Thursday, April 9, 2015

I Am A Mother

I reached the third trimester this week. It's a surreal feeling– of the past fourteen months, I have been pregnant for twelve. I still haven't quite gotten used to being pregnant and yet feeling relatively normal. With the exception of a few short weeks, my whole pregnancy with the girls was so physically miserable in one way or another that a part of me can't believe that I can get up in the morning, eat my accustomed (if slightly larger) breakfast, and function throughout the day almost normally, with my growing belly, a gait containing just the hint of a waddle, and odd Braxton Hicks contractions the only things out of the ordinary.

That only two and a half months remain is both relieving and terrifying. Sometimes I am wildly impatient to meet our little man, and I visualize the moment when I will hold him against my chest and feel his skin against mine, feel his breath in his tiny body, hear his baby cry. And sometimes twelve weeks seems entirely too short for all that's still left to buy and do and–the most important, the most difficult– to prepare emotionally for the arrival of our son. To be ready for mothering a baby who is alive.

Motherhood and what it means and what it looks like has been much on my heart in the past couple of weeks. In a session with my counselor I realized how much I equate mothering with doing, that in my mind motherhood is a series of actions, and that I have had almost no mental space for the idea of mothering as being. From there it was easy to see why I have struggled so much with feeling like a mother to Livia and Lucy, because only when I have been actively doing something for them, like working on their scrapbook or writing about them, have I seen myself as mothering them. And that in turn played into my struggle to do the physical actions of preparing for our Tadpole. Every time I did some action specific to anticipating his arrival, subconsciously I felt as though I was being more of a mother to him than to his sisters, which was emotionally devastating for me. My counselor suggested I explore mothering as being, the side of mothering opposite from all the actions. How do I be a mother to two little girls in Heaven? And if I define motherhood solely by action, what kind of parent is that going to make me to the Tadpole?

I believe in the end it comes down to love: my love for my girls doesn't cease when I put away the scrapbooking materials. If love is measured solely by action, then the mom who performs the best, who does the most things for her children, is the best mom even if what is motivating her actions is selfishness or perfectionism or a martyr complex. And for all those mamas who because of illness or difficult circumstances or physical separation from their children can't do very much for them, they are the bad moms even if their hearts are overflowing with love for their babies. If I see myself as only loving and being a mother to my son when I am doing something for him, what will stop him from thinking he can only love me and be my son when he's doing something for me? Perhaps when love is expressed solely in action, it becomes all too easy to translate that into love having to be earned by action.

But love is many things besides action. Loving someone means delighting in him, enjoying her, having a grateful heart for him, having eyes quick to see how much better the world is for her existence. Love is contemplative as well as active. And the love of motherhood is the foundation of both its action and contemplation– of the doing and the being.

My friend Blythe suggested to me that mothering is not necessarily individual in focus– that in mothering one child well, we are mothering our other children well. When our Tadpole arrives and I am absorbed in the day-to-day of mothering him, that mothering encompasses all of my babies and I will be mothering Livia and Lucy, too. Like love, the identity of motherhood is not divided or lessened by additional children but expanded and grown.

I am a mother. It is not the actions of motherhood that make me one; those actions flow out of love for my babies, but the love comes first. Livia, Lucy, and Tadpole all make me a mother. Perhaps motherhood is like grace: it cannot be earned, only given. Yet like grace it is transformative– sometimes in instant, obvious ways, and sometimes in a gentle, quiet process, like the slow blooming of a flower towards the sky.

I am in that quiet process of blooming.

I am a mother.