Emmalee pulled another mug from the cabinet and poured more coffee. She handed it to Cora. “Can I ask you a question? But you got to promise to be honest with me, even if it means hurting my feelings.”
Cora nodded and took a sip from the mug. “Sure.”
“It’s just that you know so much about babies and mothering, and I was wondering if you think I can take care of a baby on my own?”
“Of course you can, sweetie,” Cora said, sitting her mug on the counter and reaching for Emmalee’s hand. “But you ain’t alone.”
Emmalee brushed away another tear.
~from The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Do any of us really know if we can take care of a baby on our own?
Eighteen years into motherhood, and I still find myself asking that question on a regular basis.
Motherhood, for many women, is the ultimate mission in their lives. It is the transcendent goal they strive for, feeling that with the birth experience complete, their lives will somehow magically fall into place.
Many of my friends carefully planned motherhood. Some wanted to be young mothers, feeling that if they were able to give birth in their early twenties that they would be ‘young enough’ to enjoy their children – I’m sure some felt their youthful bodies could more easily survive childbirth and keep up with active toddlers. Numerous girlfriends, like me, chose the college and career path first, deciding that the stability of accomplishment would surely be the golden ticket for a successful parenting experience. I was confident that if I took care of myself first, I would be well-equipped to deal with the uncertainties of mothering.
Some women I know simply tumbled into motherhood, like many experiences in their lives, without any inkling of how they got to that place where they had to choose between what was right and best for their child, and what felt right and best for themselves. I have friends who have endured the torment of infertility, their bodies battling against every maternal instinct they feel, only to end in crumpled dreams and a reconfiguration of self. And I know women who calculate the ticking of the biological clock, never having cast their bet at deliberate conception but feeling each second tick by in real time, sure that if it doesn’t happen soon, it never will.
There is a certain sense of possibility in the unknown. The first moment our child is placed upon our chest is glutted with possibility and hope. We feel powerful, exhilarated, and terrified all at once, knowing that life as we knew it before has forever altered. Our insecurities, our inadequacies, and our aspirations pile into the six pounds of sticky, squirmy flesh that has suddenly become ours alone to nurture for a lifetime. And we wonder, can we do this? Are we enough? How will we know when they ________ or __________ what to say? To do?
And somewhere along the way, we realize the secret. We hear the words of those wiser than we, words that remind us that we all we really need to do is practice mothering by faith.
“Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it”― James Baldwin
We realize that we are not alone, that all those mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers that have come before us have set the course for that pocket-sized little person we cradle in our arms. We realize that we carry with us in the very center of our soul everything we need to take care of this baby on our own. We realize, that if we stop long enough to peer right into our hearts, that we really do know the answers.
We become conscious of ourselves. We exude the instincts bred into us. We wear the crown proudly, sometimes pausing to push it back into place when it teeters precariously, or drop to our knees to scrape it up off the ground when it falls.
But we smile broadly at our child, feeling every bit the queen of the world. We trust. We are mothers. We CAN do this. We are not alone.
We are mothering by faith.
“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” ― Margaret Drabble
No one has ever entrusted impoverished Emmalee with anything important but she takes it upon herself to sew her mentor’s resting garment in The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore. Join From Left to Write on October 15 as we discuss The Funeral Dress. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.