Mothering, a capacity that exists within each of us, helps us redefine love, not just as an emotion but as a form of sweet labor. It calls us to wonder about others, listen to their stories, respond to their needs. We employ many emotions in that labor: Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger is the force that protects it. ~Valarie Kaur
There is no doubt – there is a second labor after the child is born, and it requires an embodied strength that we sometimes didn’t even know we had.
It is only now in hindsight what a demanding and euphoric experience the beginning of motherhood was for me. With my second baby, I know how much work it really takes – the aching of my cut-up body, the engorged breasts, the delirious lack of deep sleep, the maternal anxieties and the questioning of his weight and food intake/breastfeeding output – this is the mental load we carry on as soon as we have kids.
The romanticism of your first baby pervades us from every side. From nursery design to buying those precious baby clothes, I was clueless about the strenuous work that was about to come my way.
I didn’t know what to expect after birthing my first child. I was elated to be pregnant, and in love as soon as he came out, pressing his little, wet nose and lips to my check.
Then they swooped him away as the nurse told me to take a deep breath. She took my hands in hers and pushed all around my abdomen right after having my c-section. I felt immediate pain, pressure, and most importantly – reality. The cloud of my starry-eyed idolized motherhood dissipated. The challenging work of the fourth trimester was just beginning.
The second time around the actualities of motherhood are no longer obscured with romanticized images of cute diapers and darling baby snuggles (although those are amazing).
Shit gets real. We know what we are in for.
While the movie wasn’t critically acclaimed, GI Jane’s bodily power has always stayed with me. In order to prepare for the pure physicality of early motherhood, her determination – like the image of her one arm push-up or her head-butting Viggo Mortensen – rallies me every time. These depictions aid in the trying times, to remind me (all of us mothers) that we are badasses, tipping the scale back to cultivating images of motherhood that empowers instead of distressing us.
We don’t normally connect how mothering elicits the warrior in us. Instead, our culture highlights the gentle, giving nature of mothers.
But for me, I’ve been in battle before. It’s with our brute force and bloody nips that we remain committed to breastfeeding, even when we are worn thin, blistered, and hurting. It’s with our sheer will that we wake up the seventh time that night to soothe our crying baby, even when our eyes are blurry and burning. It is with our resolute tenacity that even after an emotional breakdown from all this physical and emotional work, we resolve to view our exasperation as part of the path of our dedication to our children.
This is meaningful work. Do we ourselves recognize it as so?
Consider for a moment the issue of self-sacrifice strictly from a psychological point of view, what is the trickiest for women is the fact that some of what they find meaningful about mothering can be construed, from some vantage points, as self-abnegating. There are moments in the day-to-day life of every mother when the deferral of her own gratifications or aims is experienced as oppressive. But a narrow focus on such moments and the belief that they adequately capture, or stand for, the whole experience of mothering fail to appreciate the overall context in which those deferrals take place. When she relinquishes control over her time, forgoes the satisfaction of an impulse, or surrenders to playful engagement with her child even as she feels driven to “accomplish something,” the surface quality of capitulation in these decisions belies their role in satisfying her deeper motives and goals. These deeper goals have to do, ultimately, with the creation of meaning. In the seemingly mundane give-and-take of parenting – playing, sharing, connecting, relaxing, enduring boredom, getting mad, cajoling, compromising, and sacrificing – a mother communicates with her child about something no less momentous that what is valuable in life, and about the possibilities and limits of intimate relationships.”
~ Daphne de Marneffe, Maternal Desire – On Children, Love and the Inner Life
Some may have a different experience than I. It may have come easier for you. And yet, I applaud you either way. We all remain in this second labor till our children leave the nest – and even then, we remain warriors, emotionally engaged with our grown children.
It is with our swollen bellies and breasts, our mental concerns crowned as frailties, our mistaken identity as “just a mom” that we march into combat. Our underestimation serves us well.
For us, motherhood isn’t something passively placed on our shoulders as a woman’s natural role. We actively participate in the creation of our values as mothers, we define our strengths, and ultimately, we answer the question of how we choose to spend our days.
We’ve won battles within ourselves, struggles that take us beyond the physical demands of motherhood.
We are redefining mothers. We are redefining love. We are changing the world. We are badass beasts.
Winter is coming…but we’ve surprised ourselves before and we will do it again.