I sometimes debate myself about when motherhood began. I guess one could say my path towards motherhood began long before the test showed positive, or even long before I got married. I don’t know if you’d need to distinguish between “true” motherhood, and this early sort, but I always think of it all as motherhood.

It began when I was not yet a teenager, and a set of twins were born. I already had four younger siblings and one older. But when the twins arrived I remember my mother saying she was going to need more help, and that we would have to be more responsible. Of course I took up the challenge, although probably not in the way my mother intended. Rather than keeping the other kids out of trouble, or cleaning up after people better, or getting into less mischief myself, I decided that one of the new babies was “mine” and I would care for her and be her “little mother”. (This notion was spawned by my next younger sister P., who “chose her twin” first. It was also encouraged by the story of St. Therese and her sisters I think.)

So, we became mothers. We attached ourselves at the hip to these babies A. & MM., and did everything we could for them. I’m sure it wasn’t that much, but for being such young mothers, we sure felt the weight of it. It often surprises me now to look up and realize that these baby girls survived, and are now young ladies who have joined the ranks of adults. So much of their (and my) childhood has become a blur in my memory.

A second time I became a mother. I carried forth all of my childhood baby experience into adulthood. I was a Godmother! My sister P. had had her first child, a son, and I had been given a very particular honor in being his godmother. I also lived locally, and eventually with them, and was an on demand babysitter. Usually I cherished this availability, but sometimes it got the best of me and I resented it. Even though I was not remotely responsible for as full time care as I had been in the past, it was so much harder to experience. Both in terms of the care I could give and the care I couldn’t. And I was more aware of my sister’s parenting and I was old enough to have (sometimes uncharitable) thoughts and ideas about parenting. I oscillated between thinking things could be done better, and thinking it was simply unmanageable and too hard for anyone ever. Why would a person choose such a difficult path? I loved my godson but I did not love mothering.

I knew one thing from these two experiences. Despite loving dearly the people themselves that already existed and needed care, it wasn’t “for me.” I was adamantly opposed to any notion of “bringing more need” into the world. If I was ever to be a parent, I could adopt. But I never wanted to be a real mother – I had done enough, and now it was time for me.

And then God laughed, of course.

Almost exactly 7 months after I got married, God gave me a baby. I had obviously decided to get married, and having kids is part and parcel, but all that is a story for another time perhaps. A lot had changed in very short order.

Early pregnancy was rough, as usual. Symptoms were strong enough that I took a pregnancy test several days prior to what would be a missed period, and it came back positive in 20 seconds instead of 3 minutes. I was blessed with daily excruciating migraines instead of vomiting, and such powerful smell and taste aversions that I couldn’t believe it. A 3rd time I had become a mother, but for real this time.

The 9 months sometimes seemed to fly (mostly at the end) and sometimes dragged on (mostly at the beginning.) I often couldn’t believe that there was a person growing inside my body, it was so surreal. We got 2 ultrasounds, both to check on “potential problems” more than anything else. I was convinced it was a boy until the second scan which told us to expect F. instead of V. I spent a lot of time freaking out about the pregnancy itself, let alone motherhood. I couldn’t yet wrap my head around it. But I did often panic about my future role and if I could do it without ruining my children.

My greatest fear is snapping. Going completely crazy and not being able to cope and handle it, go off the deep end, etc. I couldn’t get that possibility out of my head, especially after seeing it happen to other mothers. I didn’t want to be that mom. The thought was devastating and stopped me in my tracks. I was convinced it would be inevitable, and there would be no coming back from it.

I’ve succumbed to this fear even more frequently since F. was born in September. She is perfect and wonderful and oh so beautiful. But she broke me repeatedly in those first two months. Those first two months of “true motherhood,” in which I snapped time and again, but always came back. I didn’t know I could come back.

Despite seriously struggling with my hormones since her birth, I have to constantly remind myself that God hasn’t let me slip into some sort of personhood coma – these are simply the growing pains of beginning a new life. God is there waiting for me to look to him for comfort and strength in the midst of mental (or physical) suffering. And that’s how you come back.

It has been 4 months with this beautiful baby. She’s teething and about to start crawling, and she’s such a delight. And somehow every single day I feel like I’m beginning motherhood over again. Somehow I forget everything I’ve learned and I begin to lose the will power to push through. But God is in my little baby, and he lets me see that just enough to keep on doing and being for this wee girl. And now I know that that is motherhood, and that is what makes me Mama every day. Because every day I also get to start over and be fresh and try harder and do better. This effort is all that is asked of me, and it is in the present. I don’t have to be good at all of motherhood right now, I just have to try my hardest to be good (and improving) at the moment I’m facing now. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to know this, despite it being more manageable. My head gets the best of me so often.

I’m really hoping that I never, ever stop becoming Mama. I’m hoping that it gets easier, but that I never stop growing.

St. Anne, pray for us.

Mother Mary, guide us.

Holy Family, lead us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

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