to even more tears because of how guilty I felt.

I remember the tops of my feet sloshing as I walked because of all the water retention, the Pitocin, the epidural.

I remember getting in a car the first time with her and feeling so, so scared that we would all die. I suddenly understood the “Baby on Board” signs. Anything to give you some sense of control or safety when the whole world felt like one big threat.

I remember loathing dressing her. We settled for a diaper and sleep sacks most days because I couldn’t stand spending five minutes getting her dressed only to have her spit up on it ten minutes later. 

I remember being so reluctant to reach out to other moms I knew. I also remember cringing when people referred to me as a mom. I didn’t want to go to a “mom’s group.” I felt like that meant my identity and passions were being stripped away and I was now merely a product of the mommy-machine. Now all I’ll ever talk about is sleep schedules and kids’ diets. I’ll use words like nipple in reference to bottles…and I won’t even giggle. I’ll always be complaining about how tired I am. I’ll always be slightly distracted and disheveled. My hair will always be in a top-knot, I will never fit into jeans again, and I might as well never buy a nice top again because if I don’t leak through it she’ll spit up on it.

I resisted for months. I resisted calling myself a mom, I resisted talking about anything baby-related even though I had a million doubts and questions begging to be voiced, and I resisted the urge to do anything cutesy or sentimental.

I tried to convince myself having a baby didn’t change much—it’d just be like an accessory I carry around now. I tried to convince myself my relationships wouldn’t change. I tried to get my body back as fast I could. I tried to make it appear like I had it all together.

But the truth is, becoming a mom changes everything

The staggering reality is life’s not all about you anymore. And it never really was, but that tiny cry-burp-poop machine won’t let you forget it. My thoughts and plans seemed to constantly be interrupted by the question, “But will that work for baby?” 

Sure, I’d love to join you for lunch! But that’s nap time.

Yes, going to a football game sounds great! But that’s during her feed time and I still don’t know how to nurse without a huge chair, a Boppy pillow, a 32-ounce water bottle, and my bathrobe.

My life is over. All the fun is behind me. I am invisible now.

But then, one day, she smiled. And one day she lifted up her head on her own, and I found myself clapping. She scooted, I cheered. She ate solid food, I FaceTimed the family. She rolled over, I got footage. She slept through the night, I took out an ad in the paper. 

As I slowly accepted my position as “Mom,” I began to see it as a badge of honor rather than a death sentence. I let go of my selfishness and pride a bit each day, only to find a fresh batch to let go of the next day. 

In all the unraveling and letting go of who I thought I was and wanted to be, I finally started seeing the beauty. 

The beauty was never in the perfectly swaddled baby or the manicured newborn family photos. It wasn’t in a smooth delivery story or proving that I could be a mom and do all the things.

The beauty was in the times I had to ask for help and gracious friends showed up. It was in the tired talks with other moms when we were honest about the not-so-pretty parts of motherhood and chose connection over comparison. It was in releasing my previous standards of success and surrendering to new measurements: was I gentle and gracious today? Did I let God’s power be made perfect in my weakness? Did I admit my desperate need for Jesus and allow Him to both humble me and love me today?

Yes, being a mom is about raising kids. It’s about pinching smooshy cheeks, feeding hungry bellies, and stumbling through discipline and parenting.

More than that, though, I’ve found motherhood to be simply–yet painfully–a steady stream of letting go. Letting go of what felt important. Letting go of a polished image. Letting go of pride, free time, and sleep.

And even though we’re pulling them close as they grow, we’re also letting them go. We let go of their hands when they start walking. We let go of our days together when they go to school. We let go of some authority and influence when they move out.

We’re holding on tight to them, for sure. But we’re also letting them go, and we’re letting ourselves go, too. And with those open hands, we’re able to grab hold of the abundance of grace, mercy, love and affection from our Father in heaven as we breathe a sigh of relief that he’s been there every hard, holy, and reluctant step of the way.

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