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If you had told me at 18 that at 26 I would be a stay at home mother with two young boys, who had never held down a professional job in her life, I would have laughed and started to run as quickly as possible in the opposite direction to get FAR, FAR AWAY from that proposal. Add to that moving halfway across the world to get married, throw in a home birth for one child and a religious conversion that goes against everything I was brought up in, and we are in fully-fledged crazy town when contrasted to the expectations I had for my adult life. Now, I know full-heartedly that if I had early on been given a glimpse of the truth in which I now stand, a mother in love with her boys and committed to being at home with them, I could never have followed through with it. My God was gracious, and cunning, in that He waited until I was so immersed in the journey of carrying and birthing and raising that first boy of mine, that nothing else but me being there with him would do. And so it has continued.
It’s hard to write about all the struggles I experienced with my first child. Maybe many of you can relate that it brings all those feelings of fear, overwhelming despair and helplessness back to the surface, in a way that only reminiscing about your first can do. I know for some mothers that is not the case, and truly, I am glad for them, but when I hear of a mother expecting her first and I think about what she has ahead of her- the birth, the breastfeeding, the sleep- oh, I can’t help but worry! My worries are influenced by my own journey, I know, and admittedly I was not in the best circumstances for having that first baby. I wasn’t destitute, or even alone, but boy was I clueless!
I discovered I was pregnant just four months after my husband and I married. I was 22 and had emigrated to the US to marry my American born and bred man, whom I met when studying at college in Scotland- I’m originally from Ireland. So imagine extreme culture shock, for one, trying to live in this Southern barren land 😉 and add to that I’m unexpectedly pregnant. I have no idea what a trimester is, nor can remember holding a newborn, don’t know what epidural means…yeah. I am far away from my Mum. I don’t have any friends who have babies to help me, but really, I don’t have any friends! Then bring on the crippling hyperemesis for four months. Add in some daily shots for a previous blood clot. Throw in a natural birth class that terrifies me but I know I’m going to do that…I am so overwhelmed at just navigating my way through being pregnant. And I can’t even work because my immigration process has not cleared me for that yet. Decision made: I’ll stay at home because I know that is the only next right step. It’s all I can do, but really, it’s all I am capable of. Motherhood has broken me and my son is not even born.
My husband, I now know, is quietly loving this decision. It’s what he would have chosen all along for our family, but I didn’t know that. We didn’t even have that conversation before our wedding (can you say ‘naive’?!) Funny what you find out a few years after any event in your marriage! He’s the good kind of man who waits until I work my way through any crisis and doesn’t say anything. Just supports. It was the same when I converted to the Catholic Church, and it’s the same here: he knows me. I know he saw that my heart was tender and turned towards motherhood as a vocation, even when I had no idea I was capable of that. And believe me, I was NOT capable. Those first few months of my sons life were endured only by my innate stubbornness, pushing on and on to make sure I would birth naturally even with a very painful late induction, that I would breastfeed through my boy’s weight loss and painful reflux, that I would survive through the worst days of my life when my son was hospitalized for a skull fracture at 5 weeks. Again, broken, but that need to be with my son, that only I would do, was being carefully woven into my heart.
What’s interesting to me now looking back on my life as a student until 22, is that because I was intelligent, I automatically equated that with being ambitious, career wise. In fact, I remember writing that as a personality description in a high school yearbook, “ambitious”, when I really wasn’t. I just thought that was what I should be if I was getting good grades and succeeding in school. I attended a prestigious college as an undergrad and I know that was the right thing for me academically, personally. The development into an adult I had there: irreplacable. But I never had any driving force that was pushing me to a certain career. I was very open to whatever would happen. That happened to be marriage and then motherhood. So it’s something I am aware of now, the expectations put on intelligent women: you will work, in a career. Staying home was not a choice even entertained in my upbringing for the modern middle class woman who has a good degree. If you have a brain, use it. No one talked to about ‘options’ for my future life when my family came along. It was just assumed I would navigate that when the kids came: after my career had established, after a few years of marriage. It was an unspoken assumption that motherhood would not come first.
So needless to say many people have been surprised by my decisions and life today. My family and friends in my home country especially often ask if I will go back to work. I never even started! I don’t give a definitive answer to that question because I don’t know. As long as we can afford this, and we have worked hard to afford it, as my husband has been in graduate school for three years, I will stay home. But more than that, I am now so deeply in it, the business of being a full time mother, that I cannot imagine getting out. If I ever have a tough day at home, my husband will ask me, jokingly, do I want to find an outside job! More than wanting me to be at home with our children, he wants me to be happy, and he would support me if I told him I must work. I am young enough to start now and not be too much ‘behind’ my peers. But I know it would not satisfy me. My work could never be as important as what I do at home, and that would drain any passion I had for an outside job. I have had the privilege of never feeling pulled away from my children, and I am very aware of my blessing.
Instead, I’m looking further down the rabbit hole: more kids, many more kids possibly; homeschooling as an option for our family. Things I would never have imagined I would be doing or even thinking of doing. But I ask my God repeatedly for the desire to do those things to be implanted in my heart. If that desire is there, I will have no problem carrying out my tasks. I will exhaust myself to make things possible for my children and my family. If the desire is absent, well then I will forget those things. They will return if they are true and good for me. The desire to stay at home was first created out of struggle, but continuing desires for my family’s future will be born out of hope.
I think that’s what I’d like my mother friends who are reading to ponder with me: whatever desire is on your heart for your family at this point, don’t bury it. Especially if you are a pregnant or new mother as clueless as I was, but you have the desire to test out staying at home: don’t bury it. Don’t be afraid. You can try it. It is not a lifelong retreat from the world. Your husband, your family, your friends, they’ll get used to it. For me personally, ‘coming home’ has been the best pyschotherapist’s couch I never had to pay for, because it has revealed more about myself that I think I ever could have learned in a ‘regular’ job. And I know my children love their mama because I hear it regularly every day, and I love that. I *need* that as I work my way through this crazy town! It was an unexpected blessing-the best kind-that plotted my course forever.