What is the source of a Mother's courage? Of her strength? They come from somewhere deep inside all of us. They come from the care and support we give to each other. They exist without intention or recognition; we do what we do simply because we are Mothers.
When a new Mother is expecting, she waits and dreams about the future. She wonders and worries if her baby will be healthy and whether she will be any good at the monumental task of mothering. Facing feelings of fear and choosing to educate oneself in response are acts of courage, the first signs of what is to come. We watch every bite of food and drink that passes our lips, forgoing medicine because of its effect on the baby, shifting our focus from our self as one person to two as we metamorphose into Mothers. We are tested to relinquish control and to trust in new ways as our bodies grow and change.
Once our children are born, we grow with them, teaching and tending. Their victories make our hearts leap and their challenges gnaw at the pit of our stomachs. We carefully foster our child's sense of self, allowing her to experience the world in its variety. We learn to step aside, to allow our child to bask in success without having to share the spotlight. We learn to let go, to let our child fail or succeed all by himself, so that he can own his achievement. We pick up our little girl and dust her off and set her on her way again, knowing that in doing so we empower her to do the same for herself down the road. We listen, we advise, we enrich. It is the mission of Motherhood, our calling, our vocation.
At the beginning of the journey, the first test of our Mother's courage, we face the unknowns of labor and care for our newborn child. Sometimes, we face much more. My husband's cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer while her youngest son was in the womb. She delayed treatment until she could be assured her baby would be safe from its effects. Her son never knew his mother without cancer, and although her battle ended when he was only five years old, she would not have changed her decision to bring her vibrant, healthy boy into this world whole. That is bravery, sacrifice, strength.
Many Mothers dream of adopting and patiently wait, enduring the scrutiny of strangers and repeated disappointments so they can give a child a loving home. They nurture their adopted children in a way the circumstance of birth would have made otherwise impossible. Often, they rescue and give children who have been abused, mistreated, or neglected the gifts of acceptance and love. Adoptive mothers are courageous volunteers, displaying a brand of dedication all their own.
The courage of a mother can reveal itself in the face of loss, when we lose a child whom we have not even been blessed to know. Mothers don't like to talk about the pain of miscarriage, but it remains even years later. I can testify to the truth of that. But we do not let it beat us; we face that pain and move forward. After my own miscarriage, my spirit was crushed under the weight of a sadness so profound it is difficult to describe. In time, I became pregnant again and gave birth to my second son. I was so grateful for another chance, another child to love. He was my miracle. Only later did my husband admit that he considered the way I carried him and loved him and was renewed by him an act of courage. I never thought of it that way. I was just his Mother.
Mothers often have to hear life's most difficult truths from the mouth of a doctor. Our child may have Downs Syndrome or Autism; she has suffered a stroke; he has a seizure disorder. A doctor informs us that our daughter or son will not walk or talk or eat or learn the same way as other children. And though the truth of that shatters a part of every mother's dreams for her child, we gather ourselves up and move forward. We patiently teach, we become unpaid speech therapists and pediatric nurses. My sister spent seven years of her son's life sleeping on a chair in his hospital room and could put in an IV when no nurse on the floor could. Mothers can be the best, most courageous advocates and the foremost experts on their child's condition. Mothers of the sick are, to my mind, some of the most self-sacrificing courageous creatures ever created on this Earth. Yet, if you admire their endurance and strength, often they will shrug it off as nothing special. It is special.
Mothers give and derive strength from our networks of support. We help guide each other, we listen to each other, we appreciate each other. What is it about Mothers that makes it possible -- despite the chaotic nature of our own lives -- when another mom is in trouble, to respond without question? When my young nephew passed away, my girlfriends set aside their own schedules to cook for my husband and the boys, to babysit when needed, so I could fly across the country with my infant daughter for his funeral. Those girls, my fellow moms, were a part and source of my strength. They eased my burden and made it possible for me to comfort my sister, a mom facing what no mother should ever have to.
But even when the situation is not difficult, but everyday, Mothers are courageous. Single mothers bravely balance work and their child's care, never letting hard work or a hard life make them hard individuals. We need to recognize the difficulty of what single moms do, with little or no backup. It is, in my mind, superhuman.
Elderly mothers, our grandmothers, can face pain, illness, and loneliness while their children live their busy lives. We should honor them and support them. We should visit them and send them cards that say, THANK YOU for being the amazing woman you are. My own grandmother has a brilliant sense of humor and a full, throaty laugh. She is an artist and taught me how to cook. She is a vibrant woman who has lived a full, courageous life, surviving the Depression and war, loss of siblings, children, husband. She deserves honor and love and care.
And my own mother, who has so often faced trouble with a quiet, prayerful faith that leaves me in awe of her stillness, has a reserve that I will never possess -- a grace that should be cherished. Her three daughters are all mothers now, and she helps us and listens to us and guides us to make our best decisions. She takes care of her health meticulously, which takes some measure of inner strength. For a year, she has endured Graves Disease without allowing it to shatter her sense of purpose or self. She is my unwavering friend. She does not just have strength, she embodies it.
There is no Mom I know, no family I know, who has had an entirely easy life. That's not what life or Motherhood is or is meant to be. Instead, Motherhood contains unspeakable joys and the deepest sorrows. It tests the core of who we are. It defines us in many ways. It changes us.
When I am honest about my own mothering, I must admit that I fail as often as I succeed. I am not as patient as I should be. I am temperamental. Sometimes the effort to deal with a situation creatively proves too much for me. But no Mother is the perfect Mother. I believe learning from my failures is a part of the journey. Facing my weaknesses and trying to do better next time is a part of the process. Continually learning what I can to be a better parent, accepting that I sometimes need help, taking time to reset and recharge, all help me to be a better Mother -- not perfect, but better.
Sometimes, I have to dig down for the strength to begin again.
Fortunately for me, the well of Motherhood is deep. From it, I can draw strength and endurance and courage. From the example of the women around me, the other mothers who are a part of my life, I can find renewal.
Maybe that's why I am taking the time to appreciate the power and wonder and courage of Mothers and of Motherhood itself today. With Mother's Day on the horizon, it seems like the perfect time.
To my fellow Moms, I wish you warmth and joy and continued strength in the coming year. Thank you for all you do, and Happy Mother's Day.
- Midwest Mom