Your birth experience doesn’t define you

Motherhood

May 28, 2019

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My husband recently decided he wants to climb Mount Everest.

This is not the first time he has expressed something like that. Going to the moon, learning how to free solo climb, joining the army—I’ve heard all these dreams from my husband and many other men over the years. I didn’t get it. People die doing these unnecessary and risky ventures!

The desire to undergo the terrifying or to risk your life for an achievement never made sense to me. My husband’s mentality—best described as “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” to quote Alfred Lord Tennyson—baffled me. Until I got pregnant.

When it came to my child birth plan, my objective was to have a healthy baby, and I was open to whatever was medically necessary to ensure her safety—but I wanted to try to have an unmedicated childbirth if it was possible.

My husband didn’t understand it; after all, it wasn’t necessary that I go through all that pain. My mother-in-law compared it to having a tooth extracted without anesthetic. Who would do that?

At the time, I didn’t see the parallels between what I wanted for my birth and my husband’s life-threatening adventure aspirations. I told him that I just wanted to do something natural. But honestly, it was more than that. I wanted to test my limits. I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to conquer my fear of pain.

My mother-in-law compared it to having a tooth extracted without anesthetic. Who would do that?

I wasn’t comparing myself to other mothers; I was pitting myself against myself—against my humanity. The more my husband questioned my decision, the more convinced I was that this was something that I had to do to prove that I had strength and power over something in my life.

Until then, I had been focused on my education and worked to prove myself in jobs—and I didn’t tell most people that I wanted eventually to be a stay-at-home mom. I would feel the hot blush of resentment when people joked that I would never have to lift a finger once my husband—now a medical student—became a doctor.

Even my former boss once joked that I was only working until my husband could just take care of me. I still regret I laughed instead of telling him that I had dreams and aspirations too.

People seemed to view being a stay-at-home mom as a luxury instead of a choice. In fact, many didn’t appear to believe that I would have married my husband no matter his occupation. In time, as much as I tried, these outside perceptions affected how I saw myself.

Maybe I couldn’t stand on my own two feet in the world. Maybe I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom because I couldn’t compete in the workplace. Maybe being a mom wasn’t good enough.  Maybe if I had a natural childbirth, I could prove myself.

My perception of motherhood had been fundamentally damaged and I even didn’t realize it.

When the time came, I was able to have a natural birth, and I was grateful that I was able to do so. But months after having my daughter, I realized that experience was not the defining moment of motherhood for me. Childbirth was simply the mustard seed—the beginning of what being a mom actually is.

Now that I know what childbirth actually entails, I’m more afraid of it than I was—and yet at the same time, I’m somehow eager to do it again. Thinking back, the birth process is so terrifyingly beautiful and awe-inspiring that you would run or look away (if you could!), but the overwhelming emotion draws you in—what the Romantic poets would call “the sublime.”

It’s like looking down from a mountain: in the vastness you can feel your smallness, and you know without a doubt that you would climb that mountain again and again and again to feel that beautiful terror.

I had found it hard to relate these feelings to my husband at first. After all, he can never experience what I did in childbirth. But then it hit me: we want the same thing.

We both want to experience sublimity, to test our human limits and survive—to breathe the thin air of Everest or to gasp and surrender to the waves of pain that bring forth new life, to experience motherhood.

And now, when I look into my daughter’s blue eyes, I realize that the sublimity I was seeking was introduced by the pain of childbirth, but that was only the beginning—only a glimpse of the journey ahead.

It was the beginning of the simultaneous terror and joy that comes from becoming a mother.

The miles I have walked around my tiny apartment with a screaming baby, or the dread I anticipate as certain-to-be sleepless nights approach, have made me question whether or not I can go through this again.

But then, just when I’m feeling completely overwhelmed, she’ll smile or laugh in her sleep, or look for me when she’s scared or lonely, and I know it’s all worth it.

Yes, motherhood and childbirth is often terrifying—to encounter certain pain, to be entrusted with a human being, to not only be responsible for the bodily care but the spiritual formation of a soul—these things are more challenging that anything else I’ve ever faced.

But nothing compares to this abundant love, which eclipses everything suffered. And nothing can rival my daughter’s big blue eyes looking up at me, building our bond, moment by moment.

And so I would do it again. Gladly.

Yes, motherhood and childbirth is often terrifying—to encounter certain pain, to be entrusted with a human being, to not only be responsible for the bodily care but the spiritual formation of a soul—these things are more challenging that anything else I’ve ever faced.

Any way you slice, dice or chop it, childbirth is hard: emotionally, physically and psychologically.

But actually being a mother is even harder. And it’s something to be incredibly proud of.

What we mothers do, day in and day out, whether we work, stay-at-home, or something in the middle, is partaking in the sublime: we are all worthy of that beautiful title of Mom, no matter how our children entered the world.

What I thought I would achieve in one moment, by having my daughter the way I wanted, has actually only been achieved by the moments which followed during the months after she was born. I now have a profound respect and admiration for motherhood—for the strength that is required to wake up everyday and be a mother.

So for all you mamas who didn’t get the subliminal birth experience you wanted, know that you are every bit as much of a mama as those who do. You are strong, you are worthy. You are a mother.

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