Had I known this is how motherhood would be, I would have approached all of my female friends differently. I would have shown up for them in other ways and been another kind of friend to the women who embarked on this journey before me.
I would have celebrated the hell out of them.
Because motherhood is unbelievably beautiful and undeniably hard. Yet, I could not have known the depth of this truth until I became a mother myself.
How was I to know that only warriors are asked to embark on this journey? That motherhood is the most beautiful, life-changing, widely open secret of soul initiation?
Why doesn’t anyone speak of this?
Why doesn’t anyone tell it like it really is, so we can genuinely know how to show up for one another in a modern-day mama soul tribe? Why do we feel we need to put on a lovely façade? Is it because we are afraid of being seen as weak to admit that throughout our lifetimes of giving, we are now in need of receiving and we simply don’t know how?
Motherhood is hard, because simply showing up every day in this new way is powerfully vulnerable and unbelievably heart breaking.
As Buddhism-inspired psychiatrist Mark Epstein believes, “Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence.” Every day, as a mother, we are experiencing the trauma of understanding that “there is no way to be alive without being conscious of the potential for disaster.”
In the midst of our inability to control the world for our children, we soldier on.
My baby is only six weeks old today and I know the tenderness I feel will only mount. What happens when she starts speaking? Starts running around and getting boo-boos? Starts getting her feelings hurt by friends or foes? Starts dating and experiencing sexuality, and being open to love and loss? How do I live in a world where I must witness acts of wounding against the heart growing outside of my body?
Motherhood is hard for the isolation. The sacrifices. Sometimes, I stare at a plate of food sitting beside me on the bed or the nightstand, that my husband has kindly brought to me. One hand is on baby breastfeeding and the other is on a pump. I have no hands to feed myself.
I am starving, the food gets cold, but I wait.
Motherhood is hard for the toll it takes on body and mind, that even as my body heals from natural childbirth, I am flung into constant nursing and sleepless all-the-times.
Four weeks after birth, I bring my daughter in for her check-up and my midwife says wryly, “Mother Nature has a funny sense of humor, doesn’t She? You’re now given this fully dependent being, you’re sleep deprived, you’re still healing, and you’re expected to provide all this love and nourishment for this baby.”
Motherhood is hard for the ways it can test relationships, the ways it asks you to show up better than you ever imagined you could and then to forgive yourself — and your partner — as much as possible when you can’t.
It’s hard because of the honesty of it all. We are asked to face our greatest fears and our worst habits or tendencies. We must not only acknowledge them, looking our shadow selves square in the face, but if we endeavor to be good parents, we must also do something about them. We must learn to overcome.
Had I known all of this, I would have brought daily gifts for each of my friends who are mothers to celebrate them simply for being. For all that their bodies went through in pregnancy and childbirth and the whole big aftermath of adjustment that is also rarely spoken of. The postpartum coming-back-to-ourselves, only our selves are changed forever.
If I could go back in time to change how I showed up for the women who became mothers before me, I would have made them meals and cleaned their floors and washed their laundry. Then, I would have asked, “What very little thing do you want to have done that you think isn’t a big deal but actually would mean so much?”
For me, it was having someone come arrange the art supplies in a cabinet, put a hook on the wall, clean dust bunnies beneath the door jamb. When my friends happily offered to help with these seemingly trivial things that I couldn’t get to, I felt infinitely more at ease.
So much of life is about the little things.
I would have held space for the brilliance these women fear they may not find again (at least for a while). Perhaps they were thriving in their careers before, or at least had a solid understanding of who they were and what they wanted. I would help hold onto their dreams until they can find them again.
I would be witness to the grief that comes in needing to change our lives mid-stride, as we willingly and sometimes resentfully make way for more selfless service to support our children.
We mothers have now ventured into a space of complete unknowing and to help us feel safe, we want to pretend that everything is okay. But it isn’t. By simply creating space for this truth to breathe, we actually end up making it okay after all. Because, according to Epstein, the most important thing we can do about suffering is to acknowledge it. Acknowledging it, while seeming like a minor adjustment, is actually huge.
This morning, I finished breastfeeding my baby, then walked out the door. Just like that. I barely brushed my teeth or said goodbye to the man and baby I love so much. I left them with each other, because I felt despair tangling the bed sheets around me, and I did not want to fall into that postpartum state of affairs that I had been warned about.
I needed to get up. To get out.
I walked to the road that I used to drive my Jeep down, the backside muddy path towards my favorite surf spot. When the asphalt met the dirt, I stopped. I hesitated, knowing that the amount of time I had before my husband went to work was dwindling away.
It was here, pausing in the in-between, that I realized I was deeply grieving who I used to be as I become the woman I am now.
Maybe motherhood is the greatest calling I never knew I was meant to fulfill. Given so many times throughout the day that I am asked to patiently sit, to be still, to be present with a wholly dependent little soul, I am left with a lot of time to think and wonder.
For a creative person, this current inability to take action on my ideas is a genuine practice in acceptance. Mostly, it’s hard to be with the weight of these emotions and I don’t have much place to run.
Being in this difficult place is why I wish I would have shown up differently for the women in my life. They could have used a friend to help fill in these monumental gaps as I need now.
I can’t go back in time, so instead, I will show up better for myself and for the mothers I know now.
I’ll fold into it as best as I can, the way I wrap my arms around baby when she is so tired she is crying because she’s fighting sleep, even though surrendering into this rest is precisely what she needs.
About the Author
Judy Tsuei is a writer, author, and yoga teacher who launched Meditations for Mamas after realizing how far away she felt from her practice and the rest of the world upon having her lil’ baby girl. Meditations for Mamas endeavors to build a genuine soul tribe by offering quick practices that can actually fit into a mama’s day; beautifully designed affirmations because every woman deserves to feel good; and, real and raw interviews with mamas who remind us we’re not alone in what we’re going through. Discover more at www.MeditationsForMamas.com.