Monday, November 03, 2008

Trailing Clouds of Glory

(note: Sometimes I hear criticism of large families that includes phrases such as "all those children," or "raising a litter," or "just popping them out." I find that so degrading, and so far from the reality of having and raising children. This article is my attempt to share my views on becoming a mother.)

Some people believe that you become a mother just once, at the birth (or adoption) of your first child. It isn't true. Each time I give birth to a new soul, I become a mother anew. The miracle of a precious child of God beginning its earthly life is the same. As Wordsworth put it:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us,
our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

That special peace and joy and excitement of a new baby happens every time. The peace of heaven comes into our home each time we are graced with a child, no matter how many times it has happened in the past.

I remember studying an anthropology article in family science years ago. The details are a bit vague, but the essence of the article was that our English language is so flat and inadequate in describing the experience of a new baby. "Giving birth" we say, as easily as we say, "giving to charity" or "giving up." In one culture, the word for giving birth meant "becoming a mother" but the word was not so limited. It meant not only only "becoming a mother" but "becoming a mother to this child," a word full of meaning and substance. It meant that no matter how many times a woman had been a mother, when she gave birth, it was a sweet, precious, unique experience. She wasn't just "giving birth," she was entering into a new relationship, a whole new way of being. She was becoming. The child was not an afterthought, a number, or an object that could be given. It was such an essential part of the experience that their language included it in their word for giving birth: "becoming a mother to this child."

Recently, a dear friend looked at Harmony and said with a smile, "Well, if you've seen one, you've seen them all." She meant, of course, that my children look alike, that they share common features and facial expressions. She meant it as a compliment. I smiled and said, "yes, they do look alike, don't they?" but inside, my whole soul was rebelling. No, I thought, you haven't seen them all. This one is unique and different and special, and so are all the others. This is Harmony. Not the same song, different verse. A whole new being. A symphony of sound and grace and personality and life. A child with her own unique gifts and talents and mission in life. A child who will bless the world with her presence, who will touch and lift people with her goodness. A child. A child.

I feel the same way about each of my children. Lillian. Joseph. Michael. Allison. Sarah. Eliza. Harmony. Even the two who grew together in my womb and gasped for their first breath in the same sacred moment -- the two who share the same genes, the same DNA. They are each precious, unique, and special. A child. A child. They came together in the special miracle that is twinship, but they are each beloved, each unique and distinct. Every member of our family knows them as separate individuals, despite their look-alike faces.

Growing a family is not like collecting dolls or books or cats. When I contemplate adding to our family, I think of bringing another of God's beautiful children to this world. I envision coming to know the personality, the heart of another spirit, and helping them reach their potential. They become part of a group that is our family, but that makes them more loved and appreciated, not less. I don't love Harmony any less because I also love Lillian, Joseph, Michael, Sarah, Allison, and Eliza. If anything, I love her more because I've seen firsthand the miracle that is life and growth. I've watched six other babies blossom and develop in their own unique way, and I cherish each stage of her life with maturity and patience grown in the garden that is family life.

I don't know any of my friends with large families who simply pops out kids. Or who thinks of their family as some nebulous group. There probably are such individuals, who give birth without thinking, who bring more children into a family of neglect or who simply "oops" their way into a large family.

But I've never met any of them. The mothers I know worry a lot. They pray and hope and feel and work for each of their children. They wonder each time if they are up to the task. Their love is infinite but time and energy are finite. They pray and go to work and sacrifice for each new child to come to their family. They don't keep having children because pregnancy is easy or because they like the feeling of sleeplessness. They don't do it because they like chaos or messes or tantrums. They know all too well that those things are part of the package, part of the tumult, clutter and cacophony that is family life. But they do it anyway. They sacrifice and they give more than they ever knew they had in them because they know that even on their hardest days, what they are doing is extraordinary. They are helping distinct, precious individuals reach their potential.

