Does Motherhood Break Us Into Pieces Or Make Us Whole?
Our eldest did not arrive easily in the world.
I spent a large chunk of his third trimester on bedrest with complications. My activities during that period of confinement were limited to worrying about the baby and watching the news, HGTV, and the Food Network, then worrying about the baby again.
I missed my job.
I missed using my brain.
I missed showering, which had become a twice-a-week privilege. Heck, I missed washing the kitchen floor.
I followed my doctor’s orders to the letter because these were the terms of the trade-off. But deep down, I struggled with the limitations, my mind everywhere and nowhere as pieces of the old me chipped off and floated away during my mooring.
Though I’d never had so much time on my hands, I didn’t have the head to read the books piled high on the side table. I did not yet own a laptop, and my blogging life was years away, a shame because I might’ve sent clever dispatches called Tales from the Couch, the one I was desperate to get up from. I was bored, numb from staring at the same cracks in the ceiling. On the other hand, I never tired of rubbing the beautiful mound of my belly, evidence of the little person pickling inside me.
Because of the complications, my doctor scheduled a C-section for November 4, the date of the New York City mayoral election that year. He told me to take things slow and easy until then, but at least he freed me from the couch. I made it to Kol Nidre and planned to vote the morning of the delivery. Yet I started to nest fiercely when I returned home from an ultrasound about a week before the procedure. Soon after, my water broke, and I feared a million fears in the back of the cab on the way to the hospital – Would the baby be okay would I be okay would I find my way in the new configuration of things? Meanwhile, the driver kept cautioning me, “Don’t have that baby back there. I just had the seats reupholstered.”
It’s funny to me in hindsight that he thought I had control over when the baby would appear. As if, on the cusp of motherhood, I had control over anything at all.
The next bits are a blur.
Then I heard the doctor announcing “Wow, that’s a big baby!” and the baby screaming and my heart pounding, Baruch Hashem, he’s got lungs. Behold, there was my long, sturdy, squirming child, covered with a slick, shiny layer as if he’d emerged from the sea. I was grateful, amazed that I’d played a role in bringing this new human into the world. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a crowd of pediatric residents examining him and the nurses doing all their blessed things until suddenly, there was a swaddled infant in my arms.
I have a child
I stopped breathing. For that moment and for all of my days on this earth.
And now, this child who made me a mother, whose arrival changed the direction my world spins, has turned 21.
I have always believed in God, never doubted His tangible presence in my life. But on that day in the OR, when I held my firstborn as he burrowed his makom kavuah in my heart, I had all the proof I could ever want or need.
Sometimes, when my boys come home – after weeks at camp or college or a long Shabbos away with friends – the moment is breathtaking. I shake my head in wonder at the width of their shoulders and their five o’clock shadows, as if I’m meeting them for the first time. Then my mind sweeps me back to the simple days of their infancy, and I sigh, recalling the way their tiny bodies once fit in the crook of my arm.
As I write this, I no longer have the glow of new motherhood. It’s the hardest gig in the world and I’m tired. Yet my love has grown deeper and fuller over the years, and I know that the worrying will only end when I depart from this world, may I be blessed to be here until 120. Meanwhile, I’ve begun to search for my old self in our nearly empty nest. The time seems right to try to find her amid the memories that fill this space, though I doubt I’ll recognize her when I do.
It’s the eve of another election, this time a Congressional race, and I’ve just baked a birthday cake for my son. I’m debating how to position the 22 (one for good luck) candles, thinking about the choices we make and how some of the outcomes end up being miracles that expand our hearts to the point of bursting, exceeding the breadth of our deepest prayers.
I recall how I once spent months on the couch, mourning the parts of myself that were slipping away while my stomach grew and an interior designer faux finished a dresser on HGTV. I stared for so long at the cracks in our apartment ceiling – pausing to watch the moments tick by on the cable box, wondering whether motherhood would break me in pieces or make me whole.
Now, when I touch my belly, I remember its glorious fullness and feel the wrench of its emptiness all at once. And I know, as if God Himself has come down to tell me, that the answer to my question is both.