My first taste of the grueling demands of motherhood came with a puppy. This wasn’t your typical adopt-a-puppy situation. I helped deliver this one at the vet clinic where I worked and since she was an orphan, I took her home to raise her. That first night was a bit of a reality check for my college-student self as I set my alarm for every two hours and groggily prepared bottle after bottle. I had to change bedding and make sure the temperature was just right for her in her little bed. I had to manage work and classes in a sleep-deprived state and arrange my social life around her feeding schedule. If I couldn’t bring her with me, I needed to find puppy-care. It was a much different experience from all of my other pet adoptions.
The cost was worth it when she began her “firsts”: her ears opening and then her eyes; her first wobbly steps; her first attempts to play and bark and try solid food. What really got my attention, though, was when I was shopping one day and heard a newborn baby cry. My heart skipped a beat and I immediately thought of my “baby” at home. “Wow!” I pondered. “This must be what it feels like to be a mom!” Motherhood changes a person: to invest so much into a life and forever be connected to that life no matter where you are or how many years go by. Obviously, raising a puppy is one thing; raising a baby is another. But I think we often fail to laud the rewards of motherhood and instead become bogged down by the costs.
While they are usually not a party, pregnancy and childbirth are often bemoaned as reasons for not becoming a mother. Women avoid motherhood because they don’t want their bodies or lives to change. Because they are difficult, society allows the beginning steps of motherhood to set the tone of the mother-child relationship and paint it negatively. What would happen in our world if we collectively began to celebrate the conception and birth of mothers? Would mothers find themselves more connected to their children from day one? Would they stand more in awe of their of bodies and feel empowered to advocate for themselves in their role as mothers? Would mothers feel more invested in their homes and families as they recognize how integral they are to the foundation of society?
This distorted view of the motherhood journey carries over into mainstream medical practice. Pregnancy is generally treated as a condition and childbirth as a medical procedure. Mothers have to search hard to find a medical provider who will view them as a participant rather than a patient; in the birth process and not merely at the birth. I cannot tell you how many birth stories I have read or heard firsthand that began with the mother’s hopes for her birth and concluded with her being at the mercy of her OB. It shouldn’t be this way. Mothers need to be encouraged to trust their bodies and supported as they learn about the strength they never knew they had. The strength and knowledge that is cultivated during pregnancy and childbirth will translate into the years of mothering ahead.
The ranks of motherhood are filled with diverse descriptions: teens and adults, single and married and widowed, surprised and planned, longed for and unwanted, scared and excited…what connects them all is that, whether or not their pregnancy was desired, their bodies have given everything to sustain the life within. Maybe, just maybe, if there is a cultural shift in our view of pregnancy and childbirth, every mother will feel ready to embrace who she is and who she is becoming. This transformation continues well after the birth.
In part 3, I will explore the fourth trimester and its significance on the motherhood journey. I hope to share ideas on how it can be an enriching time for mothers- something to be anticipated rather than dreaded- and how our society can be supportive of it.