Motherhood, Sacrifice and Investment
Happy Mother's Day! In light of the holiday, I decided to do a special auto biography entry on my first stage of motherhood. Enjoy!
Every child we have shapes us into a different person. The first child, however, does so to the greatest degree. They come into the world fresh and new, and unknowingly recreate the world for us at the same time. With those first cries, they hand us a pair of glasses, through which we are led to see life, others, God, and ourselves in different angles and colours. At least this was my experience.
At this time of year 12 years ago I was 24, nearly 2 years married, and about to graduate from University. Two weeks before my exams were set to start, I made a visit to the school nurse to do a pregnancy test. The test came back negative. The nurse proceeded to tell me that if I tested again and it came out differently, I was welcome to come back and discuss options. I shook my head and left the office. I couldn't fathom that the woman wanted to discuss the destruction of a little human she didn't even believe was there. My little human. A friend, who had accompanied me to the office, reassured me that my time (for motherhood) would come. She believed the test. I just smiled because I knew the test was wrong, and there was in fact a baby starting to grow inside me. I was right.
I was right about there being a baby, but there was much else I was not right about. Up until this point I had spent a lot of time working and volunteering with inner city kids and youth. I loved them, and I wanted to continue my education and that work, while raising my children. I assumed that having a baby was kind of like having a living backpack that you could just take along with you. I knew I didn't want to leave my child in a daycare, but I figured I could just take her along or have my mom and husband help out so I could continue on my happy altruistic path. It didn't take long for me to begin to realize that this parenting thing would necessitate a larger para-dime shift than I'd planned on.
The day before my exam for the one and only science course I ever took, I started bleeding. Instead of studying that night as planned, I spent it in the hospital checking on the baby inside me. Rather than being afraid of a test, I was afraid for my child. I asked the doctor for a note so that I could write the exam on a different date. The young male doctor looked at me without emotion and said "Oh you'll be fine to write your exam tomorrow". I insisted, stating that I was not going to be able to focus on my exam until the ultrasound was done the next day, and I was sure my baby was okay. He reluctantly agreed and gave me the note. The reality, despite his lack of understanding, was that in that moment my focus was exclusively on my child.
We prayed and went back to the hospital for the ultrasound, which concluded that our baby was just fine.
I managed to do extremely well on my exams despite my fears and excitement. I graduated with a high gpa and a personal invitation by a professor to enter the honours program. I declined.
In the months leading up to my daughter's birth, I worked like crazy. We moved out to the country, where I got a job in a daycare. I also kept my job in the city, where I was a youth and child care worker in CFS shelters. Most of the homes were at least an hour and a half from where we lived, so rather than drive back and forth every day, I would crash at my parents or grandparents between my 12 hour shifts. At the same time I still tried to keep up with volunteering on weekends with the kids at an inner city church.
After working so constantly, I opted to take my mat leave early, and had nearly two months before baby came to read, relax, and get ready to move again. We house sat for a relative for a few months when we first moved to the country. Shortly before my daughter's birth, we found and moved into a beautiful old house in town. Nesting was an extreme endeavor for me that first time around.
We had another scare with the pregnancy a few weeks before my daughter's due date. She was an extremely active baby. I was used to feeling her strong movements continually throughout the day, until one day when the movements just stopped. I pushed my belly around, and it felt like dead weight. I laid down and watched my belly and there was not a single flutter. When I had not felt her move for over 24 hours, we drove to the hospital. On the way we called friends to pray. Upon arriving at the hospital, they connected the monitors to my belly, and almost instantly she started to move again. Huge strong kicks. I was elated and so relieved; overcome with thankfulness for the life growing inside me.
She arrived 8 days late, one day before I was set to be induced. She was squishy and soft and oh so sweet. She slept nearly through the night pretty much right away. She was a very easy and happy baby. But she never took a bottle. So when I felt ready to return to volunteering, my husband did his best to try the bottle (she had kind of taken it from me once or twice). But she refused it and screamed nearly the entire time I was gone. Instead of the quick return to ministry that I had been planning, I could not go back until she was weaned over a year later. My little human did not submit to my plans of working with inner city kids. It dawned on me then that before parenthood, volunteering was generous and a gift I could give to others. After parenthood it changed into something of a privilege and a trade off. If I was going to be able to go out and give my time, I would first have to hand my child off to someone else. Although still possible (eventually), it took far more sacrifice.
