Motherhood is the greatest gift I’ve been given. I can literally feel my heart ache with gratefulness and love for my daughter. The privilege of being a mom is one of the most profound blessings I’ve known. Everyday, I breathe in the sweet smell of my daughter’s baby soft skin and I drink in that she’s mine. I am so grateful. Countless times throughout the day I whisper thanks for being given this gift of a daughter.
However, it is not without cost. Motherhood is the most challenging experience I’ve known. This time last year I was in the trenches of emotional instability – can we say “mood swings?” The amount of change we experienced during our first year of living in Denton was enough to shake even the strongest.
We left Israel with the taste of disappointment in our mouthes. We moved to a city where we knew two people. Our nearest family was hours and countries away. We struggled (as we still do) to find a community that we could relate to. Peter was back in school for the first time in 20 years. Our income was miserable and humbling. Beyond of all that, we were first time parents.
I remember dark days of feeling so painfully lonely and sad that I barely had enough energy to brush my teeth. I listened to NPR all day long – I was so hungry for a voice to keep me company. Diane Rehm became my best friend (cable TV was a luxury we couldn’t afford on our student income). I cried a lot. Peter and I fought more than I care to admit, mostly about money. My weaknesses were revealed, over and over and over again.
Without question, I was feeling sorry for myself. I felt that our circumstances didn’t allow me the opportunity that others had to really enjoy motherhood without worries and fears. Everyday, I was hit with irrational anxiety; it ate at my heart to the point that I was a big ball of stress – constantly on the verge of emotional breakdown. (Poor Peter!)
But then there was my sweet girl. I loved her so. How could I experience so much love and so much emptiness at the same time? I’m not sure, but I did. But you know what? I made it. I know that the loneliness and anxiety I experienced as a first time mom was not unique to me. However, when you’re in it, it’s hard to feel as though you can share it with others.
I guess what I’m saying is that my first year of motherhood had a whole lot joy and a whole lot of struggle. Motherhood is equally challenging and rewarding. However, it is hard to see the reward of being a mother with only three hours of restless sleep – waking up wondering how we’re going to pay rent, and a baby crying to be fed. On Facebook I gushed about the delight of being a new mother, and while it was all true, I was still lonely at home – crying while I did the dishes at 4PM in my pajamas.
I wish I could have told myself is that in one year, everything will feel different. Things may not actually be very different circumstantially – your family will still be hours and countries away, you will still be living on a student income, but things will feel brand new. I would tell myself to just hang on, that eventually I’ll get a full 12 hours of sleep again. (At Zoe’s one year mark she went from waking three times a night to suddenly sleeping through the night. Being well rested really changes your attitude about life. There’s nothing that aggravates the blues like lack of sleep). I would tell myself to hold on, that I’ll find my groove as a mother and when I do, it will surprise me with deep happiness. I would tell myself, that eventually I’ll have more than two friends in Denton, and someday I wont need to listen to Diane Reem just for company. I would tell myself that a year from now I’ll feel the most fulfilled that I have EVER felt.
It’s true. I’m more in love with Peter than ever before. He’s such a great dad to Zoe, it’s so sweet! (He’s really come into his own in the parenting department). Beyond that, I’m immensely proud of his accomplishments in school, with only one semester away from graduation. I’m still in shock that he started out as a freshman in January of 2009 and will be graduating in January of 2011 (On to grad school from there). Plus, he’s maintained a 4.0 while juggling 18 hours of school, work and family. He’s pretty much knocked it out of the park in my book.
Zoe is almost 17 months and she is a BLAST! This is my favorite stage so far. She’s so much fun and such a gentle, peaceful, happy girl. Which is quite a difference from the colicky baby I had for the first 10+ weeks of motherhood. Zoe is beginning to communicate and her personality is simply busting out of her sweet baby cheeks. She says: um (which means some, as in I want some) dog, shoe, cheese, annaaa (which is banana), mo-mo (more), uppa (up), bye-bye, hi, momma, dadda and Elwa (her sweet friend, Ella). She also says something that sounds like shit (all the time) but I’m pretty sure she means see it because we never say shit in our house.
Wow, is my world ever different! I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I’ve gone from zero to sixty in my career as a doula in just four months. I’m also an assistant teacher at a weekly childbirth class in Denton, called Birthing From Within. I just love sitting in a class full of expectant mothers and fathers, with all their questions and concerns, knowing I was right where they were not so long ago. And, as of last Saturday, I’m training to become a birth assistant at Inanna Birth Center in Denton, Texas. In fact, I shadowed my first birth last night (acting as an assistant to the Nurse Midwife, not as a doula). You should see me with my stethoscope and blood pressure cuff in hand. I try not to giggle. I feel like I’m playing Dr., writing in the charts, hoping not to show my insecurities.
The truth is, I’ve finally stepped into what I’ve been looking for a long time. Helping laboring mothers and new mothers is one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced. What I now know is this – the soul-scouring challenges of my first year as a mother to lead me to search for deeper purpose, and when I found it, it washed over my heart with a swell of relief and happiness.
It is because of my own experience with the difficulty of motherhood that my heart is so tender towards new mothers. With deep conviction and experience, I know that the hardest part is not the 40+ weeks of pregnancy, and it is certainly not the average 12- 24 hour labor. The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards. It is the year of travail – when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her. The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred.
With great reverence and awe at the journey of becoming a mother I hold my heart up and offer thanks in learning to make more room inside my soul for love.