My firstborn son turned six last month, which means it was six years ago that I got a call from my doctor informing me I needed to go to the hospital immediately to be induced into labor. He had been monitoring me closely over the last several weeks of my pregnancy as my blood pressure kept creeping up and I began to feel sicker and sicker, getting days-long migraines and losing feeling in my hands. Lab tests would reveal I had developed preeclampsia, a condition I knew the name of because it claimed the life of my cousin’s baby around the 30th week of her pregnancy. My liver and kidneys were shutting down, my doctor informed me while I sat on my couch watching TV. I put the phone on speaker so my husband could hear, because I wasn’t sure I was understanding this right. “I’m boarding a plane out of the country on vacation right now,” my doctor said, “but I’ve called the hospital and they’re expecting you. You need to go immediately and be prepared to have your baby. Bring your stuff.”
I was 38 weeks pregnant and lived less than a mile from the hospital. My husband happened to be sitting next to me but would have never been more than a cell phone call away. We had two working cars, both with gas in the tank. My hospital bag was already packed, per whatever Pinterest checklist I had been following. We made a quick stop at Jamba Juice because I knew I probably wouldn’t get to eat once I was admitted to the hospital and I am prone to hangry spells. We moved briskly through these motions, but we were not afraid. I could feel my baby kicking and I had full faith in the medical resources that were available to me.
One pitocin IV drip, one epidural, and 24 hours later, I delivered a healthy 7-and-a-half pound baby boy we named after my dad. And just like that, I was a mother.
I became a mother for the second time under entirely different circumstances. A woman who I did not know gave birth to her own healthy baby boy against all odds — homeless, having not received any prenatal care, alone, outdoors in a field somewhere. The next day she walked a mile to the nearest road, hitchhiked to the very same hospital where I was born 30 years earlier, and dropped her four pound baby off with nurses whom she asked to find a family for this tiny, miraculous baby. The nurse called a social worker who called my husband who called me. And just like that, I was a mother all over again.
Motherhood has been the biggest miracle of my life. The first time it was a medical miracle. The second time, a full-blown spiritual one. Both of my sons are lucky to have survived the circumstances under which they came into this world. I am lucky to have survived quickly progressing preeclampsia. My youngest son’s first mother is lucky to have survived her entire life, from what we know, and until the day I die I’ll think of her as the bravest human being I’ll never get the chance to meet. Had she gotten sick at the end of her pregnancy like I did, well… that’s a sentence I’ve never really been able to finish. My motherhood story, and the cast of characters included in it, begins and ends in miracles.
What does one do, to adequately express her gratitude for experiencing such miracles firsthand? There can never be enough prayers of thanksgiving, enough good deeds, enough vows of stewardship to feel worthy of it.
It’s an embarrassment of riches, really, to have these two happy, healthy boys call me “Mom.” I try to remind myself of this when they are driving me crazy and I’m counting down the hours until bedtime. I remind myself when one of them wakes up in the middle of the night and needs me, sometimes for no apparent reason at all. I remind myself when I see my former co-workers’ Facebook posts about winning sales award trips to tropical resorts and I wonder what trips I might have taken in the last six years if I had actually come back to work after maternity leave. I remind myself when I see the loose skin on my stomach and when I decline an invitation to jump on a trampoline. In all of the frustrating, tiring, confounding, and selfless work of motherhood, I remind myself that this work is my offering to the miracle of it all.
It feels like not enough, though, to simply remind myself to do the work well. Last year I ran a marathon in honor of my youngest son’s birth mother and that mile she walked to get him to me. That was part of my offering too. It was my tribute to the work she did; my attempt to feel connected to her suffering by putting my own body through the pain of running 26.2 miles.
When I crossed the finish line and a friendly race volunteer put a medal around my neck, he noticed the mark on my race number indicating this was my very first marathon. “Congratulations!” he smiled, “You’re a marathoner now!” The lump I had been holding in my throat for the entire last mile could no longer be contained. I nodded at him, unable to speak. The words that were on my tongue, though, so palpable they would have surely fallen out like alphabet soup if someone had patted me on the back hard enough, were “we did it.”
Despite how lonely so much of my training had been, the moment I finished the race I was overcome with a feeling of belonging to the sisterhood of mothers everywhere. I could think only in “we” terms at that finish line. The marathon had simply been a metaphor. Every mother has her own marathon to run, her own suffering to survive, her own miracle to receive, her own offering to give.
I dedicated the last mile of my race to my son’s birth mother, but in the end, I realized I had been holding every mother I know in my heart the whole time. I ran to honor the miracle that we’re all in on. I ran because motherhood is hard work, and like the urge to push against a contraction, sometimes hard work demands to be honored with more hard work. I ran because we each bring what we have to the altar, and what I had was a long slow march of putting one foot in front of the other, mile after mile after mile. The marathon was simply my portion of the offering, humble and broken and consuming, yet somehow sacred. Like motherhood.
So I’m going to do it again. We’re going to do it again. On April 30th I’ll run the Big Sur Marathon in support of Every Mother Counts, a non-profit that works to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother, everywhere. I run with two goals: To raise $3500 for Every Mother Counts, and to proclaim with my effort that I’m grateful to be here in this miracle of motherhood. If you would like to support this cause, I would be honored to represent you while I run. You can donate here. Every penny you donate goes directly to Every Mother Counts and is tax-deductible (Tax ID EIN: 45-4102644).
P.S. Head over to our giveaway page and enter to win a PacaPod diaper bag of your choice valued up to $475!