by Jamie Mabe
We begin with so much inexperience; this inexperience is the necessary cornerstone to the hubris that is required to begin the journey of motherhood in the first place. We have no idea what we’re in for. We want to have a child, a baby, a family. What seems like a simple act; starting a family, is actually the first step of the epic journey that we didn’t really know we were starting on. It is leaving home forever, unknowingly.
We “prepare” for our journey with planning, purchasing, and “nesting”. We do all that we can to “see” what our journey will be like, but like a bad vacation, our well-laid plans are often ruined. We didn’t foresee that the journey would include death of self. If we knew that ahead of time maybe we would never have undertaken the journey in the first place, or we would try to outsmart the death and in turn create a monster.
We think we are brave but we’re not; you can’t be brave unless you’re scared first, and when we start on this parenting journey, we often don’t know enough to be scared properly. We walk out the door with our chin up and chest proud and immediately we are stripped of sword, pack, comforts and map. When the labor pains start our journey into the shadow of death begins. We descend to Hades, we leave our bodies. When the baby is born and our soul comes back it has been irrevocably changed. That is the first death of the many deaths that are necessary to be a mother. We learn that we will have to love with all our heart someone who will never be in our control. Great love and death are the same; they kill our ego.
When we get baby home, where we NOW feel so in control, we try to regain our footing, try to be the woman we used to be. But this is where we begin to realize that we are not the same person as the one who left for the hospital. The “heroine” has returned home but home has changed forever. Home is no longer comfortable. We keep trying to “put new wine into old wineskins”, and it doesn’t work. Our relationship with our partner has changed. Our relationship with our self has changed. Our new soul, reworked by the death of who we once were, now inhabits our bodies, and belief, faith, habits, thoughts, and actions of old are (in most cases) no longer useful and productive. Our selves are re-created like quilts, throwing out the old ripped cloth, patching it with new cloth, and becoming something altogether new.
It is necessary to let go of more of our ego, that is, our own exaggerated sense of self importance and control. This is not to be confused with selflessness, or having no concern for oneself. You should have an even greater concern for yourself. Remember, this baby thinks that you and s/he are the same creature, and in so many ways you still are. Putting yourself first means putting you both first- prioritizing health (mental, physical, emotional, relationship) is crucial in this new-found symbiotic relationship. Putting aside your control, however, is something new. You love this child as much as yourself – but you are not in control. Releasing this control (or ego) helps you become the new wineskin that can hold the new wine.
To let go, release, and re-make, we start out on another epic journey. This new journey is a little easier because now we have seasoned faith. We know that the outcome is unknown and out of our hands. We know that we have to rely on something that is not us. We have one of the key elements of faith, vulnerability, and it helps the next death not hurt so much. In fact, now that we realize that these personal deaths (or releases of control) are for our betterment, we welcome it. Our faith wrested from us the control that was never ours in the first place. We are now brave, because we are scared but we carry on anyway.
As mothers we are the shepherds, the ones covered in sheep poop, standing up to the wolves, taking care of the flock. Unfortunately, this holy work often comes without gratitude or rank. It’s not a sexy job. When we come back from our epic journey we aren’t put on the crowd’s shoulders and carried through the center of town. We come back and are celebrated in the smallest and most significantly insignificant ways: our partners are happier, our babies are comforted, we experience our selves as re-made. Our faith is seasoned, tested, transformed.
Jamie Mabe is a mother of two boys and lives in the triangle area of North Carolina.