Mothering By Faith

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

Mothering By FaithDo 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. 

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Save the Children: State of the World’s Mothers

3 day-old baby boy in Dibana village, Maharastra, India.
3 day-old baby boy in Dibana village, Maharastra, India.

As part of the group, Mom Bloggers for Social Good, we are working on spreading information about the State of the World’s Mothers report, and their annual report about the best and worst places to be a mother.  The State of the World’s Mothers (SOWM) report is Save the Children’s signature annual publication, which compiles global statistics on the health of mothers and children, and uses them to produce rankings of nations within three groupings corresponding to varying levels of economic development. They have produced the reports annually since the year 2000. Though the core report indices are the same every year, each year there is a new feature or story angle added to it. In 2013, the new feature is the Birth Day Risk Index — the index compares first-day death rates for babies in 186 countries to identify the safest and most dangerous places to be born.

Watch video of the project here, with Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Connelly, and Alyson Hannigan and moms from around the world:

The United States has the highest number of first day deaths of babies of any industrialized nation; nearly 11,300 babies die here every year. American mothers may be surprised to hear this, as we think our healthcare is superior to mothers  in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and other areas with high infant mortality rates. Save the Children’s annual report recommends several actions to solve this problem, such as addressing the underlying causes of infant mortality, increasing health care workers, investing in low-cost, low-tech health care solutions, strengthening health care systems and increasing access, and increasing committments and funding to saving the lives of mothers and children.

In a show of support for Save the Children, American bloggers are sharing their own birth stories. I am more grateful than ever to have experienced the miracle of not only bringing two healthy children into the world, but also the glory of experiencing motherhood for the last seventeen years. Birth wasn’t easy, but the payoff has been magnificent:

my first baby
my first baby

“Jennifer. Stop. Look at me. Look at me. You must stop pushing right now.”

My brain and body scrambled to focus on her blue eyes. Something wasn’t right. This wasn’t happening the way the book said it would. What is she saying?

I had watched all the movies, attended the birthing class, packed my bag, bought the diapers, and laid out your little white sleeper, recently laundered in Burt’s Bees baby soap, ready to bring you home.

“Stop,” her voice repeated.  “This is important.” My midwife’s normally calm demeanor was punctuated with urgency.

I couldn’t pry my eyes open. The pain was overwhelming; no time for medication, this was happening old-school style. My breath came in gasps, my fear in waves.

I searched for my husband, his hands on my legs. Finally he came into view, his blue eyes holding it all in.

“Her cord. It’s wrapped around her neck. You need to stop so I can flip her out. You must not push-do you hear me? “ I snapped into focus. I inhaled and for a moment, granted her request.

My body and brain were operating with broken connections, like a static dead space. I gave up control out of sheer and utter terror that my baby would be born dead.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

No one says that first babies come early. Tales of endless labor, walks around the hospital and enduring hours and hours of waiting for her to come were all I’d been told. Nothing-nothing at all had prepared me for these 30 minutes of laying in the hospital bed, feeling her force her way into the world.

The seconds felt like hours. I naively tried to regain control; not realizing that from this point on, you would shape every thought, every action, and every moment of my life.

“Jennifer, when I say so, you need to push harder than ever before. Go deep inside. Growl like a mama bear, and do it with all your power. Do you understand?”

Obediently, I complied.

One.  Two.  Three.

But wait – this isn’t how it is supposed to be. I haven’t even gotten into the birthing chair. The nursery-the laundry hasn’t been put away into your little dresser. We haven’t even decided on your name yet… I don’t know where you are, or what to do. The only thing I do know is that I’m not ready for this. Am I really going to be somebody’s mom?

But there you were, somersaulting into the world, slightly violet, but breathing.  And alive.

And absolutely perfect.

The struggle was over. We made it. Nothing in life could ever be harder than that, I imagined. I held you to my chest and breathed you in, feeling your warm stickiness. I clasped your tiny fingers.

“What is it?” I heard my mother hesitantly, yet pleadingly, call from behind the closed door.

“It’s a girl,” I panted in reply.

And forever afterwards, life as I knew it ended and began at precisely the same instant.

