Four months already. An eternity in an instant. And so I am a mother, but I still can’t believe they let me leave the hospital with her.
I will be honest – For me, motherhood wasn’t a season of life I dreamed of entering. I knew I’d become a mom eventually, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. But I loved the orphans around me and I found meaning in serving them, and wasn’t that enough, God? I carried those children close to my heart, and I saw a baby of my own as a replacement… a trade-off I wasn’t sure I really wanted to make. I’d always heard people describe motherhood as a sacrifice, and that’s really all I could envision. Setting aside everything I knew and loved to take care of a tiny being who needed me for everything.
I worried my world would become too small. That I’d somehow forget all the children I’ve carried in my heart through the years and replace them with just this one. I worried I wouldn’t recognize myself; that I’d turn into a person who lost the only identity that ever mattered to her. I imagined I’d be bored, longing for the days when the hours didn’t center around feeding, sleeping, and changing diapers.
Last night I watched her as she nursed. It struck me that she has been living solely off of me for over one year now… from a tiny cell to 14.5 pounds of wriggling and kicking life, she has taken what she has needed to grow and thrive.
And to be honest, it has hurt.
I was not a glowing and radiant mother-to-be. I was nauseous and throwing up well into my sixth month of pregnancy. In the entirety of my life, I have never felt so weak or sick as I did those long months, and I still don’t understand the women who love it. Some of my first words after Cora was born were, “Oh I’m so glad I’m not pregnant anymore!”
And those early days after her birth were filled with a physical pain that defies my words. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Me bleeding and cracked; her greedily sucking… feeding her meant gritted teeth and clenched fists for over two months. I couldn’t believe how much she took out of me, and it never seemed to be enough. It left both of us crying in frustration. Drenched in my tears, she showed me early on that motherhood was going to be a long road of sacrifice. And it was a road I didn’t think I could walk with grace, but there was no turning back. Overwhelmed with love, but feeling inadequate and inexperienced, I entered a survival mode and just tried to get through each long day and each sleepless night.
And my world changed around me. Half-packed suitcases next to piles of dirty baby clothes. Friends coming to meet the new baby; friends coming to say goodbye as we prepared to leave China. Bringing food and comfort and encouragement, those friends sustained me in my first month of motherhood. And Jacob. He changed before my eyes. From a man uncomfortable around babies to an encouraging father who did whatever he could; whatever was necessary. He believed in me when I didn’t. He never thought I was inadequate… he believed me to be more than enough, and so I became what he believed.
The physical pain. The exhaustion. The change — the complete transformation of my world and my identity! Anticipating it left me convinced I couldn’t survive any of it, and I will be honest, it has been painful and hard and often it still feels like I’m stumbling on a dark path headed for an unknown destination. She took so much out of me… so much more than I even knew I had to offer.
But that doesn’t account for what she has given.
I didn’t know I’d look forward to her waking from her naps. I didn’t know that as I held her, rocking her to sleep, I would wish I could stop the clock. I didn’t know how the quiet moments of a middle-of-the-night feeding would be some of the sweetest of my life. I didn’t know how a baby’s toothless grin could wipe away all your frustration or concerns, or how your heart can melt when they want you more than any other. I didn’t know I’d find mothering so fulfilling or so rich. I didn’t know she’d make my heart bigger, not smaller, and that there’s always room for more love.
She has taught me that painful sacrifice can be the soil where the richest of loves grows. She has grounded me in these months of uncertainty and transition. In a time when I wouldn’t know my purpose or my role, she has made it crystal clear. She has taught me that in any relationship, whether as a mother, wife, friend, stranger, sister, daughter, I simply need to be the source of life-giving, nurturing love. That is my only role; my only calling. She has showed me that it is holy to simply be… to be present to the current moment. That is enough. There is enough grace and tears and mercy and joy and pain and hope and love and promise and life in this very moment. We are so rich if we can simply rest in the moment.
She has made me a mother. Thank you, Cora Eve. These four months have been the most painful, intense, and life-changing months of my life. But they have also been the best.