Things My Mother Didn’t Tell Me

Yesterday we had our classics book club meeting, and the talk turned to some unhappiness one of our members was experiencing with her husband. Of course, we all commiserated; most women in her shoes would feel similar frustrations, given her circumstances.

And then one of our members, a middle-aged woman whose children are raised and who has been married for over 30 years, burst out, “Pain and suffering! That’s what being a wife and mother is: pain and suffering!”

We all burst out laughing, shocked and exhilirated with the truth of what she’d said:

Pain and suffering.

Later, my daughter and I talked about the meeting, and my daughter rememberd the line as “death and suffering.” I recalled “pain and suffering.” Both of us knew what our friend had meant, though.

And this reminded me of things my mother didn’t tell me.

My mother didn’t tell me that I would feel sometimes that my happiness, and even my very survival, depended on my husband. She didn’t tell me how great a power my husband and children would have over me, and that I’d have to work the rest of my life to become a truly free person. She didn’t tell me that I’d only become aware of my own mental and emotional slavery as the result of being a wife and mother. That the very instruments of my bondage would also be the keys to my freedom.

My mother didn’t tell me that I would change forever from the time I first knew I was a mother, from the time when a baby began to grow inside me, or from the time I first knew we would adopt a child. She didn’t tell me that I would sometimes feel sick with worry or fright over my children. She didn’t tell me that I would grow dizzy and short of breath, fearing the dangers involved in marriage and childrearing.

She didn’t tell me how powerless I’d feel, or how full of love.

My mother didn’t tell me that, for weeks after giving birth, I’d feel like the ugliest woman on earth, with my belly all wrinkly and sagging down below my bikini line, and that everything would leak, and it would leak everywhere, and that the mere act of thinking about thinking of my baby would cause breast milk to flow everywhere. My milk flowed like my love; it was abundant and unpredictable, having a life of its own.

My mother didn’t tell me how much sleep I’d lose, or that I’d lose it for years. (But she did tell me one time that she thinks that many mothers don’t sleep well until they no longer have young children or teenagers living under their roofs).

My mother didn’t tell me that I’d become more vulnerable with each child, and that a mother’s love is reckless and wild and that many women aren’t cut out for mothering. This is why so many mothers run away or stay asleep and unconscious to love. They know deep inside that they will have to die in some way, lose their lives, give themselves up. As Paul (not a mother) said:

I DIE DAILY.

My mother didn’t explain that the reason why people wave and say, “Hi, Mom!” when they’re on television is because mothers are goddesses. At least, every mother is a goddess in the eyes of her child, in the beginning. And it can be a lifelong loss and obsession when the child wakes up some year (no longer a child) and realizes, “My mother doesn’t love me, much.”

It only makes loving yourself that much more difficult.

But if you’ve been lucky enough to have a mother’s love–even if it came from a grandmother, or an aunt, or your father, or a sister or the neighbor lady, or a teacher–the love that sustains you for a long time (a lifetime), oh! It’s powerful. Every time you think of that mother’s love, you know that you are enough.

It makes loving yourself possible.

I think that women know that being wives and mothers is pain and suffering, but we aren’t bold or honest enough to burst out with “pain and suffering!” in the middle of a book club meeting. I’m glad our friend was honest and spontaneous, and that we could all laugh.

Being a woman and a wife and mother isn’t easy, and it never was easy. But there’s something oddly comforting about knowing that having these roles can cause a lot of pain and suffering; and that, as Jesus said, “Women shall be saved through the bearing of children.” I think he meant that when we carry a child–and I mean carry the child not only in our bodies, but in our very hearts, as real mothers who love their children–we are in a place where salvation is needed, and can come to us. As mothers we must cry out for help, for mercy, and for grace. And strength.

Being a mother and a wife can give us suffering that can lead to enlightenment, if we will just pry our fingers loose and stop resisting the pain and suffering.

