Once I was a baby who lived inside my mother’s womb. There, she housed and fed me and provided everything I needed, but I didn’t know that. I just took what was offered without regard to the source. Later, I was born and sought nourishment, protection and safety from her in other ways, again completely clueless about her identity or the fact that she was, herself, a human person who had the same basic needs that I did. And at the same time she was feeding and protecting me, she was healing from the occasion of my birth, which tore and stretched her insides and caused her to bleed. She knew that her primary job was to tend to the newly born baby and her older sister, even while she physically recovered from the toll of the birth. I’m sure she put herself last, as she did for years after that. God knows it was many years before I saw and empathized with her as a human person with her own wants and needs. Before that, it just felt like she was a sometimes annoying, yet ever-present part of me.
I was born a whole person, but the process of my birth caused damage to my mother’s body. Similarly, my body suffered as a result of the births of my two children, one an induction and the other a cesarean section. Both recoveries had their own interesting, tiring, and sometimes gross impacts on my body, but as I healed, I provided nourishment and care for my babies from the very same body that was broken and in need of restoration. I did both at the same time, and I thought nothing about it and neither did my babies. It’s just what mothers do.
When I dropped my son off at college, I delivered him, whole, to a new life. He was only kind of aware of the sacrifices I had made to get him to that point and was largely clueless about the raw wound in me that had opened around that delivery. He saw my tears, but he didn’t see the bleeding and tearing that was behind them, and how I would need to quietly heal over a span of who knows how much time. That’s as it should be. Like most mothers, I am putting the development, needs, and well-being of my newborn college student before my own. I am feeding his mind, body, and spirit with books, meal plan, way too many snacks, almost-constant prayers, and tons of space to grow. But I am sometimes bleeding, and sometimes healing from it all at the same time, and it is quiet, bewildering, painful work. I think of Mary who, when Jesus was born, was said to have “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) And I think, yes, mothers have so much to ponder. It can take a lifetime, and that kind of powerful love and long, specific memory feels sometimes like a curse when it is, in fact, a treasure.
What I wouldn’t give to talk to my own mother about all of this, and to hear about her experience of letting me and my sisters go. I wish I could thank her for all the sacrifices I never saw then but can guess at now. A mother can be at her most heroic when she steps back and allows her children to fly, even while still feeding them from a distance. But she needs time and space to process it all, to ponder, and to heal. And one day, her babies will grow and understand most of what’s been done for them, and will do it for someone else. That’s a circle that never ends, and a pretty good thing to ponder.