I was twenty-one years-old when my first son entered the world. He came early; two weeks before his expected date, and with such haste the midwife delivered him before the doctor made an appearance. After him, there were three more – my second son and two daughters, all within six years, all with their own birth stories, their own personalities, their own idiosyncrasies that make them unmistakably who they are; vastly different from one another despite being raised so symmetrically.
I hadn’t planned on having my first child so soon; life had chosen otherwise. Though married, I was young. In hindsight, too young. But, I was determined to be prepared. I read pregnancy books, birthing books, parenting books. I was prepared for the ways my body would change. I was prepared for the ways my life would change.
But I wasn’t prepared for the ways I would change.
I can say now that being a mother has been the best thing I have ever done; the best part of who I am. But I couldn’t always have said that. I glance back to those early days and my fingers slip through the faded recollection of how difficult they actually were; a decade that passed me by through a filter of exhaustion and loneliness. There were so many days I struggled for air, so many days I wept for the village that was nowhere to be found; moreover, wept for the woman I once was, also nowhere to be found. I grieved for her – the responsibilities and obligations of motherhood had taken her from me and in her place stood a foreigner, a woman I no longer recognised or wanted to be.
I hadn’t expected to feel such a loss of my own identity, to become so desolate in the abyss of who I used to be and who I had yet to become. I hadn’t expected to feel so unanchored, so adrift, so alone. Once extroverted, confident and capable, I soon found myself flailing helplessly in an ocean of my own inadequacies.
We lived on a 2500-acre farm in rural South Australia, aka the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed. I had no family close by, no support network to turn to. While my friends undertook university courses, careers, travel, I no longer even seemed capable to leave the house without deteriorating into a mire of irrational anxiety. Exhausted, burnt out, worn out, I lost my confidence, my capabilities, my ambition, my passion, and most days it appeared, my mind, too.
It wasn’t an issue of love; a woman’s heart will never beat with such fierceness as for that which she has created within herself. It was the belief that because I loved my children, I should love being a mother. But I didn’t. All I felt was the loneliness, the isolation, the invisibility, the loss of self, the ambivalence, the exhaustion, the guilt, the shame of all I lacked. Every night I would collapse into bed, overcome with guilt that I couldn’t be what they needed me to be, that I wasn’t as capable as other mothers, that I wasn’t enough. I would lie awake, despondent, reciting promises in my head – tomorrow I will try harder, tomorrow I will do better. But always, they fell short. Always, I fell short.
I wasn’t prepared for those feelings, for the mental and emotional upheaval that came with being a mother. These were the things not written in books, the things nobody speaks of because we’re all too busy being ashamed of our scarcity, too worried everything we feel is wrong, too afraid of being judged by those we compare ourselves to. When little do we know, they too stand inside the valley of their own inadequacies and break apart for how short they believe they fall in their comparison to us.
This year I will celebrate my sixteenth Mother’s Day. It has taken me this long to find the joy in being a mother. To no longer wake each morning to the words – this too shall pass – scrawled on sticky-notes on my bathroom mirror. To love and appreciate all my children bring to my life. To understand what it means to hold, first in my womb and now in my arms, the next generation – a generation I have been given the privilege to teach of compassion, tolerance, respect, kindness, goodness, love. A generation of world-changers.
It’s taken sixteen years to understand that being a mother is not something we are, but something we become. As we watch our children grow and learn from us, likewise, we grow and learn from them. They awaken us; force us to pay attention as we tread upon unsure ground, help us find our footing and become decided in our steps even when we walk in darkness. They soften our hard edges as they teach us of patience, sacrifice, unconditional love. They help us forgive our own humanity through the grace we offer theirs. They show us what it means to love as a result of the love they give to us, even when we are undeserving of such a profuse gift – especially when we are undeserving of such a profuse gift – and because of that, we are found better.
There is no way, sixteen years ago, I could have been prepared for the ways being a mother would change me. But nor could I have ever been prepared for the way my children would become the most beautiful part of everything I am today.
Original article published at SA Life Magazine