I once saw a video of funny moments in sport. One of the clips showed a rugby scrum moving powerfully, with the referee dancing around them. Suddenly the writhing heap collapsed sideways and the poor little ref. was buried under several tons of flesh. Since becoming a mother I know exactly how that poor little man felt.
You marry and the first thing people ask you after “How was the honeymoon?” is
“So when are you going to start a family?” As if it was their business but yet the pressure starts, quietly at first just the odd comment from foolish aunts and manipulative grandmothers who want to see their great-grandchildren before they die. You carry on your life, ignoring the growing insistence of the voices and that relentlessly ticking clock; children are a sign of blessing from the Lord, happy is the man whose quiver is full of them, you are told with arch looks.
Then peer pressure of the worst kind starts. Your friends fall pregnant. Your conversations which used to be filled with plans for interior decorating of the love nest and layouts of new gardens, and exotic holidays for two, now becomes filled with complaints about morning sickness and visits to the gynae. Very soon you and your beloved succumb to all of this and look at each other and say: “Why not? Everyone else is doing it?” Without a thought for the consequences, you throw yourselves into the flow. It is amazing that one enters into the most life-changing experiences without even thinking twice. No one tells you that you are signing up for Life.
First Pregnancy is very like a honeymoon. You are caught up in the idea of Motherhood rather than thinking about what happens after. You expect that babies will be just like playing dolls. You live through the discomforts which are sweetened by the planning and furbishing of The Nursery; you are amazed at the feelings that stir when you feel the flutters of life in your swelling stomach. You become aware early on, that inside of you there is another person, albeit a stranger, not just a growth, or a new piece of yourself. You plan and dream, while you cuddle the new babies of your friends. You attend pre-natal classes and you pack your suitcase.
You wake one night with the sure knowledge that The Moment Has Come and shaking with excitement and nerves, you are rushed through dark streets to the hospital, screaming through red lights, Beloved almost hoping to attract the attention of some cop.
“I’ve always wanted to do that.” says your beloved, grinning.
After a long night and half a day of agony and pushing and puffing, you finally hold the sweet and precious cherub in your arms. Despite the pain, and newness of trying to feed her and the necessities of learning about changing nappies and bathing and coming to terms with the changes in your body, you are wrapped in an awareness of having done something marvellous. You have helped God with his creation and produced the most beautiful baby that ever lived. You feed her and wonder at the miracle she is; you stroke her soft cheek and examine her dainty hands and feet. Then she is whisked off to the nursery while you bask in the congratulations, surrounded by bouquets verbal and floral. The day comes when you can take her home, and your beloved carefully puts you both in the back seat of the car and whisks you home. You are surrounded by flowers and still in your imagination you can hear angels singing in pink fluffy clouds surrounded with bows and ribbons. Motherhood is so easy.
When you get home, your beloved says,
“I’m sorry darling; I have to go back to work. My leave only starts tomorrow.” The rat. You are left alone with cherub who begins to cry, and cry and cry. You change her nappy even though it is not necessary. Still she cries. Check for pins. She can’t be hungry. It is only eleven o’clock. She is only due for a feed at twelve. Something terrible must be wrong. In desperation you phone the hospital.
“Have you tried feeding her?” they say. You can hear the smile in the voice.
“But in the hospital, she was only brought for a feed at twelve…”your voice trails off.
“Try feeding her.”
Feeling very foolish you put down the phone. And feed her. The crying stops. For a while. And that silence is wonderful.
This when Reality rushes up to meet you. Soon you are convinced that every one conspires against you to conceal this reality from you so that you, too, will fall into the honey trap. No-one tells you about the sleepless nights or endless nappies. The crying doesn’t stop it seems, for six months. Then one day, she is passed that tiny baby stage. She sleeps through the night. She chuckles and smiles and pats your face. She spits porridge at you. You think that God made six-month old babies so cute in order to ensure the future of the human race. When the cherub is older and even cuter and you have forgotten about all the said sleepless nights and nappies, you have another one because she looks so lonely playing in the sandpit by herself. And it starts all over again with a second cherub. This time though, you are wiser and not so neurotic. You can’t believe that the love you have for the first cherub can extend to another, but love is wonderfully elastic. It fits perfectly.
You will never be the same. You can never go back to who you were. You are on duty all the time. Sleeping late is a thing of the past. Even holidays are working holidays. The pay is lousy. You can’t resign either. The loo is no longer a haven. You will be sitting quite comfortably, trying to snatch a read, when the door (which you didn’t quite close) is flung back and children (yours and any visiting ones) and dogs invade en masse without a by-your-leave. There is no place to hide. Showers are all you ever have time for. The house always looks a mess despite your best efforts.
I once told a young mother-to-be that she should not work right through her pregnancy but she should take some time for herself before the baby’s arrival, because she would never be alone, ever again. She was angry with me because she felt I was being negative but on reflection I know I was right. If your children are not physically present, you are ‘haunted’ by them, with the God-given awareness that only a mother could have.
You live through many problems that you have to overcome using your own initiative and lots of prayer. Babies don’t come with a manual, so you make some dreadful mistakes. Everyone has conflicting advice and you weave your way through this, trying to be firm and not feel guilty about doing what you feel is right. If only you were given a crash test dummy to make those mistakes on, you wish, and then when you have totally wrecked it, and maybe learned a few things, only then should you be given a real baby. But God gave imperfect children to imperfect parents and amazingly you all survive. One day you meet an old friend, who does not have children, and she chides you for not phoning.
“You are stuck in your Motherhood Comfort Zone.” she jeers.
“Comfort Zone!’ your voice rises hysterically. “Comfort Zone! I have never been so uncomfortable in my life!” However, you have to grow up alongside your children, because there is nothing like motherhood to reveal just how childish you really are. That is not comfortable. And not so wonderful.
There is job-satisfaction with lots of fun and laughter too; more rewarding moments than not. Warmth and love with hatfuls of kisses and hugs and beautiful memories to make you forget the hard stuff. But that is Life. Nothing worthwhile is easy and Motherhood is very worthwhile. And it is Wonderful.
May 8th 2004