What it means to me to be a mother
I never answered truthfully when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the answer, it was that society was like the salmon we saw in Alaska. It had continued for thousands of years in one function and form and as it neared the end of time, roles were changing, growing long, vicious teeth and beginning to decay. It was no longer okay for me to say, “I want to be a mother,” because society, (I thought) would think “JUST a mother.” “Why don’t you have some IMPORTANT ambition??”
To me, ‘Mother’ meant ‘seamstress’, ‘cook’, ‘home decorator,’ ‘shopper,’ and ‘storyteller.’ It meant that I could plan my own days and prioritize my time according to the needs of my children. It meant being a celebrity in my family. It was the only life that insured that I could be vitally important to some other people. It was the only career where God would be one of my two partners. I wanted to do something BIG in life. Raising human beings, children of God, was the biggest thing I could imagine.
Oh CHILDREN! I wanted eight or ten or twelve of them. I would help them with their schoolwork and my husband and I would take them on adventures. We’d teach them to be fearless, to love our Heavenly Father, to keep themselves morally and physically clean. Our children wouldn’t fight with each other because they’d be having too much fun together. They’d all love to read and to learn. They’d be physically fit and spiritually diligent.
I never dreamed about my wedding. For one thing, a marriage in an LDS temple requires no planning for the ceremony itself. The sealing rooms are always beautifully decorated. The altar in the center of the room is under a brilliant crystal chandelier. There are huge mirrors on facing walls so that they reflect the couple back and forth into eternity. I didn’t think about my wedding, but I thought about my marriage. I imagined my husband quiet and tender, a blond, blue-eyed fellow, somewhat tall, very righteous. . .and that’s about as far as I got.
Thirty four years and three weeks ago, I married my husband Jeff in the LDS temple in Oakland, CA. It’s high on the bench overlooking the San Francisco bay. Our dress was appropriately white and the sun and the future were bright. We had fun parties afterward. Everybody dressed up. We had chocolate cake.
Thirty three years ago today, I became a mother. But that event was NOTHING like I’d planned. Babies don’t take well to planning, I’ve learned since, but Sept 8 1979 was a crash course.
I went into labor early in the morning on Sept 7. My mother had told me that labor felt like really bad menstrual cramps. I went all day having “REALLY bad menstrual cramps.” I was sent home from the hospital three times before late the next morning they let me stay. By then, I couldn’t think or move or even breathe through a pain. An hour or two later, I lay quivering, suffering, beyond anything I could ever have imagined. I couldn’t fathom how Jesus Christ could have suffered MORE than I was suffering then, and lived. I had forgotten that the suffering was purposeful. There was nothing but the pain.
The nurses came in and read the monitor. Then they shook and prodded my pregnant tummy, telling me that my baby was getting tired and was ‘falling asleep’. Once the heart rate returned to normal, they left me to suffer undisturbed. I didn’t want to have an epidural because it cost $50 and wasn’t covered by insurance.
Oh the miracle when the pain changed just a tiny bit! Instead of the bottomless, slick pit of pain, my body suddenly caught a toe hold I could push against. Jeff called the nurse and she checked. “Oh Yay!” she said. “Go ahead and push!”
It wasn’t that pushing didn’t hurt, but it was like pressing your hand against a wound. It seemed that there was some trace of control over the pain.
About fifteen minutes after that first ‘pushy’ feeling, Tricia was born. The doctor stepped in front of the mirror and once her body was free, he held her high looking into her mouth. “She’s not quite as perfect as we’d like her to be.”
I was still bathed in the wonder of the pain having gone away.
“She has a complete cleft lip and palate on the left side.” He turned her and laid her on my flat stomach. She had long black hair and a round little head, (it hadn’t molded a bit. . .hence the 36 hours of labor), Her skin was more olive than I expected, but her rosy cheeks were plump.
The year before, I had attended a plastic surgeon’s before-and-after slide show, with my roommate Dawna. So for the instant between the doctor’s warning and the moment I saw her, I knew that it would be fixed and that that the result would look pretty normal.
Tricia was very strong, and amazingly alert. She pushed her little head up and looked at me. “Hello Funny Face,” I said.
After a few minutes, they whisked her away to check her heart and listen and look and clean. Since the face and palate develop at the same time the heart is dividing into ventricles, (before the mother even knows she pregnant), cleft palate and lips are sometimes associated with heart defects. But Tricia was otherwise fine. They bundled her up and let Jeff hold her for a while as the doctor stitched me up.