Few hours old twin babies are seen at Pailarkandi union, Baniachang district of Habiganj in Bangladesh.  The twins' mother has had four antenatal visits to the clinic and the babies are full term and a healthy weight.    Every hour, 11 babies die in Bangladesh  their lives cut short before theyre even four weeks old. One in 19 children under five dies needlessly of diseases we know how to treat or prevent. In some regions the figures are even higher: in Baniachong and Ajmiriganj, where Save the Children is working, one baby dies every day, meaning tragically that many women there have lost at least one child. In one village currently without a clinic, locals told us that 9 out of 10 women that live there lose a baby. Most of these children die because they dont have access to even the most basic healthcare.    For every 10 births in Bangladesh, 8 mothers have to give birth in their home on a dirt floor without a skilled health worker present putting the life of their baby at risk.  Only 37% of Bangladeshi children with suspected pneumonia have access to a health worker and only 22% of those receive antibiotics for it. This treatment gap has often tragic consequences.  The lack of good food plays a devastating role, too. Nearly one in four Bangladeshi babies is born underweight, and the damage from malnutrition often lasts a lifetime. Horrifyingly, nearly half of the children in Bangladesh suffer irreparable damage to their bodies and minds  a condition known as stunting  all because they cant get the nutritious food they need to grow and develop. 5% of the worlds children affected by this condition live in Bangladesh.
Few hours old twin babies are seen at Pailarkandi union, Baniachang district of Habiganj in Bangladesh. The twins’ mother has had four antenatal visits to the clinic and the babies are full term and a healthy weight. Every hour, 11 babies die in Bangladesh their lives cut short before theyre even four weeks old. One in 19 children under five dies needlessly of diseases we know how to treat or prevent. In some regions the figures are even higher: in Baniachong and Ajmiriganj, where Save the Children is working, one baby dies every day, meaning tragically that many women there have lost at least one child. In one village currently without a clinic, locals told us that 9 out of 10 women that live there lose a baby. Most of these children die because they dont have access to even the most basic healthcare. For every 10 births in Bangladesh, 8 mothers have to give birth in their home on a dirt floor without a skilled health worker present putting the life of their baby at risk. Only 37% of Bangladeshi children with suspected pneumonia have access to a health worker and only 22% of those receive antibiotics for it. This treatment gap has often tragic consequences. The lack of good food plays a devastating role, too. Nearly one in four Bangladeshi babies is born underweight, and the damage from malnutrition often lasts a lifetime. Horrifyingly, nearly half of the children in Bangladesh suffer irreparable damage to their bodies and minds a condition known as stunting all because they cant get the nutritious food they need to grow and develop. 5% of the worlds children affected by this condition live in Bangladesh.
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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My Children, My Ordinary Heroes

“There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He’s ordinary”

Foo Fighters

Ten fingers. Ten toes. Arms, legs, torso, beating heart, and a little bit of hair. I could let out a sigh of relief.

Both my babies came into the world perfectly formed, fast and furious-especially the first one. At that point, I thought the worst was over. They were alive, named, and we were ready to start the rest of our lives as parents.  No expectations, right? All we wanted was for them to be born healthy. We knew we had a lot to learn, and as I’ve written before, were fully aware that no parenting handbook would provide all the answers to our questions.

"Parenting"
“Parenting” (Photo credit: vanhookc)

So we set off on parenting in the trial and error method.  Baby screams, we hold her. Feed her. Change her.  And if that doesn’t work…we had no clue. Repeat. We fell into parenting with a natural awkwardness that somehow worked out; both our kids survived infancy, and so did we. Barely.

As our babies became full of personality, we couldn’t help wonder what they would turn out like. Would they be readers and writers like their mom? Share their father’s passion for music and travel? Would they be athletic, funny, scholars, introverts…the ‘what ifs’ of uncertainty certainly provided fodder for our dreams about the future. We cautiously introduced a myriad of activities and experiences to see which they would gravitate towards. We enrolled them in a bilingual school without ever considering that they might not have chosen it for themselves. Our good intentions propel us towards what we consider the right decisions, but sometimes I wonder if we’re creating the path we want our child to walk, rather than watching them choose their own direction. And what if they turn out…ordinary?

Parent’s dreams for their children can create awfully big shoes for them to fill. Our undying love for our kids can teeter precariously on the edge between what we think they should be or do or feel, and what they dream for themselves.  As parents, I think we must strike a balance and show our children that whatever they do, and whoever they become, whether they end up just like us or follow their own path, that they are everything we could possibly wish them to be. Just like when they were born-alive, healthy, with the world before them.

I think the Foo Fighters said it best-my children are my heroes every day.

This post was inspired by Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison. Parenting is a challenging job, but what challenges does a parent with Asperger’s face? Join From Left to Write on March 12 as we discuss Raising Cubby. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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