When my daughter was around two, we decided to move back to the city. Upon returning I enrolled in two social work courses. My mom was kind enough to take my daughter for one day a week while I attended the courses. Each course took many hours of reading and writing. My load of 5 courses before kids seamed far more doable than those two courses with a two year old. One day, while I was working on a particularly involved project, my little 2 year old spitfire walked up to me and said "mommy, no more school work! No more puter!" I stopped what I was working on and looked down into her eyes. I was struck by the irony of what I was working towards and the small person in front of me that needed me right then. The project I was working on was a proposal for a sponsorship program for inner city kids: connecting kids in need with both mentors and investors. And here my own little girl was crying out for connection. So I told her she was right, and I shut down my computer.
I did finish those courses, but they were the last credited courses I took. Once I determined that I was not going to continue my education for the foreseeable future, we decided to try for baby number 2. That pregnancy was confirmed before I walked out of school for the last time that winter.
One day during my last week of classes, I walked into the office of my professor, who happened to be head of the social work program. My other professor who I had for the mental health course I took at the same time was also in the room. I explained to them that I would not be continuing with school because of raising my children. She was visibly disappointed. She told me it would be hard to get back into the faculty once I left for too many years. She had spent most of her years as an academic, and never had a family. My male professor smiled at me without judgment, but as I walked away I could hear them discussing how much potential I had to influence the field, and that it was a shame that I was walking away from it.
I had made my decision, and I knew my convictions were in the right place. However, hearing those two people I respected and had gleaned so much knowledge and wisdom from over the last few months talk about me like I was some all-star advocate made me feel that by choosing my children over career, I was perhaps not going to influence other lives that needed me.
Although not full time work, I could continue to volunteer with inner city kids as fit my family life. I could give as much time as was healthy to ministry, without ever compromising my children's needs. I would not get a pay check for that work, but that was not really what I was after anyways.
So, with a heavy but determined heart I went home to raise my daughter, and then my son, followed by two more daughters. In a very non spiritual sense, I recognized that someone would need to care for the minute to minute needs of my children. I simply decided to be that someone.
I have been able to devote some time to ministry throughout the years of raising this family. I have nursed a baby before a program, taught, and then quickly left before the next feeding was needed. I have tried to help at a food bank with little ones along, only to realize that was not going to work. I have helped with moms groups and playgroups. I have taken seasons off. And I have been at peace doing so. I still have a desire to invest in the lives of others, but I no longer have the youthful naivety that I am the only one God can use. If I am in a season where my children need constant care, then God will in fact find others to do what needs to be done.
I know many of you would not have chosen the path I have. Nor do I think you all need to. It has simply been my conviction that I chose to have all these children, and it is my responsibility to do the constant work of raising them. Did I trade too much for motherhood? I have sometimes wondered. But I don't think so. It was difficult to walk away from positions and places that praised my efforts. I was good at what I was pursuing. I would have made a difference in that field. But when I look at what our family is today: at the relationships my children have, at how they trust God and us, the way they stand up for their convictions, and for each other - I know I have not wasted these years at home. I've invested them.
This was the start of my mothering journey. My hope in your reading this is not that you would feel attacked if you have chosen another path, but that you would take the time to recognize God's guidance in your own mothering journey, and feel peace about the direction He has led your family in.
I can see God's hand on my daughter's life from the start. And I can see His work on my own heart through all these seasons. He taught me humility, sacrifice, love, and real identity through mothering my children.
Our choices do not always make sense to those around us, and they are often not easy. My choice to stay home has resulted in seasons of personal frustration, financial difficulty, and the like. It has been many days of being constantly busy, without anything tangible to show for it. But I no longer question my direction, and the peace that comes with that is so valuable.
Now that I have shared my first stage of motherhood, I'd love to hear some of yours! Feel free to add your story to the comments, or in an email!
I am excited to announce my next entry will be on personal care, aka "me time". As we go into week 6 (or is it 7?) of school shut downs, and social distancing, we could all use a minute to step back and replenish. Look for it early next week!
I hope you have a wonderful weekend of being spoiled by your family!
From my lock-down home to yours,
be blessed, choose joy, and stay sane!