What is motherhood?
When I think of motherhood, I think of birth. Maybe that isn’t typical, but as a childbirth educator for the past six years and a mother of four young children, it is a natural enough thought for me.
Though many think that birth is one of life’s most painful events, I have found over the years that it has taught me many lessons about motherhood. Not all of these lessons have been easy, but all profound and dear to my heart.
You could say that labor has a typical pattern that it takes with most women. It goes something like this:
Labor often begins with sporadic and weaker contractions. A soon-to-be new mom almost always reacts with excitement to this early (and pretty easy) phase of labor. “Yay! My baby is coming! Soon we will meet and I will hold and snuggle my sweet one.”
As labor continues, those contractions get harder and stronger and closer together. Labor is powerful stuff and it is aptly named “labor”. You will learn to work hard as those swells grow and peak over and over again. Mom often feels serious at this point. She must focus and concentrate to stay on top of what is going on in her body.
As labor intensifies she might enter what we often refer to as “transition” labor where things are fast and furious. Contractions come quickly, there seems to be little or no break between them and the intensity is at a level that can be hard to experience with joy in her heart. At this point in labor women often express emotions showing they are overwhelmed and ready to give up. Surrender is the sentiment of the hour and mom may feel like she can no longer go on.
Eventually transition ends and pushing begins! Pushing can feel like sweet relief, and even for those who don’t love every moment of it, pushing signifies that the end is near and that baby will soon be in arms and the work of birth will be over. Pushing is hard physical work, but immensely rewarding. Emotions can include excitement (again!), determination, and even fatigue.
So, how, you might be wondering, does all of this remind me of motherhood? These days, I see so many similarities.
My children are still young, the oldest one being only nine, and my baby almost three. But I see so many of the emotions of labor played out again and again as I struggle to raise my children. The overwhelming sensations of childbirth are reproduced on a bigger and longer scale as we raise those babies into adults.
While birth is thought of as hard and painful, it is but a short moment compared to the time that we will spend growing those children outside of our own bodies. We will experience excitement and joy as we watch that child hit new milestones and smile, walk, talk and learn things for the first time. In fact, the early days of motherhood with a new baby can be full of joy and excitement for these tiny milestones and surprise at how (dare I admit it) boring it can be. Compare that that to early labor and you will find many similarities. Including lack of sleep!
Soon however, some of that excitement turns to fatigue as the very real and often very intense work of motherhood ensues. A walking, talking, growing baby (who is now a toddler) has new needs and wants every day and with them can come growing pains. Tantrums, upset, and the labor of learning will join us on an almost daily basis. Those moments of excitement are still there though and the strong love we forged in the early days with a little dependent squish of a baby will help us through the harder times. Much like the middle of labor, these days of motherhood can be hard and frustrating but also awesome in their power.
Just like with transition labor, transitions or changes in motherhood often bring difficulty and growth. Transition labor happens when the cervix dilates quickly and lots of things are happening in the body. I have found the same to be true with motherhood — growth often involves pain. Teething, crawling, walking, even the changes that come later as independence increases and hormones change — they all are transitions and they can all present challenges. But just like in labor, these moments while overwhelming, are the ones that when we overcome them, give us the most confidence in ourselves as women and mothers.
Labor ends with pushing, and if anything has “pushed” me to my limits it has been motherhood. I have been forced to see my ugly flaws face-to-face as they surface in myself, and even in the reflected behavior of my children. Labor pushed my body and my emotions beyond what I thought was possible — until I tried to actually raise that baby. Motherhood is the hardest work I have ever done. It has brought me to my knees, showed me my humanity and my lack, and it has made me want to give up.
And yet, through it all, I love birth and I love motherhood. Those moments that are hard only seem to serve to make the joy fuller, more palpable, more sweet. What is motherhood, you ask? It is many things both wonderful and trying, but it is the greatest thing I have ever done and it has taught me what I am truly capable of.
About Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark is a natural birth teacher in Northern California. She trains birth instructors for Birth Boot Camp, a company specializing in online and in-person childbirth education for couples that want to work together for a natural birth. You can also find her blogging at mamabirth.blogspot.com.
(Photo courtesy of Birth Boot Camp)