This week we have a guest post from Shannon. Evans. Shannon believes that we all belong to each other. A wife and mother of three boys through birth and adoption, she enjoys scrubbing sticky furniture, hosing mud off children, and rushing to the ER to have nails extracted from small intestines. Shannon blogs about faith, motherhood, and the beauty of humanity at We, A Great Parade.
There are some moms for whom motherhood is a manageable thing. They feel the ups and downs, the stretching, the lack of time, the lack of sleep, the lack of personal space; but it’s never just all too much. They’re never pushed over the edge. They always manage to keep it together, despite the growing pains or the twists along the way. And to these moms I say with all sincerity, “well done! The human race might not have survived without you. I am so glad there are women like you out there!” I certainly deal with my fair share of jealousy, but I truly am glad that some women find motherhood to be something short of soul-crushing. I’m just not that woman and, if you were drawn to this post by the title alone, then neither are you.
I have always loved being with children and have always wanted to be a mom, even as a little girl. When we began pursuing adoption I had grand images in my mind of the kind of mother I would be. What I saw in my mind’s eye was a woman strong but kind, firm but soft, disciplined but playful: I imagined myself a woman capable.
A day after landing on American soil as a brand new mother, my own mama asked what I was most looking forward to about this season. My answer was something along the lines of “doing it really well, making it go really smoothly, so that Eric will want more children soon”.
No pressure, self.
I was not prepared for adoptive motherhood, I’ll go ahead and say it. We were living in Indonesia when we went through the process and got very, very little training in therapeutic parenting beforehand and had no connection to other adoptive families. That does not exactly set one up for success. It was only a matter of time before traditional parenting practices began failing us left and right. By the time Alyosha turned three, all of my incapabilities were resounding off the walls of our home. I was deeply attached to him, derived great joy from his little personhood, and loved that we belonged together. But there was no escaping the fact that I was sinking.
I was flattened by motherhood.
But even with my face pressed to the floor, I knew it was good. It was the very best thing that could have happened to my soul. “His strength is made perfect in my weakness”. What took me a little longer to realize is that “His strength” still doesn’t often “look” strong. Often it looks like enough grace to hold on, enough grace to be humbled, enough grace to break open and love the world a little more.
When I got pregnant with Moses, I was thrilled. Already being a mom while preparing to have your first baby definitely has it’s challenges, but one perk is that you don’t do that thing first time moms do where you hold rigidly to your expectations and plans and parenting methods you’ve determined to be The Right Way. You’re flexible because you’ve already experienced how it can all blow up in your face anyway.
That being said I still had my preferences, I just held them more loosely. I planned to give birth with certified Nurse-Midwives in an esteemed local birthing center, but I was open to ending up in the hospital if that’s what needed to happen. I planned to breastfeed but I knew that sometimes that doesn’t work out either. Basically, my ultimate birth and newborn plan was something like this:
have a baby, be his mother.
But none of us are exempt from having hopes, no matter how much we temper them with the understanding of other possible outcomes, and I was no exception. I felt empowered through learning about natural childbirth, reading testimonies of women who are strong and focused during labor, watching The Business of Being Born and admiring the woman who pushed her baby out in the birthing tub without making a sound, so intense was her concentration. I didn’t have that expectation of myself, but the very idea that it was possible intrigued me. Natural childbirth, it seemed, was all about the breathtaking strength of a woman.
I spent about two hours in the birthing tub and finally had to get out when I threw up in it. Do you know what I was not feeling? Strong. For THREE AND A HALF HOURS I pushed a baby with a head twisted under my pelvic bone. Do you know what I was not feeling? Capable. Finally, the midwife cut an episiotomy and I was able to bring my precious baby boy into the visible world. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. And do you know what I felt? Flattened.
Oh don’t get me wrong, it was amazing and I was happy. But to be honest, I was too exhausted to have any strong mindfulness of the miracle of the moment. I just wanted to sleep for a few weeks. With my baby, of course. I liked him. 😉
I had heard that women who give birth naturally recover more quickly, so I was kind of hoping to be the woman who was out of the house with babe in tow a day later. But we all know that certain *ahem* things in labor can effect the length of recovery. I didn’t leave the house for 2 weeks.
I want to be clear, this was a beautiful little season in my life. I had so much family around to help, it was the Christmas holidays, and I had this amazing little person glued to me 24 hours a day. In many ways, I loved it. But when I look back, the word that comes to mind is flattened. And it wasn’t until today, almost 2 years later, that I made the connection between bringing my first son into our family and bringing my second in. The same thing happened both times. Motherhood flattened me.
But the Good News for moms like me is that Scripture says we are the clay and He is the potter. What must happen to clay before it can be molded? It must be flattened. It must be pressed and pushed and kneaded beyond recognition. And then and only then can it be made into something beautiful, something useful, something able to hold that which another needs.
The Good News for moms like me is that the Poor in Spirit are blessed, and they shall see God. I can attest to this, not because I am so great or so holy, but because I am so flat and so poor. Motherhood has flattened me, but it has also gifted me with new eyes to see God. I see His generosity towards me when I look at my children. I see His love for me when I realize that He was indescribably more flattened for me than I could ever, ever imagine myself to be. I see His presence here when I see other parents make mistakes even as they try their best. I see Him in neighbors that don’t like me, I see Him in moms that parent differently than I do, I see Him in my husband who suffers with me. And yes, I see Him in me. Because I know that the kind of love that allows itself to be flattened yet continues to love relentlessly doesn’t come from me.
And you, flattened mamas of the world, I see Him in you too.
This post was originally published here and has been reprinted with permission.