Thursday, October 14, 2010

Darkest Hour

It has been said that giving birth brings a woman to her darkest hour.
In some ways I think this is true. Bringing a baby into the world or into your family requires a woman to lay down her life. That is scary. Being a mother requires unconditional love and for some of us, me for one, that does not come naturally.
The unknowns make the darkness worse.
Not only must she give herself to the process of becoming a mother, but she cannot see the outcome.
There are so many questions: will I live through this? Will the baby be all right? Will anything be the same after this? Will I disgrace myself? What if I scream at the doctor? What will my husband think of the baby? of me? of us? Will I love the baby? Will I love the baby enough?

But it has to happen, right? I mean the terrible fact is that the baby must be born one way or the other. He or she can't stay inside the womb forever. Nor would we want this. So birth must occur, whatever it costs.

The problem is that because of the way women are made, we "give birth" many times and in many ways throughout our lives and our children's lives. We are creative beings and the truths discovered through birth about life and love seem to create a pattern for ongoing life. We give birth to careers, projects; I have often referred to writing my novel and seeing it come to print as a sort of birth. And in all these shadows or imitations of physical birth, the truths echo to help us understand.

I think that a mother's darkest hour returns--maybe shades darker, maybe not as dark--when her child is a teenager. The awful separation pictured at birth happens in a physical, spiritual and emotional way when that child--around whom all her concern revolves, about whom she whispers her last prayers before falling asleep, thinks her first thoughts upon rising--must become autonomous.

The passage from the eager, happy sixth grader to mature adulthood is as mysterious and difficult as the child's first passage into life. But it must happen.

The unknown for mothers of teenagers makes everything worse, too. The questions are haunting and countless. For me the worst question was this: Will I be able to love this child no matter what? Because for me, though I knew separation had to happen, I wanted it to be the right sort, the healthy sort, not the kind of separation that was hopeless and destructive.

Some teenagers try their parents' love. This is because their intellects are emerging, new and cunning, and they test everything they perceive. They are like two-year-olds in this way. They want to know if their parents have meant what they said all those years about the important stuff of life -- the most important being-- are you who you claim to be, the person who loves me?

Unlike physical birth where the mother wrestles within her body to bring forth life and thereby her own motherhood, this second darkness must be confronted internally. Love looks different when a child is growing and grown; love means discipline and standards, compassion and trust. How to walk all these paradoxes out? How to make all this happen in real life? The challenge is daunting, but it can be done. Just as a woman approaches the birth, the bringing to the family of her child -- with courage and dedication and putting the child's life and well-being first, so must she approach the next challenge. Though the stress is felt in the entire body, the miracle happens in a woman's quiet places, using her faith and her inner strength, each woman must confront the questions that challenge her relationship with her emerging adult. These subsequent or other "births" happen within the soul and are therefore eternal.

Here's what I found: wrestle it through and you'll find, with the help of God, you can love that child-gone-adult. You can face your fears whatever they might be and find a way to be that person's mom. You can delight in him, love her, cheer him on. Both mother and child must gut it through the child's passage through to beautiful, young adulthood (which by the way is AWESOME). Nothing's ever the same, but then again, would I want it to be? Would I want my children to remain middleschoolers forever? Um, I don't think so.

Just like with the child's first, physical birth, the only way out is through.

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