If someone were to ask me to describe myself, the first thing that comes to mind is: "I am a mother of two boys." I would not say I was a wife. I would not say I was a friend or daughter. I would not describe my hobbies or interests. I would first think of myself as Mamma. That's what my boys call me for now, anyway. Well -- besides "Bossy Man," which my 5-year-old has recently taken a liking to. Which leads me to my anguish. To the ultimate suffering that some days I feel is the perfect way to describe motherhood.
The suffering did not begin with childbirth. In that moment, you escape yourself. You enter a space that cannot be described... and never should be. It's for a mother alone to know. A mission. A personal journey where there's no place for fear -- only an impenetrable desire to bring a new life into the world you've temporarily left behind.
The anguish began the moment I touched my new baby's slippery skin.
Emotionally, you are more full than you've ever been. They say you can't define love, but in this moment, it's tangible. You can touch it. You can feel every curve of love and see it at its finest, with every facial expression and curl of those tiny toes. Physically, you are empty. Drained from hours spent enduring what happened in that private space inside your body and mind. The weight that you had grown accustomed to inside your belly is suddenly gone. And you perhaps briefly mourn that no more nights will be spent lying in bed on your side, one hand tucked beneath your pillow, the other circling your belly, speaking to your baby through movements and pressure.
Speaking of pressure -- it hits you that first night alone. The enormous pressure of what you have done. The blessing and curse of the gift you've just been given. Your heart becomes so heavy with the weight of "If anything ever happens to this child I will crumble into nothing" that, although you should be sleeping, you realize you'll never truly rest in the same way again. Ever.
Forever and ever, as long as you live, someone else matters more than you. And you are now the protector of life, the healer of wounds, and the only one who makes that little one feel completely safe. Because after all, he came out of the safest place he'll ever know, and you might for a second wish you could have kept him inside your fortress of a body, for just a little longer.
Out of nowhere this child has taken away your old life. He stole your ability to be selfish right out from under you. You feel like the old you has been swapped suddenly for the mom you. The desire to go out and let loose becomes more fleeting. You would rather be investigating a mysterious rash than having a cocktail. The appearance of your hair and outfit is some days not even a thought in your mind. Your home does not look the same. There are swings and diapers and toys. A bassinet here, a diaper genie there, and probably piles of clothes scattered around and dishes piled in the sink. You may find yourself apologizing to your new squishy body out loud, as you realize how quickly you find yourself changed.
And how much they change. You are so sleep deprived in the first months that you might suddenly be distressed when you realize their appearance is already different. Their growth brings joy you've never known, along with the feeling that you're running as fast as you can, but just can't catch up. Every milestone brings awe and disbelief. Their laugh becomes music to your ears, and still, with all your happiness, if you think about how much love you have for them, you could cry in an instant. A mother wears the burden silently. Deep within you, always, always, you are fighting back the desire to not let them go.
But they go, and they go. The excitement they feel about everything in this world brings you back to a time when you saw things the same way. As you suffer through the self-torment of whether you are disciplining them right, teaching them the best way, giving them the attention they deserve, and keeping them safe, they keep you sane by reminding you how to have fun. But fun sometimes leads to booboos and tears, and there you are to hold them and tell them everything will be OK -- even as you secretly don't feel OK. Every bump, every bruise, every sickness, every sadness they feel, you feel. Every time they are teased or judged by the world because of any "differences" they may possess. Every time they fail, get embarrassed, or find themselves with a broken heart. Every time you yell or get angry because they are constantly trying to find a way to get their way, it hurts, and you will punish yourself for your mistakes.
When someone asks me to describe myself, I first say, "I am the mother of two boys," and that is no mistake. It's not because of regret or a confused response that I don't put myself first. It is my immediate response because it is my best quality -- not because it defines me. I am many other things. It's my best quality because what I continue to endure as a mother makes me feel strong. Every time I let go, every time I allow them to be who they are and go easier on myself, I feel amazing. It takes a warrior to love someone this much, and not completely lose your mind in the process.
If you are a mother, a soon-to-be mother, or a woman with the unstoppable desire to become a mother, prepare yourself for a lifetime of anguish and heartache. Prepare for disappointments, regrets, and feelings of helplessness at times. Prepare to be forced into reflection and constant change. Prepare to be the strength and the rock, and to love someone so much it causes pain.
Prepare to be painfully astonished at how complete you feel because of it. That tiny human you created unknowingly forces you to become the best version of yourself. Over time, he or she is the protector of your life, the healer of your wounds, and the reason you feel completely safe. Our greatest victories in life come from those for whom we've worked the hardest. And that is why I will always be a mother first.
Because it tells the world I am a warrior.