There’s a reason childbirth is frightening. There’s a reason why many women think that having a baby is too hard, too much. Having a baby breaks you.
It is not easy. That becomes clear from day one of pregnancy—when your body is tossed about by cravings and aversions, when you feel faint and exhausted, constipated, and sick to your stomach, all at once. Sometimes things get better as your body swells: as your feet slowly fade from sight, and your stomach balloons into a mass you never expected. Stretch marks may fade—but they show you are being stretched, stretched to the breaking point.
Childbirth is a breaking: an act of pain and endurance and struggle that is beautiful because of the hope and joy and life it brings. But it is painful. Our bodies emerge broken and pained, bloodied and perhaps even torn.
Then the first few weeks of a baby’s life are almost entirely sleepless. Your body, aching and sore as it is, must endure a little longer: to feed and clothe and caress and soothe this tiny infant, whose cries make your entire world spin upside down.
Then the world tells you, “Just you wait. When they’re crawling, they’ll get into all sorts of mischief. When they’re walking, they’ll be throwing temper tantrums. When they’re in school, they’ll roll their eyes at you. When they’re in college, they’ll rebel against you. And then they’ll be gone.”
Are We Focusing On the Pain, Or On the Beauty?
This is one narrative of motherhood. It focuses in on the painful bits, the broken bits. What it doesn’t see is the glory: both of life and creation, and of personal sanctification, that motherhood builds.
Some women feel that they were made to be mothers. The role sinks into their skin, fits on them like a perfectly tailored suit. Everything is intuitive and natural.
Others struggle. The pains are real, and the difficulties are endless. Their bodies may feel forever broken, plagued by physical difficulties and scars that never go away. Their emotional and mental strength may always feel as if it’s at the breaking point. For these women, it’s all too easy to feel regret—or at least the littlest, tiniest hint of longing for those childless days.
There’s Light In the Brokenness
We’re all broken by the process of motherhood, in one way or another. It shatters and remakes us, time and time again. And we know, inside ourselves, that we’re never made back in quite the same new, shiny shape that we inhabited the first time around. The scars and the brokenness are there. But perhaps we can be encouraged to see the light shining through the broken bits.
The first light I remember was the heartbeat. Rhythmic and strong, and so apart from my own. So distinct, so beautiful.
The second light was her ultrasound. Seeing her movements, watching her suck her thumb, tracing the lines of her delicate little nose.
The third light was her movement: the twists, the turns, the pull and tug of her in my stomach. She loved jazz music. She liked to nudge me awake in the early morning. When I rested my coffee cup on my baby, she kicked back at the heat.
Motherhood Can Make Us Better Versions Of Ourselves
The lights stretched past childbirth and beyond. Some moments had less to do with her, and more to do with me: like the moment in labor when I thought I had no energy left, and dug deeper. I found a new strength in myself—a strength I never knew existed.
Or when sleep was fleeting, and weariness blanketed me like a shroud: a light-giving knowledge seeped in through those moments. I knew caring for my daughter was enough. My purpose was not merely to please and satiate my own comfort. Even though sleep was the most blissful, the most desirable thing in the world, I was rejecting it—because my life had a greater purpose, resting in the body of a seven-pound infant. I was able to tame the appetitive nature that nagged at me, in order to fulfill a deeper calling.
Or when she cried and cried, and it seemed nothing could help, and nothing would stop it, there came an inner peace and calm, an endurance I didn’t know existed.
When my husband left on a deployment, and she got sick and I got sick, and the nights were long and the days longer—we made it through.
There’s Joy We Never Knew Existed
All through these “endurance” moments were threaded millions of deliriously joyful moments.
When she curled her tiny fingers around mine. When she stroked my hair while she nursed. When she smiled up at me from her crib. When she gave me a kiss. When her face lit up when I entered the room. When she giggled for the first time. When she tumbled into my lap and began sucking her thumb, cuddling her body close to mine. When I watched her sleep, calm and quiet, curled into a little ball.
I know that no matter what happens, this sweet, sassy, stubborn, vocal, rambunctious, musical child will make it all worth it. All the pain and brokenness, all the exhaustion.
Amidst the Brokenness and Scars, There’s Beauty
Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I’m caught off guard. I see new wrinkles and lines, a set to my chin, a look in my eyes—signs of age. Nobody else probably notices. I don’t care if they do. They’re signs of war: war with my self, war with this world, war with a body that’s slowly but surely aging. They’re signs of brokenness.
But amidst the broken and wrinkling and scarred parts, there’s the beauty: the signs of determination and strength, but even more so, of love: love I didn’t know could exist. Love that transcends self and its limitations. Love that pours itself out when there’s supposedly nothing left to give.
Motherhood doesn’t have to do this in us. It can also turn us bitter. Brokenness can spur us to greater strength—but it also can leave us scarred and hurt, turned inward and grieving. Grieving for what’s been lost, grieving for the pain of the present, grieving for a future we cannot control.
Will We Hold Back When So Much Has Been Sacrificed For Us?
I understand that many women look at the journey of motherhood—whether it’s for one child, or for many—and feel daunted. Unsure. But in the deepest, most painful points of my labor, these words flooded back to me—time and time again: “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, shed for you.”
If His body was broken for mine, will I hold mine back—insisting it’s too precious, too perfect to be scarred and torn? If so much can be given for me, how can I not also give this in return? How can I not also pour out my life, my strength, my energy, to help foster and nurture life?
This is not—by any means—meant to put motherhood on a pedestal. Life gives us brokenness in many forms. Self-sacrifice takes many shapes and sizes. Whether we choose a life of singleness and service, whether we adopt or foster needy children, whether we pour our lives into seniors or troubled youth, hurting neighborhoods or broken homes, the widowed or the orphaned or the homeless, there will always be opportunities to leave behind our own wants and needs, to care for another. To help them live, and live more fully.
It Will Not Be Easy—But It Will Be Good
But I wanted to write this for the women out there who are pregnant, perhaps unintentionally so, and they are scared. Scared of the brokenness, of the pain, of the heartbreak. Scared that they’ll lose themselves, and never find themselves again.
Please, let me encourage you. It will break you. It will be hard. But the “you” who emerges truly can be a more beautiful, strong, empowered “you” than you ever thought possible. And your baby—the new, glorious life you get to help bring into the world—will be someone the world has never seen before, and will never see again. Someone precious and unique and glorious.
There’s a reason childbirth is frightening. But many of the best things in our life are. Just know that there’s light and beauty, even in the brokenness. You just have to see it.