There are so many different mothers and children and so many different situations and lifestyles and choices and preferenes that it is quite difficult to make any generalities about mothering.
What might be right for one wealthy mother with a host of nannies in Beverly Hills is oftentimes different than what is right for the stay at home mom in rural America or the working mom in one of our nation’s cities or the multitudes of mothers across the world in Finland or France or Afghanistan or Zimbabwe.
But the more moms that I talk to, the more two truths start to ring loud and clear. The first being that the love of a mother to her child is a bond that cannot be replicated anywhere else on the planet. And two, no one gets out of this journey unscathed. And perhaps it’s because of number one that number two is so universal.
Anyone who has ever raised a teenager tends to talk about how turbulent those years are, and anyone who has ever been a teenager probably remembers them in much the same manner. We understand the hormones and the body changes and the social pressure that mix together to create heady fumes of turmoil and confusion. We have come to expect it. We know it’s normal usually even at the time we experience it even if we can’t clearly articulate it.
But what is perhaps not so clearly understood in our society are the rough waters of the childbearing years - years that are wrought with hormonal changes and body changes and social pressures. We are conditioned to believe that the moment we decide to start a family, we might experience some sleepless nights and some spit up and some diaper blow outs, but I don’t think any of us are truly prepared for the many landminds we must work around and all too often fall into during these years.
I’ve been blogging for almost two years now. Sometimes weekly and sometimes daily, I go to my little corner of the internet, and I share my stories with those who choose to read them. And there is one thing that I have learned for absolute certainty through that experience -- none of us travel through this road on rose petals floating from one bliss to the next. The more I share my experiences and the more I read of others' experiences, the more others share theirs with me, and from this I have learned of dark and oftentimes hidden pain, some of which I can relate to and some of which I have luckily sidestepped, but all of it difficult and life altering nonetheless.
I’ve shared my journey through infertility. At the time, I thought surely there was no greater pain. And then others shared their stories of miscarriage and stillbirth, and I've read of the heartbreaks that go along with adoption and fostering. And I learned that for so many, starting a family is far less than the joy they had hoped for.
And then there are the broken expectations. People who pray for and plan on a natural childbirth who have their choices taken away when they are in the most vulnerable of positions. Other women who go into childbirth expecting one experience and being faced with a totally different one. Women who want nothing more than a highly medicated hospital birth who end up giving birth on the side of the road or in their bathtub at home. I hear of women who give birth in hurricanes and war zones and alone in a quiet hospital room to babies who they know will never take a single breath. And the unbelievably sad story of a woman who gave birth way, way too early in a hospital room only to say goodbye to her precious little gift mere hours later.
And then we get into how we feed our child, and everyone has an opinion about that, and a large portion of women have very strong feelings about how they want to carry out this fundamentally important aspect of mothering. There are mothers who dream of breastfeeding from the time they pretend with their baby dolls at their chest when they are five years old. And then the time comes, and they learn they don’t have milk or their baby won’t latch, or they are on a medication out of necessity that precludes them from breastfeeding. And then there are the mothers who for any number of reasons want or need their children to drink formula, and they learn their baby won’t take a bottle or that he or she is severely allergic to all the commercial formulas they can find. And there are the mothers who can’t breastfeed because of employers who don’t care about pumping laws or mothers who must return to work to support, single-handedly, their family and they try unsuccessfully for weeks to get their infant to take a bottle, and the experiences just leave them both in tears.
And then there’s post partum depression and anxiety, something I have written about extensively on my blog and also on this site here. It’s a quiet epidemic because too many women are too ashamed to share their experiences, worrying that others will judge them or belittle them or possibly worst of all react with indifference.
And finally there are the more common tribulations. The sadness of a mother who wants to stay home full time with her child but who simply cannot, and the difficulties of mothers who choose to work because it fulfills them and yet they find themselves trying to juggle more than one person can juggle. And on the other hand, there is mother who wants to be home full time with her kids but finds that the lack of adult companionship makes her feel alone and invisible.
And we might make it through these times, and we might breathe a sigh of relief thinking we have made it through the hard part. But then there’s the pain of social problems, and bullying, and academic issues and painful diagnoses. Because all of us moms know that those issues hurt us just as much if not more than they hurt our children. Being excluded from a party hurts. Seeing your child be excluded can break a mama's heart.
To put it simply, mothering is painful.
And so why do we so fully and readily jump into it? And even more so, why do so many of us choose to do it again and again. (and sometimes again!)
I think the answer stems from the very cause of this pain. Motherhood is so all consuming and fills our heart so fully that it reaches the crevices deep inside our hearts that we may not have even known existed. It touches every aspect of our lives. It changes who we are and who we want to be. It gives us new reasons to keep on trying to and new ways of seeing the same old things.
And that’s why the pain is there.
There simply cannot be great pain without great love. There isn’t reward without risk. And what greater reward is there to have a child’s arms wrapped tightly around your neck? What greater purpose is there than in knowing that your very presence can ease fears and heal boo boos? And what greater fear is there than to realize that it can be taken away?
Motherhood is hard. We need to realize that. We need to educate the next generation about this. But what is just as important is that through it all, we remember the reward. We remember just why we take the risks and just why any amount of pain is worth just one tiny look of love from a child.
Motherhood can break us. It leaves scars. It opens old wounds. But it's also one of the most powerful healers on this planet. It can make us who we are. It can help us be who we want to be. And it can open our hearts to the world in a way that no other experience can quite match.
Motherhood leaves scars. And it also heals them.
Amanda Knapp is a writer and a stay at home mom to her three little girls. She writes about life, parenting, depression, and everything in between on her blog.