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The Death of Motherhood

Motherhood feels a lot like death, but maybe that's not so bad.

PC: Patrick Fore via Unsplash

I might not have wanted to become a mother if I hadn’t had to fight for it. When my husband and I got married, I was terrified we would be one of those couples who got pregnant on their wedding night. But we weren’t. Not even close.

We waited a year into our marriage before we were open to children, and while I assumed we would become pregnant quickly and even before we were ready, there was nothing accidental about our parenthood.

It took us nearly a year to get pregnant with our first son, which when you are trying to have a baby is not actually a year. It is 52 long-long-long weeks, 365 days of exhausting hope and misinterpreting body cues. 12 months of roller coasters, faith and despair, jealousy of all the pregnant girls who suddenly appear out of nowhere, especially the ones who laughed and sighed about their unplanned babies. I could not relate.

Yet, when I finally got what I wanted, I’d become ready for it. I welcomed the little one growing inside. The praying, yearning and surrendering prepared me for pregnancy. I relished the mystery of the life within.

Yet it all changed again when baby arrived. It turned out while I’d been ready for pregnancy, I was not ready for motherhood. There was so much fear and internal conflict I’d never examined around this topic.

Finally wanting to be a mother, I assumed the mothering part would go well. I figured we would be naturals with each other. But it wasn’t like that at all. It felt like a struggle between the loss of the me I knew before and discovering a new part of myself – the mother – who was confused and terribly incompetent. I had little patience for this part of myself.

I watched some of my friends crack the maternity code. They enjoyed motherhood.

I loved my son, but that is not the same as loving the role as mother. It turns out we can love our children but not love their mothers – ourselves.

Part of my resistance to my identity as a mother was because I was afraid to get lost in it. As a mother who worked outside the home, I feared to enjoy it too much, or I would have to fight the heartache of wanting to stay home with my son but not being able to financially.

I also felt committed to being the woman I’d always wanted to be: an educated and well-rounded woman with a career who loved but was not obsessed with her children. Sadly, I didn’t know how to do that without building walls around my heart.

I sneered at the women who just wanted to be mothers, who dreamed maternal dreams and dropped out of college early to get married and bear children. I rolled my eyes when women gathered together and spoke only of their children. As if there was nothing more to talk about. Don’t they see what is happening to them? They are shrinking, I thought.

For me, it all came down to one fear: I was terrified of invisibility, of dissolving out of the social psyche, the spheres where people matter. My quiet internal vows were my attempts at grasping the edges of people’s awareness. I feared I too might become irrelevant or forgotten.

I figured if I worked outside the home, I could mother and still matter, I told myself. Or at least I would still have something to talk about at the women’s lunch besides my birth stories and how the kids are doing.

The thought of being “just a mom” felt like the ultimate disappearing act.

But all my attempts to insulate myself from this title, earning a Master’s degree, writing for my blog and taking leadership roles in my church, never helped me make peace with the fact that I was still dying the mother’s death.

Inherent in motherhood is dying. The death of the old body, the old dreams and desires, the old priorities and passions. I’d been fighting the death, struggling to the surface and splashing about in my career and leadership roles so no one would consider me obsolete.

But when I finally stopped struggling, I realized this death of motherhood is not the thing to be avoided. It is the thing to be pursued.

Like a seed, everything that will one day have a significant impact must first go underground, disappearing for a while, before it reemerges as a beautiful tree.

When we as mothers go behind the scenes, when we stand in the background and on the sidelines, cheering at soccer games and changing diapers, this death of mattering to the world is the life for the new ones coming up.

Going underground, the dead part of me is the part that pushes up the next generation.

I know we all want to “lean in” to work that matters to the big world out there. Because we want to matter. And that’s not a bad thing. But the world’s prescription for how to matter points back to us, and that isn’t the highest truth.

We matter most when we give ourselves for others, when our lives are a lifeline for another. And isn’t that what motherhood is all about?

So next time you feel like a part of you is dying in motherhood, you don’t have to tell yourself it isn’t true. It is true. But remind yourself of all the precious ones who get to live from the fruits of your sacrifice, and you will realize: it’s worth it.  

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