Sunday, May 10, 2009

A mother's birth

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. The mother is something absolutely new. ~ the religious leader Osho

Today was Mother's Day, and I lit the chalice in today's services with this quotation. It focused on a part of motherhood that is often overlooked. It's overlooked in all the sentimentality around Mother's Day, and it's overlooked in the now-you're-going-to-have-a-baby books. I cannot imagine a woman not being changed by becoming a mother. It certainly changed me, and I didn't expect it at all!

Friend-from-kindergarten Marty told me that when she was pregnant, a mother she worked with assured her, "It's like falling in love with a stranger." Not really, Marty herself concluded. "It's like being mugged by your best friend."

In the talkback following today's service, Eric spoke about the birth of his twins. It was very premature, following an extremely difficult pregnancy. Eric and his wife didn't actually know each other all that well when they became parents. And yet, out of nowhere, his wife, the babies' mother, found reserves of psychological, emotional, and physical stamina to be at the hospital every waking hour and to make him do it too. This new mother became an entirely new person because her babies needed her to be that person. And in fact, the children's health today (in their late teens) speaks to the astounding care they received from her during those months in the neonatal ICU.

As new mothers, most of us do not face demands so drastic. The "normal" sweep of new emotions and crushing physical changes is hard enough. A quarter-century into motherhood, what I find miraculous is that mothers are changed most of the time. I believe most mothers do the best we can, and fortunately, most of our children forgive us for what we didn't do well.

My mother and grandmothers had struggles different from each other, and I don't really think my mother ever truly came to grips with motherhood. Nonetheless! Let me repeat the names of my three mothers, and my mother's three sisters, because each became someone different for me: Margaret and Lydia and Elizabeth and Nancy and Betsy and Billie. Inset photo: Unfortunately, a double exposure taken against Florida palm trees on December 25, 1916 -- Will and Lydia one week before Margaret's birth.

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