I’ve held my breath, waiting for it, that moment that the transformation would begin, like the slow warmth moving from your toes after the cold.
I’ve shook my head in sorrow for the women who haven’t found it, willing themselves against it or blocked by the chemical trappings in their brain furrowing in the darkness.
And although I’ve seen it time and time again, in many different forms and in many different families, it never fails to leave me in awe and wonderment —
That moment I watched you become a mother.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment it happens, but I can tell you that I always know when it has. A woman will enter the labor and delivery floor with that casual, self-assured presence of the childless, maybe chewing on a piece of gum, probably checking her phone every now and then, waiting for the hard part of labor to kick in. And she will leave, maybe chewing on a piece of gum, probably checking her phone every now and then — but she will never be the same.
For some women, it’s the journey through labor that does it, the force of the contractions rocking them to the ends of the earth and back, dragging them through a pain they didn’t know existed. Yet when they emerge victorious at the end, their eyes bear the knowledge that life is always stamped with death, that without pain there is no birth.
For others, it’s the moment of birth, the sudden appearance of a baby who at once seems unfamiliar and yet whose heart seems to beat within their very own, in the glorious merging of the mundane physical with the infinite power of the spiritual.
And for others it’s in those quiet, still minutes that pass in the days of recovery, It’s in a literal pouring out of self as blood and guts and milk are expressed and piece by piece, a new identity is sewn back together.
I’ve watched and wondered when it would happen, observing you quietly behind my station at the nurse’s desk, never telling you the truth about what is to unfold. I don’t tell you because it’s a truth that only your body can unveil, a journey that no one but you can travel. I’ve left you in the middle of a labor, my shift ending, where for you, it was all beginning. The next morning, when I tiptoed into your room, I saw that while I had slept my night away, your features had changed as clearly as if someone had stamped “Mother” upon them with a heavy clang.
I have contemplated what exactly it is, what exactly happens in a woman’s body, in her mind, in her soul when she becomes a mother, but it’s difficult to pinpoint just one change.
Instead, the transformation is a look in their eyes, a connection with that wellspring of life, a new meaning from going to the brink of themselves and coming back with the knowledge in their very bones. It’s in the way they walk, tenderly as raw flesh has been spilt open, but resolutely, their limbs heavy with the weight of the world that has been imprinted on them in their nine-month journey.
It’s in the mothers who blink back tears when we wheel them out, arms empty when a passerby lashes them with the whip they can never escape: “Oh, look, she just had a baby!”
It’s in the the mother who talked so fast she didn’t have time to think when she handed her baby over to her adoptive parents, as if one moment of silence would cause her meager wall of strength to crumble down around her slippered feet.
It’s in the young mother, the stark contrast to the backwards cap and energy-drink slugging teen next to her texting pictures of the baby to his friends, with the quiet transformation I see on her face, like a gentle rearranging of features on a face overnight.
So know this, dear mother: you may wonder, that first time you go somewhere without your baby, that sharp intake of breath you take when you realize that a piece of you is missing, if the world can somehow tell that you are more, that no matter what you do and where you go, that you will be forever marked as a mother.
And I’m here to tell you that yes, it is there, your mark of motherhood.
It’s not always the stray Cheerio on your pant leg, the “just in case” diapers stashed in your purse, or the dark circles under your eyes you hope no one notices. But it’s always there, in your eyes, in your bones that have borne the weight of another, in your arms that know what it’s like to carry the world, you are transformed.
From the moment you became a mother …
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