By Shuana Niessen
My honey-oak, windsor-back rocking chair sits empty in the backroom–an old, dusty memory. It’s a beautiful chair which, for me, symbolizes motherhood–The sacrifices made in my chair have elevated it to the status of sacred.
Hold on. What kind of sappy drivel is this? Why is it so difficult to write about motherhood without becoming sentimental, emotional, and ‘Hallmarkish’? How does one write about the most wonderful, most awful, most creative, most banal, most exciting, most boring, most joyous, most depressing, most overwhelming, most tedious experience ever braved? (Something like this sentence!) Babies are born every day! We are all the sons or daughters of someone. Why do I think I need to write about this everyday experience as though it is a divine aspiration?
Still, there is nothing banal about a life, a person! Each birth is a remarkable miracle resulting in an altogether new and original individual. Repetition doesn’t exist in motherhood. The experiences of being a mother and undergoing motherhood are different each time. Why do you think people say, “Here’s the new mommy!” of the woman who has just given birth to her fifth child? So, becoming and being a mother, no matter how many women have experienced it, is an entirely novel moment and experience.
Sacrifices are the substance of motherhood. For 9 months you sacrifice your own body to the process of creating an “other’s” body. You swell from 115 pounds to 200 pounds, all the while smearing cocoa butter over your ballooning stomach, trying to abate the stretch marks that unzip the skin as it accommodates the growing phenomenon inside. You decline from the status of a healthy young woman to someone else, whose blood must be sampled at random, who must visit the doctor every few weeks to be probed and poked. When the time comes to reclaim your body, and you give birth, the body you receive back is drastically different than the one you originally occupied. Your ribs have expanded to harmonize with baby’s need to stretch. Your waist line is now a waist square, not to mention the sagging skin and scars which map the journey of growth, like rings in a tree.
When that perfect bundle arrives in your arms and looks lovingly and longingly into the face of his or her one true love–mother–oops, there I go again. When the screaming, blue faced, ten and a half pound, thrashing, demanding infant is placed into your drooping, weary arms, when you feel like you’ve just barely survived the most traumatic episode of your life, and you haven’t another drop of energy to give to this small creature who … what’s this? Black, slimy liquid all over.“Oh, look! That’s his first bowel movement!” exclaims the chatty nurse, who, for the last four hours, has recounted every worst birthing episode she has ever witnessed, while you laboured to produce this…this…personification of pure joy.“How wonderful that he has managed to have a bowel movement, already!”
Then, after giving birth, when you think the worst is behind you, you realize that sleep–something you previously took for granted–is now the most precious, sought after, and rare gifts in life. Who knew that infants don’t really know about sleeping at night, or sleeping at all? You spend endless, sleepless nights rocking the child through feedings, illnesses, teething, and nightmares.
After two to three years, when he or she starts to sleep through the night, and you are sure the worst part is over, the beautiful toddler begins to throw his or her weight around. Little tiny children have remarkably adult sized wills. You frantically search for the instruction manual that must have come with this monster, I mean beautiful, precious child, but somehow you’ve misplaced it, along with your sense of self. However, you, again, rise to the challenge. You sacrifice your need to pamper and spoil and begin to set, fiercely and relentlessly resisted boundaries. You sacrifice your need to feel like the “good guy” and ensure consequences are set and enforced when your little tyke exhibits inappropriate behavior.
Yes, motherhood is composed of many, many sacrifices. And just when you think you’ve got it down, the children are all grown up, and you think there are no more sacrifices to be made, you realize that you are now required to start sacrificing your need to mother. Life is so ironic. Still, even with the sleepless nights, the long lists of tedious tasks, and the endless emotional demands of motherhood, you start to develop a sense of awe. You feel awe for the child who so eagerly learns to do things for herself, for the generosity in his milk-toothed smile, for the wide-eyed look of wonder at the colourful butterfly or the fuzzy, wiggly worm, for the purest form of love in her eyes when she looks to you, her anchor, her mother. You tenderly grasp his tiny hands to help him find his way to maturity, past dangers, into relationships, beyond failures and obstacles, into independence and competence, and beyond his need of you, his mom. When the tiny hands disappear, you long for the days when your children were small enough to crawl into your lap, lugging a huge, favourite story behind them, and cuddling into a soft, powdery blanket, while, together, you read and rock to the rhythm of Mother Goose, in your favourite chair.