Pregnancy can be difficult. But with the sacrifice comes a purity and a love that is easy to feel and hard to describe. When I became pregnant for the fourth time, I was excited. But I was also weary. I'd been through a devastating health crisis the summer before and I was just shakily getting back on my feet and regaining my confidence. I knew how hard a pregnancy would be, but I also knew it was the right thing for me to do. So I stood precariously on the path of becoming a mother again, hoping for God's grace to carry me through what I knew I could not do alone.

The morning sickness hit me hard. I threw up twice a day and did my best to nurture my children while patiently enduring what I hoped would subside in time. I was just starting to feel better, at 14 weeks, when the bleeding began.

It started as a trickle, just a spot of fear. A hope that nothing was amiss. A worry that something was seriously wrong. A silence as I went about my normal day, hoping I wasn't experiencing what I thought I was. Then it became a flood, and with the blood came tears. As I hurried to the doctor, I prayed and prayed, not for some nameless object, but for THIS child, this precious individual who had been growing beneath my heart and who I loved with a passion that surprised even me. "Heavenly Father. I've sacrificed so much for this child. Please don't take her away from me!"

Then came the news. The heartbeat. A child. A child! Still alive but perhaps in peril. Then the ultrasound, with my husband who rushed to my side. And further news. "Here's the first heartbeat . . . and here's the second." The bleeding still unexplained, but subsiding. Subsiding while something else was overflowing. Joy. Gratitude. Excitement. A child, yes, but also her sister, her companion through life's storms and sunshine. Two unique, precious souls. My children. Becoming a mother anew, this time to twins.

My children are not just a group of kids. They are Lillian, Joseph, Michael, Sarah, Allison, Eliza, and Harmony. A unique, dynamic group of individuals who teach me every day to be a little less selfish, and a little more loving, and a little more patient. In the uncommon, singular, supernal experience that is motherhood.

"Trailing clouds of glory." Indeed.

11 comments:

Rachel said...

Christina I love it and so well put! Thanks so much for sharing! Rachel

3in3mom said...

I am speechless. I love reading those blogs that bring me to tears and speechless, because it helps me look at life anew and enjoy the blessings of Ethan, Hannah and Jacob. I too have struggled when people say things that are not well thought out. . .

my oldest being adopted and few believe that was really when I became a mother. . . etc etc. or that I cheated to have him. . . etc etc. . . needless to say, the world needs women like you who will humbly say, they are each loved and the Lord's divine children.

thank you!
C

Mommy Matters said...

So well put. What a wonderful piece that I needed to read, to remember (today was a long day) what it means to be a mother to many. Thank you.

Jody said...

Amen! A wonderful tribute to Motherhood

Wizzard MoM said...

Christina ---

You put into words so well, what I wish I could express!! You are a GREAT MOTHER, and I look to you as an example. I'm so glad that we've crossed paths and hope that we'll be friends through life. You are so AMAZING!!!

alligood said...

I love the way your express so eloquently, the way I feel. Even when we are suprised (a-hem), we are always blessed! I think I needed to read this today.
-Allison

K said...

Perhaps your best piece of writing so far, Christina, and you've had some lovely ones. Beautiful.

swedemom said...

Profoundly powerful.

cheryl said...

God blessed me with 7 wonderful daughters, and with each pregnancy, people would ask if we were 'trying' for a boy. While we would have, of course, welcomed a boy, it just plain didn't matter! Probably because I looked at each one of them as gifts, as you obviously do. And now that they're 15-25 years old, they're blessing me as young adults. I'm sure you'll continue to enjoy yours, just know that it goes by pretty fast!!

Dielle said...

Christina, this brought me to tears. I especially love the idea of the word that means becoming a mother to this child. and yes, each child is so special and unique. Thank you for your eloquent writing.

fiona said...

This was wonderful, Christina! I love that Wordsworth bit. I'm Aislinn's sister, and I saw you left a comment on Ronda's blog (lifewiththegs),and just out of curiousity clicked on you and lo and behold! I knew you! ;) Your family is beautiful!

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