Wise words, from a mother who knows.
When I look back on it now, I realise that giving birth was an experience of great rapture and great rupture. As each of my babies’ umbilical chords were cut I felt a pulse within my womb and a rip in my swollen heart. All the places I’d torn were soon stitched up by the doctor and by my own all-consuming adoration of my children. Yet I feel now that these fissures were the first of many.
The weight of our children on our womb is replaced by a weight on our hearts that only gets heavier. Yet as our kids imprint deeper upon our being, they travel further and further away from us.
Hence, parenting is a continual process of letting go.
I find this letting go liberating and joyful, yet also confronting and wrenching. It swings to extremes because it’s never gradual and smooth. Separation comes in abrupt seismic shifts like the contractions that push our babies out in the first place; they are expected but without warning; painful in ways we can never imagine.
The first post-birth contraction took place a week after I became a mother. Twelve and a half years ago I took a walk to the beach at the end of my street. I felt like an astronaut taking my first steps on the moon, my body still felt tethered to the ship of home where my baby lay in her father’s arms. It was the first time I’d left my child for more than a wee or a shower. I slept with her, carried her in a sling, sat with her and rushed back from making a cup of tea so I wouldn’t miss a moment of tummy time. As my feet wedged into the alien sand it struck me I’d been colonised and I was utterly enslaved to my invader.
Two years after her birth my son came along. He stayed in a sling for a year, his little face always close, his big brown eyes always searching and connecting with mine, his puffs of breath on my neck He was too clingy but I still loved his tether to me. There were smaller contractions that followed – the first evenings out without them, first days back at work and the first overnight away from them when I had my first girls’ weekend away.
But the first big seismic shift – for both children – was their first day in childcare. My daughter at a loving, hippy, trippy Steiner womb-like establishment, my son at occasional care. Both times I skipped down the road after drop off but felt a bungee-chord tug my mind back to them all day long. It felt like a significant stretch of our connection, as did their enrolment at preschool. I let go willingly, thrillingly and felt great pride and a great lump in my throat as they made friends in the sandpit and presented their artworks of great promise at the end of the day.
Starting school was a larger rip in the fabric of parenting. After dropping my first child and watching her shoulder the giant bag and bite her lip as she walked into a classroom, I turned towards the gate in tears. I was mourning the fact I would no longer be her greatest influence nor love (she instantly worshipped her pretty blonde teacher).