If you asked me to sum up four years of motherhood in one word, I would answer with a lie.
I would smile and tilt my head ever so slightly, and then I would say something like joy, maybe blessing. And you’d believe me, because I’ve gotten so good at answering that way. But can I tell you a secret? In my most honest moments, I don’t think those are really the kind of words that have summed up motherhood for me. They exist, certainly. My babies are a joy, and I feel the grace of unmerited blessing every time I kiss their cheeks. But if anything has dominated my thoughts about these little people in front of me, it isn’t anything nearly as warm as joy or content as blessing.
The truth: my word is fear.
(Tell me I’m not the only one).
Up until recently, motherhood had me feeling like I was living in intervals of anxious waiting. In each of my pregnancies, I nervously checked my underwear for any hint of blood every single time I went to the bathroom, certain that those first twelve weeks would not end happily for me. And then that tiny little blur blinked at the pace of 176 beats per minute in front of my eyes, and I exhaled. We safely made it past the first scary part. But then for the next two months I worried about the babies and their development: is their spine ok, is the heart still growing well, are there any deformities, does the brain look right? Three times in a row a twenty-week ultrasound revealed both a gender and healthy baby, and I exhaled again. But then what if my blood sugar is too high? What if my group B strep does pass on the baby? What if there’s meconium? Fear, fear, fear, then exhale, exhale, exhale.
This never did end, you know. Because then I was afraid the PKU would reveal something, or that the hearing test would show trouble, or that something would be found at the two-month, four-month, six-month visit. I unintentionally turned my children’s lives into milestones of both my own performance and poor attempt to manage my anxiety. With every “new” for my babies, I re-visited that same fear that something would be wrong.
And “wrong” was the scariest thing of all.
Six months ago I was walking with a friend, pushing my kids in a stroller and chatting away, catching up on the rhythm of our lives. When the inevitable how are the kids doing topic came up, I stuttered through my answer as I held back tears.
“They are good. Mostly. I mean, my two-year-old is still not speaking. And there are a few other red flags with his development. But he’s in speech therapy. I think he’s ok. I mean, he’s in speech therapy. He’s so sweet though. I think he’ll get there.” But what I was really doing was silently praying I hope he’s ok. Lord, please let him be ok because what will I do if he’s not ok?
The clearest memory I have of the last six months is fear. With that much build up, that long of anxious waiting, one might think that the moment I came face to face with the fear that had semi-paralyzed me for months would be a moment big enough to shake the earth. But it wasn’t. As we sat at the kitchen table watching our son eat yogurt, just after finishing an in-home session with his therapist, I looked at my sweet boy, knowing he would only look up at me in response to his name when he was good and ready to look up. Then I turned to his speech therapist and said, “He’s autistic, isn’t he?”
She smiled and tilted her head ever so slightly. But there was no lie behind her smile, only sympathy. Then she nodded her head.
And I exhaled.
But what happened next surprised me. For a mama who lived and parented by surviving from one fear to the next by holding her breath, this moment was different than I expected because it was almost exactly like all the other ones, all the other moments of surviving something. Except we didn’t survive this one, we got the confirmation we had feared the most.
And that’s when I realized: it was only scary until it happened.
Once it happened, it got very clear that wrong does not have to mean scary, and that there is a big difference between scary and hard.
You see, scary was paralyzing me. It kept me from embracing life. It forced me into dark spaces and anxious tendencies. Scary stifled and hindered my gratitude. Scary made me ask “What will I do if this happens?” and then caused me to weep when I could not picture the answer. Scared is not how I was meant to raise babies. Scared is not how I was meant to live.
But hard? It’s a whole other thing. Hard is biblical, modeled for us by Jesus and virtually every hero of faith and society. It forced me to dig deeper, trust others, ask for help, stay up late, get up early, do things I didn’t know were possible. Hard is character-building. Hard made me answer, “I will do whatever it takes” and then motivated me to stick with all those things. Hard is not what I would have asked for but it has been the only thing that could teach me what my mama heart so desperately needed to be taught: Nothing changes how good God is. Not even the hard.
We all know that hard things will happen. They are as much a part of life as good things, it seems. But if I’ve learned anything this time around, it is that the thing I let powerfully hold me in fear did not deserve nearly that much space in my life. It is hard, but it does not have to be scary. I’ve pulled my heart out from the covers it was hiding under, put a cape on it, and am learning to do what has to be done for my little one. I’ve become a champion and an advocate, an encourager and hope-bearer, and the kind of prayer warrior I always wanted to be but that only the hard stuff could force me to be.
And I’m embracing this life—my life. Because mamas, of all people in the world, when it comes to our babies, we can do hard things.