Labor of Motherhood

Once I knew that my baby would come to me and not through me, I knew that my connection to motherhood would be different. Naively, I thought that the hard physical work of mothering would be growing, carrying, and then delivering the baby. And to be sure, there is sacrifice and labor that I will never know in bringing a child into the world. And yet, as the months turn and my baby grows, and GROWS, I'm blessed and burdened to unwrap the groaning, tangible work of motherhood.

He's a year and a half now. He runs and climbs and explores and rides. Most of his waking hours are spent away from my constant touch, and so I savor the times I get him: snacks on my lap, music and blocks in from of me; the lingering, dripping, towel-wrapped dance from the tub to his nursery. And yet there is so much more lifting than a year ago. Each trip up the stairs is double weight. When he needs to be picked up and comforted, I'm more keenly aware of this boy-baby I'm holding.

Unlike most mothers, I was already injured when he came to us. A little more broken with bulging disks and damaged nerves, I made plans on how to compensate with caring for a newborn. I had baby carriers, had a high changing table, a kitchen sink-accessible tub. But then he grew. And I hadn't really thought about what it feels like to carry thirty pounds up the stairs while it strongly protests. Getting in and out of car seats, strollers, bath tub, I'm sharply reminded that mothering takes sacrifice. Mine is just physical.

I hurt. Some days worse than others but always a little.

It won't define these days, so I hesitate to talk about it. here. But when I look back, I want to see a full picture of these days. The bursting love, the soaring joy of discovering life through his eyes, but also the deep pain of caring for someone else.

If you were to go to my parent's house and look through photo albums, you would find late in the 70's pictures of my mother. When she was expecting my oldest brother, the doctor's advised her against gaining much weight. So she didn't. She gained I think around 12 pounds and the baby weighed 9. She told me how the months passed and the rest of her shrunk as her belly grew. "My body gave the baby what it needed." She said. And growing up with that story (and the sure knowledge that it's healthy to gain weight when you're expecting) I thought to myself "my body will know...and will give the baby what it needs."

I'm seeing that in full effect these days. Of course, not for the first 9 months of his life. Those precious times were for his birth mother to give him what he needed. But for the past year and a half, I've witnesses a rallying of all my physical strength as I mother this baby of mine. For the first few months, I cradled him in the soft bend of my left arm as I fed, soothed, and carried him. My left bicep grew. Then as he started to sit and preferred to be upright, he switched over to my right, stronger side. I see my hip grow, my right shoulder strengthen. In the lilting waltz of motherhood, my body changes as he grows and needs different things.

Now he explores and I squat behind him, unable to bend my back. Somehow with this wounded body of mine, I'm still able to give him what he needs: a hip to cling to, hands to explore the world, a soft place in the nape of my neck to sink into, grasped fingers to steady wobbly steps, a lap to curl into with a book. Month by month I get to share in the labor of motherhood. It's lifting into high chairs, transferring into the car seat, pushing around the neighborhood, picking up toys, picking up toys again, hefting hampers of clothes, shoving swings, squatting up the stairs, reaching over the bath tub, bending over diaper changes, rocking to sleep, carrying to bed.

It's hard.
It's sacrificial.
It's sweaty and it's heavy.
It's good, beautiful work.