Remember how those labor pains feel? You can be in such intense pain one minute, then the next minute, you’re all fine and comfortable, feeling excited for the new little person you’ll get to meet before long. Then the next pain hits. My midwife told me to envision myself on the ocean, riding the waves of pain up and down, letting them wash over me, accepting the ups and downs as part of a beautiful process rather than fighting against them. Her idea sounded good. But when the serious contractions took over, it was sure hard to remember anything other than the pain. When I hit transition, I remember yelling out “I’m DONE. I can’t do this anymore!” but when I heard, “There’s the head!” the joy of anticipation carried me into the pain and pressure of pushing. Quite suddenly, my slimy squashy precious beautiful baby was in my arms. And those waves of pain were over as pure joy consumed me.
But there was still a whole ocean to cross.
Do you remember taking that baby home and riding those waves of pain and joy up and down as you figured out breastfeeding and sleeping and colic? Oh the excruciating pain of a baby latching on! You grit your teeth and count to ten. Then it’s OK and there is peace beyond peace with that sweet suckling sound and the cheek of your precious child against your breast. Oh the frustration of a baby crying and crying no matter what you do or a newborn who just won’t sleep! You feel so helpless and frustrated and tired that you just want to give up. But a little while later, you’re watching your baby sleep, the dark eyelashes against her full cheeks, the little noises in her sleep, the welling up of joy as you marvel at the little angel you helped to create. The waves of motherhood just keep coming – the hard stuff, the good stuff, the hard stuff, the good stuff.
Fast forward a little and you’re discovering that your little cherub has just made his tenth huge mess of the day (even though it sure seems like he was right under your feet all day long) and there is now paint all over the new carpet in his room. You’re at the end of your rope. But an hour later, the mess is cleaned up (at least sort-of) and a freshly-bathed little boy in fuzzy pj’s is nestled on your lap, his soft hair under your chin smelling of baby shampoo, his chubby fingers pointing out his favorite things in the pictures while his sweet baby voice says the words. You rode the waves through another little storm.
Fast forward even more – after being up in the night with a sick child, you did mountains of laundry while refereeing squabbles between your preschoolers and fielding their regular needs all day before receiving a phone call from your child’s teacher about a behavior problem and finding a big bill in the mail that you weren’t anticipating. Then the kids get home from school and while you’re prodding one son along with his homework and and talking to another about his behavior problem at school, your daughter comes in crying about something mean that someone said to her that day. Meanwhile, your two preschoolers start wrestling and knock a lamp over and break it. That’s it. You’re DONE. You let out a few choice words before storming into your room to cry it out. But later in the evening, as you put your kids to bed, they beg for a story and even though you’re desperate to be done with motherhood for the day, you snuggle with them and tell them a story about yourself as a little girl – a story that teaches them a lesson they needed to hear – and they eat it all up and you feel like maybe you’re a good mom after all as you tuck them in and kiss them good night. Then when you go to bed yourself, you find a note in scratchy 8-year-old writing on your pillow. “Mom, I’m sorry I was in trubble at school today. I will be better. I love you.” Tears well up as you feel a fierce love for this boy who’s riding his own waves now.
Every week, every month, every year, each stage of motherhood brings new challenges – and new joys. Just like the waves on the ocean never stop but never last, the waves of joy and pain in motherhood just keep coming. Waves can get big and push us down to the point that we sometimes wonder if we can get back up. But when we keep our heads up, treading water with all the hope and love we can muster, and trust that there is peace on the other side of this storm, we make it through again and again, becoming stronger all the while.
The pain and joy of motherhood go hand in hand. They are inseparable. You can’t get the baby without the waves of labor pains. You can’t become the strong and patient and knowledgeable mother you want to be or raise the resilient and wonderful children you dream of without the waves of trials and joy that stretch and grow you and bind hearts together.
So when that next motherhood pain hits you, remember that sage advice from my midwife: “Envision yourself on the ocean, riding the waves up and down, letting them wash over you, accepting the ups and downs as part of a beautiful process.”