Tomorrow is L's first birthday. And so tomorrow is her day, but today is mine. Because on the eve of her birthday, I remember the moments when the work that made me a mother began. Yes, pregnancy involves sacrifice and discomfort, but taking care of the baby is still essentially taking care of yourself. Until labor.
On Tuesday, July 4 last year, I labored to bring L into this life.
Labor is an incredible thing, not to be trusted at all. You see, I don't remember the pain. I do remember that there was a lot of it, that at one point the feeling changed from the powerful flex and release of my muscles to the unnatural, uncontrollable, shooting pain that you feel during a midnight leg cramp, and that I thought my body might split open with the intensity of it. But as dramatic as all that sounds, that is not what seems important when I think about the work of labor.
What seems important is the smile glowing on Clint's face as he told me "You're doing great, Laura!" The feeling that we were in the presence of Holiness, that something huge and terrifying and utterly beyond understanding overshadowed us. The feeling that God was with me, his mother-arms gently surrounding me and holding me up, because he knew exactly the pain I felt, the pain-with-a-purpose, the pain of bearing-into-life--he had felt that pain in the creation, in the garden, on the cross. What seems important is the feeling of a focus so intense that it bubbled with laughter, overflowed in tears, flowed through decisions and dissolved into sleep without losing sight of the goal for one moment.
My labor didn't last that long. Maybe six hours hooked up to drugs before I had to ask for other drugs which dulled the focus. Then only a few dozy hours until what focus I had left looked death in the face, then pushed me into the surreality of the operating room, for L's safety. Perhaps I would feel differently if labor had dragged on for several weary days, or if I had been one of the unlucky women with persistent nausea and vomiting, or if, as in the case of several mothers I care deeply about, I knew during the whole process I was no longer bearing-into-life.
Even with the happy outcome of L's safe arrival, for months and months afterward the goodness of my Motherwork was obscured by the helplessness I felt, the "loss of agency," as a friend put it. But the more I meditate on the things I treasured up in my heart that day, the more I realize that there is no way around the terrible truth: motherhood is a great giving up of agency. My consent to go trembling into surgery without any guarantees, the slow and painful recovery of my powers over own body after a caesarian section, the nights (and nights and nights) of interrupted sleep, they are all of a piece with the pain and the mystical beauty and the focus. They are all in the holy presence that burns, but (hopefully) does not consume. I'd like to hope that this same great love envelops women on even the most terrible of Motherdays listed above. I can't speak from experience on those counts.
What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that after last year July 4th will never be the same for me again. It is the day I became a mother.