Can any mother ever forget that feeling of absolute panic the first time she was tipped out of her wheelchair into the big, wide world with an infant in her arms? Sheer terror. I remember looking around at the nurses and other hospital personnel, wondering if there wasn’t something else they needed to tell me, or check on, before they let me just walk out of there alone with that little human being. You mean, that’s it? As long as I have a legal car seat, I’m expected to fly solo as a mother?
Even though I had read every book ever written on how to prepare for a baby, and I knew people with even less preparation than me took new babies home from hospitals every day, I was still amazed and afraid. And I felt so very alone.
It didn’t get much better when all the well wishers went back to their lives, my mother-in-law flew back home, and my husband went back to work. My daughter still hadn’t figured out how to nurse after I’d been home for several days. My life was one continual round of trying to nurse, both of us getting frustrated and crying, breaking down and giving her a bottle, putting her to sleep, washing the bottles, expressing the milk she hadn’t consumed back into the bottles, and starting all over again. Nothing in my books had prepared me for this. I didn’t feel up to the task, and I started to wonder for the first time about my ability to be a good mother. Surely good mothers didn’t feel so overwhelmed, didn’t cry so easily, didn’t second guess their every move.
My daughter eventually figured out how to nurse, and I eventually stopped feeling panic stricken. Now I know that every good mother has those moments – it’s just part of the program. With every new stage in both the child’s and the mother’s development, the fears just keep coming, and the challenge to face them. After twelve and a half years of moments like these, I’m starting to feel invincible. Nurse discreetly in public? No problem. Fly across the country alone with four kids? Walk in the park. Talk to my firstborn about sex? Scoop of vanilla.
The more terrifying moments a mother endures, the stronger she becomes. The stronger she becomes, the more fears she can face with confidence. And so the cycle goes. (It explains the nonchalance with which those “older and wiser” mothers seem to be able to handle the most difficult of challenges.)
I’ve noticed that the confidence I feel from these triumphs in my life as a mother spills over into other areas of my life.
Last week our family went skiing in Park City, UT for spring break. We went to the same place where, two years ago, I had a run in with a snow boarder that left me in an awkward leg brace for months. (My fourth child was an infant at the time and still spent several hours of the day strapped to the front of me, so it was cumbersome and exhausting to say the least!) I had no intention whatsoever of going back up that mountain. It’s expensive, it’s cold, it’s potentially dangerous, it takes forever to get all that gear together, it’s a pain in the neck with little children, someone needed to stay with our two year old – I had every reason to stay back at the hotel curled up with my laptop.
But then I saw it. That mountain! And I knew I had to get up there again. Not because I love skiing (I grew up on the plains of the mid-west), not because my husband was bugging me to try again, not because I didn’t want my kids to think I was a boring mom (okay, there was a little of that), but mostly because I just hate giving in to fear. It’s never gotten me anywhere before, and I can’t stand the thought of modeling that for my kids. Besides, I am the mother of four children. If I can summit the mountains of motherhood, I reasoned, I can do anything.
So I did it. I conquered the bunny hill three days in a row with my children. I even crashed one of their ski lessons. It felt great to overcome my initial, residual fear and to enjoy the rush that comes from flying down a snowy mountain. I enjoyed being out there with my kids, and I also felt like I acquired some skills that might help me prevent another accident like that from happening again.
But most of all, I like to think that I am setting an example for my children that tells them they too can overcome their fears. Because if they are lucky, someday they will become parents and find out soon enough just how scary it can be to be responsible for the life of another human being. But I hope they will know they can do it.
And so the cycle goes.
QUESTION: How do you face your fears?
CHALLENGE: Sit down and think about the fears that have you paralyzed in different areas of your life, and make a decision to face one of those fears head on this week.