The thing about becoming a mother for the first time is how much it changes your body. And how little you expect that.
No one warned me about that part. I didn’t have a mother to tell me that the pre-baby jeans I brought to the hospital I would absolutely not be wearing home.
That memory is what makes Mary so real for me. Because she and I have shared an earthy, bloody experience. She steps off the pages of history for me and into the hard, awkward reality of motherhood because we share a postpartum story.
It’s also the reason I stopped singing Silent Night the first few years after becoming a mother. I couldn’t stomach the words in the light of my new reality – experiencing birth from the inside out – nothing silent about it.
No — birth in all its awkward, naked, aching reality was much more powerful than that.
It redefined me. And my idea of family and faith.
After Jackson was born we lived in the thick of family as we tried to build our own three-legged version of home. Peter was struggling to write his PhD dissertation, and I was trying to play a role I’d read about in one too many parenting books.
And every evening I hid in the bathroom as I slowly washed my beaten bits and pieces and tried to avoid my naked reflection in the mirror.
Our small cottage was one room with a loft for the double bed that looked down over the small desk, coffee table, dresser, and crib. The bathroom had always been my favorite since I’d lived there as a teenager. Tucked behind the only door, it housed an electric-blue tub, toilet, and sink—the color I always thought of as joy.
I was slow in the bathroom those first few days. Slower than Jackson liked. He was impatient, and one night Pete came looking for me, walking in on my desperate privacy. I recoiled from him. I yanked the door closed with both hands, bent over trying to hide my new self from the boy who’d known only the sexy version.
Humiliated, I yelled. I told him not to look, not to come close as I clung to my camouflage.
I was stunned when he didn’t listen. My quiet Michigan man of few words pulled that door wide open and looked me in the eyes and said loud and clear what I didn’t believe: “I think you’re beautiful. Don’t you ever hide your body from me. Beautiful, do you hear me? This is the body of my wife, the woman who gave birth to my son.
You. Are. Beautiful. I love you, don’t you dare be embarrassed in front of me.”
That was the beginning. That was the beginning of being ready to be parents.
The thing is, there is no road map. No matter how many stories you’ve heard. No matter how many books you’ve read. It’s learning to walk again, and the only way to do it is by falling down a lot. Because you’re becoming someone else, and your stretched and broken skin can itch with the strangeness of it.
So I lean in when I read Mary’s story. I lean in close – because she’s my sister – and we share this awkward beginning together – and she declared her pregnancy and her womanhood, “Blessed.”
And I hear that word echo tonight as I get out of the shower and wrap a towel around this waist that’s danced three times around the labor and delivery ward and I whisper to my reflection, “Blessed.”
Blessed and beautiful.
And a thousand times blessed.
This story is an excerpt edited from my book, Surprised by Motherhood –you can read the first three chapters for free over here. Or pick up a copy over here.