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‘My daughter taught me how to be a mother’

‘My daughter taught me how to be a mother’

by Anne Nicklaus | May 17, 2018

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For Mother's Day the US website Women Speak For Themselves ran a contest for women to write to other women about why not to fear motherhood. WSFT got 140 entries and the winning piece is here. The following are two of three runners-up. The third will be published tomorrow.  

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Dear Mom-to-be,

I will never forget the first time I held my daughter. The moment she heard my voice, she stopped crying and listened intently to the voice she had been hearing for many weeks before she was born, and recognition flooded that little face.

Also unforgettable is that first night home from the hospital. I carefully set my perfect little sleeping newborn in the bassinet. My husband and I looked at our precious child, and then each other. Now what? Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for a baby, and the realization that there was nothing that prepared me for this.

Who would teach me to be a mom? I quickly called the hospital to ask the nurse how I would know if she was too hot or too cold or more importantly, breathing! I remember the nurse saying to me calmly, "We can send you home with a lot of things; confidence isn't one of them.”

Over the next weeks and months, I found that my daughter was the best teacher. I learned from her expressions and her cries. I looked into her face and she looked into mine and we figured it out together. When the next baby came, we figured that out too, and the new sibling was better than any toy.

Twenty years and five children later, life is full and LOUD and fun and wonderful. My children tell me that siblings are the greatest gift we could give them. I look back at those early days and see that the ability to be a mother was written on my heart, and waited only for the teacher to arrive.

With a heart that is full ~ Anne Nicklaus

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Peace and joy come only through a true gift of oneself

I know you're scared. I was terrified. I didn't want to surrender my freedom, to shut so many glittering doors full of promise. Moreover, I didn't have an example of motherhood lived well -- full of joy and deep personal fulfillment. I wanted a fuller, richer, happier life than what I thought motherhood offered.

And yet… I wrestled with that primordial desire to bring forth and cultivate life, to pass on my culture, my truths. And I sensed that, despite the oh-so-glaring faults and unglamorous life of my own mother, motherhood offered a path to peace and a life lived well.

Eventually, I became a mother. And, little by little, I discovered what all mothers learn from experience: those elusive gifts of peace and joy only come through a true gift of self, through putting your freedom at the service of a great cause.

What did my old self want out of life anyway? To be loved and known intimately? A life of challenges accepted and overcome, deep friendships, growth in courage and self-knowledge? A great adventure? What other path besides motherhood could possibly fulfill all these desires?

As G.K. Chesterton said, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Believe me, I'm making more than my share of parenting mistakes. I still complain, lose my patience, and rail at the sacrifices asked of me.

But, when I start to get discouraged, a little perspective helps. I've never met a woman who, looking back over her life, wishes she had never become a mother. I have, however, met dozens of women who regret saying “no” to motherhood for one reason or another.

Yes, motherhood comes with suffering -- of some variety you can't possibly predict. But avoiding motherhood doesn't mean you get to avoid suffering. It lurks on every path through life. And ultimately, suffering refines us, if we let it.

In The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck describes a mother refined in this way: "Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken."

Would you accept motherhood if you knew it led to unshakeable strength and peace? If you're afraid of motherhood, do some soul-searching and find out why. Don't make choices out of fear. Talk to mothers you admire, especially ones with years of perspective. Every choice we make - either to be a mother or not - closes some doors. Life narrows as you age. But even 10 years along the journey, I can tell you that the joys of motherhood drown out the sorrows.

Don't be afraid. If you fixate on your fears and insecurities, you lose sight of the indescribable gift of motherhood and its attendant joys. Say yes to this beautiful path and get ready for a great adventure. ~ Jane

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