When I was snugged into the warm blankets, they gave me the Bundle that changed my identity. I was a MOTHER! I was HER mother!
All at once, my spiritual eyes were opened and I felt/saw this imperfect baby’s ‘trailing clouds of glory.’ I felt the wonder, awe, and weight of the trust my Heavenly Father had bestowed on me, to make me the mother of that beloved daughter. I knew he would give me all that I needed if I would turn to him. Because I would fall short and need Him to make up the difference. A mother! I was bathed in the joy and solemnity of God taking my hand in His to guide this human being back to Him. Tears filled my eyes. I could not speak.
And then the delivery nurse wheeled through the swinging doors and the nurse that had helped me through labor came and looked into my face. She saw the tears and mistook their cause. “I’m so sorry!” she said and tears started in her own eyes. “You had such a hard time! I wish . . .” The delivery nurse saw my face crumple and whisked my baby out of my arms. Sympathy undid me.
Suddenly the weight of worldly judgment and the sorrow that would come to me and to my little girl settled on me like a black condor and the majesty of the moment dissolved into self-pity.
But that was 33 years ago. That black-haired baby’s hair grew in blonde and then after a few years, turned dark again. We had many long nights. I shed many a private tear where she could not see. She was a friendly little busy body with a huge imagination. She was always the best student in her class and always tried her best to ‘be a good girl.’ She graduated with honors from High school and went to BYU on scholarship. She did her student teaching in Xi’an China and after teaching a year, served a Russian speaking 18-month mission in Ukraine. After her mission, she moved to AZ, and after another year of teaching school, she decided she wanted a master’s degree so she could be a reading specialist. She sold her car to save expenses and with working two part time jobs, earned her Master’s degree in literacy in a year. She has a brilliant website, “CleanReads.net” almost ready to launch, that will change the world. (It’s functional now, but she wants 500 titles minimum before she starts promoting it.)
I have six sons, too. I could brag shamelessly about each of them, too. But bragging doesn’t truly express what it feels like to be me. Motherhood is not only everything I dreamed it would be, it’s a thousand times more. It’s a thousand times harder and a thousand times sweeter. There are no words to explain what it feels like to have a little boy’s sweaty body sprawled on your lap in sleep. There is no expressing the feeling when I was called out into the snowy morning for the twentieth time because one of the boys had just mastered the “jump” on the snow hill behind our house. There’s a special kind of honor in being the person in all the earth they like best to spring a successful prank on. What strange tears flow on the day they leave for the far reaches of the earth to serve the Lord in the Philippines, Ukraine, Alabama, Guatemala, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and Yet-to-be-Known (Thomas is only 16) for two years. And oh the sense of being folded in their arms, as they rise from the altar across from some beautifully righteous person in the temple on their wedding day!
When I visit my sons’ homes and I watch them gather their families for evening prayer, and their tiny children bring the scriptures with them, I can’t hold back the tears. It’s not a show for Grandma’s sake. It’s what they do!
I had a hysterectomy this summer. It became medically unavoidable. I anticipated it with dread, even though my heavy periods were getting unmanageable and increasing in frequency and duration. I had always wanted to be a mother. Even at 52, I felt the conflict of removing the possibility of ever having another baby and taking proper care of my body. I shed some private tears as I thought of it. We call that procedure ‘getting fixed’ in animals. It seemed like ‘getting broken’ to me.
The week before the surgery, one of my boys told me that he’d listened to a lecture by an anesthesiologist for one of his classes who said that he personally would never go under general anesthesia. . .it was too risky! Thanks for telling me. (Another prank?)
The night before the procedure, I asked my good, loving husband to give me a priesthood blessing. Jeff is a Marketing Finance Manager for Farmers Insurance but as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, every worthy man may be given priesthood authority to lay hands upon others to invoke the power of God in their behalf. We call it a “Priesthood Blessing.”
As Jeff lay his hands upon my head, and began to speak, I felt the words affect me. He told me that my Heavenly Father loved me and was watching over me. He said that I had been greatly blessed to be a mother and that it was a good thing to have the procedure. He blessed me that I would be comforted and not suffer emotionally. And he also blessed me that the surgery would go well and my health would improve because of it.
In that moment, I was filled with gratitude and it has not lessened as the weeks pass. My dreams of Motherhood have come true. It is enough. I love each of my children more deeply and joyfully than they will understand until they have lived through what I have lived through. I didn’t get 8 or 10 or 12. I only got seven, but to me, they are the magnificent seven!
I’ve been a mother for thirty-three years. . .in about two and a half hours. Oh it is indeed a day for celebration!