On the eve of my firstborn’s fourth birthday…
Dear Former Self,
You think today is memorable because you’re recovering from the Great Gatsby-themed college graduation party you threw last night and looking forward to a trip to see Radiohead. But that’s not why you’ll remember this day in May for the rest of your life. The funny thing is, the reason today is memorable won’t even occur to you for weeks to come.
A few days from now, you and Daniel will be celebrating your second anniversary, dreaming and planning for the future. “I’m just too selfish to be a mother right now. Let’s try to get pregnant in about…five years,” you said. What you won’t realize yet is that an entirely different plan has been forming inside you, starting today. It’s a plan that won’t just transform your body, but will turn your soul upside down. You weren’t wrong when you said you were too selfish. To be honest, you’re kind of shallow and vain, as well. You’ve never really learned to love something more than yourself. But everything is about to get shaken up.
In about 6 weeks, you will be sitting, trembling, waiting, for the results of the pregnancy test to appear. Your obliviousness to your body is going to be pretty embarrassing, actually. It took a few inexplicable meltdowns, second breakfasts, and unreasonable naps for your close friends to finally drive you to the drug store and insist you take one. And now that the moment has come, and much to your surprise, you realize that you want the test to be positive more than you’ve ever wanted anything in the world.
When you get a moment outside by yourself and a breath of fresh air, you will lift your face up to the sky and thank God for having a different plan than you did. You will say, “Thank you for giving me what I didn’t even know to ask for, what I didn’t even know I wanted. I know I don’t deserve this, but oh! I’m so glad!” Then you will consider whether they make armor or chainmail maternity wear, something indestructible to keep this tiny person safe. Because all of the sudden you will love something more than yourself, more than you’ve ever loved anything. And that love will be fierce and strong and every fiber of your being will want to protect the tiny life being formed inside you.
Sometimes it’s hard to even recognize the spineless girl you are as the mother you’ll become. Not because I’m not selfish anymore, but because this love will change you so utterly. But I don’t want you to worry about losing your identity in all this motherhood stuff, you’re about to discover who you really are, or at least, who you were born to be. Who you are in the process of becoming. Not everyone has to become a mother to learn to really love, but God knew this was the path for you. It’s only looking back that I can see how perfectly planned this path of motherhood is for you, for me. To experience this transformative love. The sort of love that will give you the strength to give of yourself until you think there’s nothing left.
Nothing I say can prepare you for the path ahead. You will think at the end of nine months that you couldn’t possibly be more exhausted. You will be wrong. When your beautiful, colicky baby arrives and you don’t get a full sleep cycle for months, and it physically hurts to be awake, you look back on pregnancy as a nine month vacation. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of that stretching, crying, smiling, dreaming, little one that makes you feel that you are looking at your very heart outside of your body. At every moment for the rest of your life, no matter where you are, or what you are doing, part of you will be thinking about your child. Is he safe? Happy? Thriving? The fears of motherhood, the trials of motherhood, will make you think every challenge you experienced before was a piece of cake.
You will finally get that hour for a cup of coffee and a book all by yourself only to realize that you miss your baby. You will think that the contented sigh of your child is the most perfect sound in the world and hearing his asthmatic cough will cause you physical pain. When he gets stung by a wasp you will wish you had been the one stung instead. In The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor describes a father’s bewildered response to the love he has for his child, “powerful enough to throw him to the ground in an act of idiot praise.” You will come to understand this love. You will cross yourself and kneel on your kitchen floor at the sound of your child’s laughter because the only response to the overwhelming love is a prayer of thanks to God.
It all comes down to the grace of God’s love, flowing through blessing of this child into your soul and out again, transforming all your relationships, everything you know. You will love your husband more than you ever imagined you could. You will begin to love other people without selfish motives because you’ve experienced an inkling of the love God has for you: a father for his child, and he sees everyone as essential, precious, and beloved.
That’s why today, this beginning you still are unaware of, is memorable and epic. You are finally free, liberated from the tyranny of yourself in this tiny world in which you were the most important. You are free to love and give and sacrifice. And that holy grace will make you something altogether different. You will be shaken, humbled, stretched and broken.
And it will make you a mother.