|39 weeks and counting...|
For me, however, the day is the first of many when I am actually--and finally--a mother.
Because of my recent work in Libya, I haven't been able to blog about my current and impending motherhood. Yet the topic has been on my mind, and close to my heart (literally), for the last nine months.
Actually, motherhood--particularly the transition to motherhood--has been something I have thought about for the last twenty years or more.
As a tweenager, I was the coveted babysitter in my neighborhood. My afternoons and weekends were often booked solid. I also, mini entrepreneur that I was, started my own "Dame School" three mornings a week during one of the two years I was homeschooled for neighborhood children. My best friends during those homeschooling years were the moms for whom I babysat, and I dreamed of the ten children I would have.
I also was able to attend the state legislative session with my mom, a state citizen lobbyist, during this time, effectively acting as her intern, getting bills from the bill office, sitting in on committee hearings and meetings, and running notes to various representatives and senators with whom she wanted to meet.
Then came high school. I developed many more dreams at this point along with a growing sense that I had a bit of my mother in me. I wanted to make a difference in the world with a vague idea that that meant being a constitutional lawyer, starting an apolitical non-profit, and assisting with constitutions around the world. Oh--and I wanted to go to an Ivy League school.
The motherhood dream yet persisted, however. I wanted the marriage and family that everyone wanted and very few had. About this time, the world leadership of my faith came out with a proclamation on the Family designating mothers as the primary nurturer of children. I wanted so much to be faithful to this divine call and look forward to motherhood with joy.
These disparate dreams came with some agony--how would I do both? How would I faithfully set aside the work of the world and happily transition into contented motherhood?
This angst may seem quite premature for a 15 and 16 year old teenager. Yet in LDS culture, especially in "Happy Valley" of which my hometown of Provo was the capital, marriage and family was not too far off. Even though I envisioned 27 as the ideal marrying age, I knew that there was a good possibility of the event happening sooner. After marriage in my early-to-mid twenties, I believed birthing my young and full brood would naturally follow soon thereafter.
In the meantime, I got busy pursuing my other dreams. I felt that I was in a race against the clock--a clock that would end with the birth of my first child when I would faithfully put aside all else.
Then the young twenty-something wedding and the mid-twenty something wedding didn't happen. While there was the normal angst of all LDS women who pass these years without one, I continued to try to fit as much as I possibly could into the pre-baby years, finishing law school and getting the non-profit I co-founded in DC up and running. I hardly remember many of those many years of bone-tiring work as they seemingly flew by.
Yet the dream to become a mother was still ever-present. I determined that I could barely sustain a committed relationship, let alone marriage and family in my current position. I decided to make a lateral move into academia, fulfilling the dream to go to an Ivy League school and free up space in my life to settle down and have a family.
After making this decision and progress towards its fulfillment, my husband came into my life. The switch to marriage and academia at 29 happened simultaneously, and I anticipated a slower pace of life with motherhood soon to follow.
I got neither. Not only could my husband and I not live together full-time while I pursued studies--Oxford and then Penn were not in towns in which he could feasibly work, not to mention the extensive research along the US eastern seaboard my doctorate required--but the long-anticipated motherhood was evasive.
I faithfully took my temperature. Every month that showed a negative pregnancy test, I cried. I began to see only pregnant women in London and then New York's crowds, and coveted their swelling bellies.
Finally, based on my husband's prompting, I stopped worrying about it. I fixed a time in my mind when I would worry about it again and maybe begin to get medical help, and let it go. Then, on a hot July 4 weekend last summer, I got my first positive pregnancy test. Words cannot describe my joy, and my husband and I may have both cried. It had been three-ish years in the making (I guess you can't count time not living together? turns out immaculate conception is a rarity...), but, at 32, I finally had a baby on the way.
Once the morning sickness passed (the day before the semester started--hurray!) and, with it, the fear of miscarriage, I could not stop smiling. I was going to have a baby!
Then, as we moved back to London and prepared for my work in Libya, the old angst returned. I was making great progress in my career right as I was about to have a little one. How was I to juggle motherhood, my highest priority, work opportunities that were coming fast and furious, and continue pursuing my doctorate?
I had the realization a couple of years ago that the Lord made me the way that I am for a reason, and that was OK. As long as I stayed close to the Spirit in all things, I would know how to act. This allowed me to consider continuing some form of work, especially my studies, so long as it was flexible and I could fit it into times when my children would not feel its burden--before they got up in the wee hours or during nap times or the occasional evening.
Yet opportunities in Libya, elsewhere in the Middle East, and in eastern Europe for a developing constitutional consulting practice changed the dynamic. I could not necessarily fit such work into motherhood's nooks and crannies the way I could a doctorate. And pursuing a doctorate and work at the same time--how was I to do it? Why was everything happening at the same time--what was the Lord intending for me to do?
Part of the puzzle, I have re-learned, is to trust the Lord's timing. As my husband pointed out when we first got married, the Jaredites (Book of Mormon peoples) made progress to their "Promised Land" while they walked towards the waters' edge and then made barges. Then, once their air-tight barges were set loose from their moorings and they were swallowed up in the depths of the sea, their part of the work stopped, and the Lord's began. Though the Jaredites could do nothing physically during the next year at sea, the wind and waves "never did cease to blow" towards their Promised Land.
So the first lesson is as follows: as I contemplate taking time off for maternity leave while so much constitutional development is happening in Libya, I need to trust that progress can still be made with my work even as I take time off for new motherhood.
Second, I have had to struggle to accept that the Lord may want me to work--part time, on a regular basis--after that maternity leave. It goes against every cultural Mormon bone in my body, but it may actually be what the Lord would have me do. If my child has great needs or can't get into a schedule, of course, everything will need to change, but I have accepted the reality that I may have a different sort of motherhood--and, perhaps, a happier one--than I anticipated.
Third, the choice to work and the choice of primary-care motherhood will likely mean that the doctorate will have to go on low burn for a while. I can listen to books on my iPod and have the Kindle read to me while nursing and attending to other motherhood duties and maybe get up early if I am not too exhausted to write and study, but part of the choice of motherhood means I cannot do everything all at once. As a leader in my church has said, women have many songs to sing in their lives, but they may not be able to sing them all at the same time.
Finally, I have allowed myself to stop worrying about everything and just look forward with joy to the fulfillment of a dream so long in the making. In a way, I expect motherhood to be a kind of rest for me, when my work will take on a very different ilk. But I truly love children, and can't really imagine how much I will love my little son.
In short, as I look forward to motherhood in these last few days before my baby arrives, I have learned to accept with unbridled joy all that the Lord has in store for me.