Tuesday, May 06, 2008
A Reflection on the Mother Journey
I've been contemplating this journey called motherhood. I find that with each new day of mothering my daughter, Meilani, comes new learning, new adventures, new discoveries. I uncover new versions of myself as I continue to work on being a mother. I've been a mother officially for two years now, but I believe the journey really begins during pregnancy when your whole world becomes wrapped up in the concept of bringing a child into the world. I still remember the way I would hold my belly and dream what it would be like to be a mother. From the very beginning of pregnancy I was inextricably tied to my child, grappling with the idea that I would be responsible for this new life entering the world.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how to make my birth journey more intentional when we have our next child. I recently joined a group called ICAN, which is dedicated to helping educate and support mothers through their birthing journeys. Mothers, friends, midwifes, doulas, doctors, nurses and other birth advocates are part of this circle. This group recognizes that each woman's birth journey is unique and we all need support in whatever our journey ends up to be. Each month we meet and discuss topics related to birth. I joined now so I can ask questions and look at birthing options when I'm not pregnant and I don't have the pressure of an impending due date to worry about. My friend Jessica, another Fresno Christian School coach's wife, is one of the leaders of the group and as we have grown our friendship she has invited me into her personal birth circle as well. During her pregnancy, we talked a lot about how to embrace birth and motherhood and how to respectfully and gently bring children into the world, which doesn't always happen in typical hospital births.
Part of Jessica's journey into being a mother of four was a special Mother Gathering hosted back in March. I was invited as a friend and also to take pictures of the gathering. I felt honored to be included even though I've known Jessica for a relatively short time. This was kind of like a shower but focused more on encouragement and support than on gifts and goofy games. Each woman was asked to bring a bead and a piece of cloth to give to Jessica. We each shared the symbolism or meaning behind our bead as we threaded the beads together into a necklace for Jessica. The swatches of cloth were sewed together into a banner of remembrance of all the women who stand behind Jessica as she births her child and welcomes him into the world. The stories and words of encouragement that each woman shared were thoughtful and empowering. I realized how important it is on my own mothering journey to surround myself with women from many walks of life who can encourage me, walk with me and shape me into the person I want to be. So often I see that mothers in our American culture go at the journey alone. We may exchange notes on diaper brands or sleeping rhythms but we don't get to the deep stuff. We compare ourselves to each other instead of building each other up.
Jessica's friend, Belinda, who was the hostess of the Mother Gathering, also invited us to help pamper Jessica by washing her feet. We washed her feet to serve her in this momentous time - her final month of pregnancy. For Jessica, this foot washing was also symbolic of her faith and the way Jesus Christ washed his disciples' feet. As I think about mothering, I know a lot of the journey has to do with serving. Each day I am asked to serve my daughter in ways I haven't ever served a human being before. I breastfeed her. I wipe her behind and her tears. I dress and bathe her. She trusts me fully, never asking about my credentials or my education. She doesn't call me out as phony or question my inexperience or a ask if I'm a novice. She runs to me again and again calling, "Hold me, Mama. Hold me." And those words empower me. Those words give me strength to wake up in the middle of the night to comfort her even when I don't feel like it. Those words make all the cooking, cleaning, laundry and even the whining so worth it. Those words give me a deep resolve and purpose that I have never felt so powerfully.
At the Mother Gathering, Jessica had three friends bring candles, symbols of light, the Trinity and the peaceful ambiance she hoped to create in her home birth. When the time came, just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a part of that home birth. It was a three-day process of welcoming her little boy into the world. The birth journey started on a Saturday evening by candlelight. Belinda and I were there, massaging Jessica's feet and encouraging her through each contraction. It was both peaceful and powerful - so different from any other birth - or for that matter anything else I've ever been a part of before. Throughout the night, as Jessica danced with each contraction, my eyes kept returning to those candles and thinking about the peace that passes understanding only God can give. Despite the pain she felt, Jessica clung to that peace and I saw in her a grace and dignity I hope to have in my next birth.
The journey over those three days was at times beautiful and at other times exhausting and overwhelming. We were all full of anticipation as we waited for the baby to arrive. Jessica dilated quickly but had a difficult two-day road trying to actually push the baby out. As an observer and attendant, I found it difficult. I felt clumsy. I did loads of laundry, cooked breakfast, comforted the youngest children who had lots of questions and concerns. I tried to serve my friend and her family but I soon came to understand that the most powerful act of service I could offer up was my fervent prayers throughout the process. This, too, was a lesson about the mothering journey. Sometimes I get so caught up in the "doing" of motherhood that I give myself little time for "being" a mother. What I mean is I often see my mother role as an extensive to-do list rather than a season, a journey, a time in space I've been given to enjoy, to relish, and to believe. As I learned through Jessica's birth, sometimes my most powerful act as a mother is offering up a prayer on behalf of my daughter and myself.
In the end, I did not see Preston when he came out. I took on my own mother role, mothering Jessica's children in my own home, while she birthed him with her husband, midwife, doula and friend closeby. At a recent baseball game, I snapped a quick photo of our newest newborn friend, Preston Morgan McGowen, son of Jessica and Billy, and little sibling to Peyton, Milani and Meliz. My Meilani loves peeking in at the baby, who she pretty much considers her new sibling as well. When I look at Preston I am reminded about the things I have learned about birth and mothering through his little life.
My second official Mother's Day approaches this week and I can't help but reflect on how this mothering journey has shaped me. I hardly remember my life before I was a mother. Perhaps that is testimony to how much this new role has become a part of my very fabric, my being. What I've discovered is that the mothering journey is really just part of the larger spiritual journey I'm on. Gary Thomas, in his book SACRED PARENTING, calls parenting a "sacred journey." He writes, "We live in the midst of holy teachers. Sometimes they spit up on themselves or on us. Sometimes they throw tantrums. Sometimes they cuddle us and kiss us and love us. In the good and the bad they mold our hearts, shape our souls, and invite us to experience God in newer and deeper ways." I've certainly learned this to be true. Each day is an opportunity for me as a mother to discover a new blessing.