Motherhood will forever be a mystery to me. Physically, my body has changed immensely. Long gone is the firm skin on my thighs. My breasts show the battlescars of breastfeeding six tiny mouths. My bladder is probably wrecked beyond repair and I will never be able to sit and cough (or laugh, or sneeze) at the same time. Stretchmarks and sciatica — these are the ailments I've traded in exchange for healthy, beautiful children.
Financially, I'll probably never know what it's like to make a money decision without first considering the six people I support. Shoes, bedding, glasses, soccer balls, backpacks, haircuts, swim trunks, shampoo, and braces, to name a few; they all weigh heavily on my wallet. When everyone has a new pair of shoes, at the same time, that's an accomplishment. Luxuries that a small family might take for granted — a night at the movies, dinner out, or a day at an amusement park — become quite a big deal when you are trying to figure out how to make it happen for six kids.
Life emergencies take on a fevered pitch. Like that one time my daughter stepped on a nail and it went through the fleshy part of her big toe (I had to pull it out myself). Or that time my son broke his arm while he was skating and it looked like an s-shape instead of a right angle. And I can't forget the time my son caught his little brother's eyebrow with a fishing hook. Oh, the blood that ensued. My nerves are now as wrecked as my bladder, but I made it through and so did my son.
I've survived sleepless nights, nights with ravenous babies who just want to attach themselves to your breast like a barnacle. I've woken up to a baby who slept right through an explosive round of green diarrhea (the smell is what woke me up). I almost didn't have the heart to wake him up to change him but don't worry, I did. I've stood over the utility sink at 3 a.m., scraping vomit chunks off of bed sheets. I've wrestled a toddler to put garlic oil in his ear. I've sat sleepily on the floor of the bathroom while my daughter took a cool bath to bring down her fever after a febrile seizure. I've woken up in the middle of the night to find my children in odd angles on my bed, knees in my back and hot breath on my face.
I sometimes struggle with guilt, that perhaps I wasn't a good enough mother — I wasn't strong enough, firm enough, present enough. I realize now that this cycle will probably just continue as they grow older and I am an old woman.
Photograph by Denise Cortes
I thought motherhood would get easier once my children left the baby stage, but I've come to realize that it is phenomenally harder. Suddenly, I'm faced with the humanity of six other people. I am a witness to their growing pains. I must watch them make mistakes. I see all their struggles. Their triumphs. I sometimes struggle with guilt, that perhaps I wasn't a good enough mother — I wasn't strong enough, firm enough, present enough. If only I had just prepared them for life just a little more. I realize now that this cycle will probably just continue as they grow older and I am an old woman.
This is why motherhood is such a mystery to me. I would live this life again in a heartbeat, despite all of the hardships and struggles. I would go through six pregnancies — two hospital births and four home births — without thinking twice. Who cares about the state of my bladder? The people I have brought into this world completely have my heart even when they don't always treat it tenderly.
Author Elizabeth Stone said it best: "Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." That is exactly how it feels; so vulnerable, so tender and raw. Motherhood has made me feel like I've lost a little of myself with each child I've birthed, but at the same time, it's also responsible for everything in me that is beautiful, joyous and precious.