 

 

10 responses

  1. Yes, like many before, I was greatly moved by the way this piece flowed so beautifully. I was – at once, very keen to put down in words her just what a thrilling impact it had on me. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and feeling

  2. Oh, that poor young wife and mother. How tragic. ; )
    You are correct, fellow blogger, a young woman wouldn’t believe you if you told them how it really was- pain death and suffering. On the one hand there is loss, but on the other there is such joy and laughter and adventure and life.
    Part of this old world is that nothing good, really good and wonderful, comes with out cost- some sort of sacrifice or loss of something else. That is how life is, I suppose.

    Eve, thanks for writing from your heart. I read your blog regularly, though I don’t often comment. It takes my little brain a while to process, and by that time you’ve written something else for me to ponder! Thanks!!

  3. Ladies, so much of what you’ve written resonates with me. Deb, the part of yourself that you’ve lost and can’t remember (but which you know is lost) really hit me. I’m missing that, too. I heard Eckard Tolle say the other day that when we know that we don’t know who we are, we’re on the way to becoming enlightened.

    That made me feel better. ;o)

    Lilalia, no, I can’t imagine choosing marriage and children after receiving full disclosure of what it would really be like. I think it was Erma Bombeck who said the same thing, that if women knew what motherhood was really like, the human race would die out. Ha ha!

    Which is what makes you right, Alida, about women in their right minds. Of course, we’re not. But I think our hearts and spirits are right.

    Anthromama, I am always trying to find that path to freedom, and (like you) I realize it’s inside. At least, part of me realizes it. The other part resists that and makes it about others. What a hard and human habit to break, eh?

    Charolotte, don’ t you think that being a parent teaches you the difference between what is and is not important? What’s big, what’s little? Or is it suffering that does that?

  4. What woman in her right mind would listen anyway? It really is “live and learn.”

    The love I feel for my husband, kids and even my parents is still incomprehensible to me, yet somehow it keeps me sane and alert to the beauty around me.

    Wonderful post Eve.

  5. Can you imagine telling that woman you were way back then (before knowing the love of your husband, or discovering the love for your children) the things you mentioned in this post? I not sure any of us are really prepared for that sublime shift motherhood and partnership makes to our persons. I probably would have run away scared if I’d known what a different person I’d evolve into since having children. Yet, I am so grateful for the changes.

  6. I love this post. Pain and suffering, but also so much love and happiness. Reckless vulnerability, but also a whole new viewpoint on the world. The ability to worry about what is important and let the little things slide. These are some of the things that being a parent has taught me.

  7. This was lovely. I never thought about my own mortality until I was 21, lying in a hospital bed with an infected episiotomy and I didn’t know where my son was. I couldn’t stop thinking about death and it seemed so strange to me that I would think this was, just having given birth. I know why now. Because now I had a child and it mattered if I lived or died. Someone was depending on me.

    I love my children and am so glad I had them but it’s been such a struggle. I feel like I lost a part of myself, a part of myself that I don’t even remember and it’s now long gone. And it is pain and suffering. But that’s not always a bad thing. It’s made me who I am today.

  8. God, yes. The pain and suffering. I don’t think you can explain that so that a potential parent can really understand. Not to sound all “you can’t understand until you’re in the special club of parenthood,” but that you just can’t truly explain it in words.

    I remember the horror of realizing, when my first child was born, that no matter what I did, I was going to hurt him in some way, just by being myself and even doing my best. That it seems to be our lot in life to be wounded, no matter how hard our parents try to do the right things. It was almost paralyzing.

    One thing I have learned is that true freedom is within, not without. I laugh at the idea that I am shackled or oppressed by being a stay-at-home mom, because my husband and I freely chose that path. On the other hand, I get what you’re saying about one’s family having so much power. It’s easy to feel shackled by a family that needs so much from you, unceasingly. But that’s an inner state, a creation of our own limited perspective. And as you say, they are also the keys to our freedom, in that these family dynamics can in a sense force us to do our inner work.

    Kind of like Buddha: he couldn’t see that he was truly unconscious until he was forced out of his comfortable state. I look back on my life before my kids and I marvel at how I spent so much time on autopilot.

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