Tomorrow is Mothers’ Day. As I sipped my tea this morning, the thought of Mothers’ Day triggered a question in my head – what is motherhood? And this set off an avalanche of memories, ideas and thoughts, exploring the meaning of motherhood and how it has impacted my life. The outcome of this morning reflection is this ode (in prose) … to mothers and motherhood …
What is motherhood? It is (of course) a relation, but not just that. It is undoubtedly the joy and privilege of being the closest to one of the prettiest things in the world – a baby, but it is also not just that. It is the feeling of love a mother feels for one’s child, but again, it is not just that. What is it, then? The birth of a baby is one of the most marvelous phenomena of nature, nothing short of a miracle, demonstrating nature’s creative powers as a new life comes into existence. While on one hand, the visible bond made of physical tissue tying the baby to the mother’s body gets loose and is severed during birth, another incredibly strong invisible bond made of nothing but emotion is created between them, tying the mother to the baby for a lifetime. While birth gets the baby out of its physical tie, it binds the mother into an emotional tie. To me, that is the essence of motherhood – the state of being tied and connected to the child – at a subliminal, emotional, telepathic level – forever.
Motherhood is a garb that a bewildered new mother unwittingly finds herself wrapped in when she gives birth, one that she soon grows so comfortable in, that she wears it on herself like it were the skin she was born with, and that she cannot imagine being without. It is a state of being, one that subsumes many things physical and emotional; one might make the mistake of thinking that it is a bed of roses, all nice and beautiful, lovey-dovey and comfortable. It is not – it’s a mixed bag, full of things which are blissful without necessarily always being joyful, and fulfilling without always being satisfying. Like all mothers, I consider motherhood itself as a gift and a blessing; but apart from being a gift by itself, it also gave me other gifts, in the form of things it taught me, that no other experience could have. There are many I can list, but a few that I choose to share here, which were character-building and life-changing for me.
The first gift of motherhood to me, without a doubt, was the ability and desire to love and give unconditionally. The love a mother feels for a child is unlike her love for anyone else – it is an impulsive and compulsive feeling of just wanting to give, with no expectation in return, a feeling so pristine and pure, it is almost unreal. And this feeling soon extends beyond the child to the whole family, making us mothers do and keep doing things for the family and the household – be it cooking favourite dishes, making special days feel special, being there for the family irrespective of other priorities, and so many other things, small and big, that we do every day to make the house a home. It is not easy (this could be called an understatement of the century!); it often creates conflict and stress for mothers, but we take it on gallantly and happily, without thinking of the stress or stretch it might entail.
One thing I learnt after motherhood, which I call another gift, was the real meaning and the true depth of responsibility. When I first held my baby in my hands, the overwhelming sense of responsibility I felt cannot be described in words. I remember crying in the hospital, mortally scared with the thought of how I would carry out the responsibility of this little one who looked so fragile and vulnerable wrapped up in that little blanket. The feeling of how totally and absolutely dependent my baby was on me, struck me like a bolt, instilling in me a sense of what responsibility really meant, not just for my child, but also in general, a change that helped me fulfil my responsibilities in a much better way.
Being a mother gave me a much better understanding of forgiveness. For a parent, forgiveness comes like breathing – naturally. One expects one’s child to make mistakes, and one takes them in one’s stride. Of course, often the child betrays one’s expectations, and that hurts more than other things, but one still forgives and moves on. This happened to me as well, and most tangibly helped me improve my comfort level with forgiving and forgetting in general, making me a better person in the process.
I believe that being a mother has always given me a much better sense of balance and grounding than before. For one, looking at my son playing with abandon always gave me joy and was a stress-buster. But importantly, it also reminded me of how uncomplicated life and happiness can be, helping me to always clearly sort through ever-more-competing priorities, enabling me to manage challenges and tackle sources of stress much better. On the other hand, the sense of responsibility I felt towards helping my child develop into a good human being always served as a regular reminder of and a grounding mechanism into my values and beliefs that I hold most important in life.
I do want to reiterate that being a mother is neither easy nor by any means all joy; some of its gifts bring more tears and fears than cheers. There are many such not-so-happy by-products of motherhood that come gift-wrapped in its wake. The one I would like to mention here is a constant sense of guilt. As the umbilical cord is cut, another knot is made in a mother’s heart – a tight knot with guilt. As a mother, one is always feeling guilty of something – if one is with the child, one feels guilty of not being with the spouse, if with the spouse, then of not being with the child, if with both, then of not being with friends or someone else; if one is at work, then there is guilt of not being at home and if at home, then of not being at work; if at a gym or a spa, then it’s at peak level for not being either at work or at home…. sigh… a mother’s heart and hormones can create guilt out of nothing, so much so that the one constant companion of a mother is her guilt. Believe you me, it is a sordid source of stress that we mothers have to handle. Many such challenges come as a part and parcel of being a mother; each of us has to deal with them, and we do, as a matter of course and often uncomplainingly.
As I began the journey of motherhood and started to sort through the different emotions I felt towards my child, other things slowly started connecting and clicking in my mind. This gave rise to a growing sense of awareness, cognizance and recognition of things that my own mother has done for me and the love she felt for me, whether it was expressed or not. I could clearly see that sense of unconditional love and giving I always got from her, I could sense the total and absolute responsibility she felt for me and my well-being, I could remember how often and how completely she has forgiven me for things that I hurt her with! This acute realization of what my mother has done, does and will always do for me filled me with deep and overwhelming gratitude. I had always assumed that her loving look, her proud pat, her stroking tap, her comforting lap were mine by right and will be there for me. I was probably right, but after I became a mother, I began to see them with a sense of thankfulness, without taking them for granted, as I now truly understood the meaning and value of her unconditional and unquestioning love. While I always knew I owed her a lot, it was only after I became a mother that I realized how MUCH it was I owed to her, a beautiful feeling that I think is a gift of motherhood to me.
Thus, motherhood has been a huge blessing for me, bringing in its wake not just my lovely baby but also other gifts that made me a better person. As I come out of my morning reverie, I feel happy with this thought, and I am inspired and in awe of all mothers, for what they do every moment of every day for all of us. To all mothers in this world, on the eve of Mothers’ Day, let me say what might probably be the weakest ever expression of what you deserve – THANK YOU !!!