I have three limited edition Caitlin Connolly art prints on the wall in my guest room. They are entitled: “Mother Earth,” “Mother of All Living,” and “Mother Protecting.” On early mornings like this one, I steal downstairs, turn down the covers, make myself at home in this room meant for others, and gaze at these mothers.
The common thread between them is the depiction of strong women doing the hard, vital work of life-giving.
They look at once raw and refined, centered and vulnerable. Desperate and sure.
They’re all taking risks and making tough calls.
If that doesn’t define motherhood, I don’t know what does.
When my first baby was little more than a year old, he stood up in the bathtub (against my warning) and slipped. As he fell, his chin struck the side of the porcelain tub and split.
Without hesitation, I lifted him from the tub, wet a clean washcloth and tried to apply pressure to the wound. He pushed me away, blood dripping onto the tile floor. I put him to my breast, hoping the pressure from his face against me as I nursed him would be enough to stop the bleeding.
It was a swift, instinctive solution, and it worked. After a couple of minutes the bleeding subsided, and he fell asleep. But I didn’t like the look of the flap of skin and flesh I saw. I knew he’d never let me bandage it. Would it start bleeding again any moment? How much blood is too much blood?
It was borderline.
I wiped his blood from my chest and called my mom. “How do you know if your baby needs stitches?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied, “but I can tell you what my experience was taking your sister to get stitches when she was little.”
She concluded, “If it’s under his chin, people won't notice the scar.”
She couldn’t, and didn’t, tell me what I should do. Hearing her story both frightened and reassured me, and I suppose it did influence my decision somewhat. But the call was mine, not hers. I was the mother now.
The irony here is that as a daughter, I still believe mothers always know what to do. But as a mother it rarely feels that way.
I’ve often reflected on that early parenting moment and the room it made inside me for instinct and doubt to coexist. As steward over four children now, many decisions fall to me that affect both the present moment and the future. Their future. But the choice is mine. And there’s no perfect answer.
So I do it anyway. And I do it afraid.
Mothering is one tough call after another. In all the time spent second-guessing (and I’ve spent a lot of time second-guessing over my decade of parenthood), my instincts have always been right.
Or at least right enough.
So, like the mothers on the wall, I will set my intention, trust my instinct, and jump.