Eleven years ago, my hips and ribcage framed a small home for a baby to grow. But also alive in my cells were currents of memories and experiences from 36 years of life. There were sunsets on Michigan beaches and long runs or hikes across hillsides and up mountains. There were exhausting nights working in design studios in Syracuse, Chicago, San Francisco and New York. My bones held remnants of poorly chosen boyfriends and the lines in my skin traced paths of endless, undoable mistakes made. My mind stored phrases from cruel bosses and sorority girls, and my muscles gripped accomplishments tight. My smile told a love story about meeting my husband whose kindness and love emanated from my entire being. My feet were hard from the umpteen churches where I went seeking God. At the center of my bones, there radiated a pervasive longing.
I wanted to become a mother.
And so I cleared a space for a baby, a passage through all of these parts of me. The clearing was as tiny and tangible as my moon-shaped stomach and the frilled bassinet waiting. It was as enormously elusive as the glow from the stars above our yellow shingled home.
My babies came one year after another, and with each delivery it felt like I traveled through an unforeseen passage of myself where I no longer lived simply inside my skin – but also in the blood and souls of my newborn babies.
I felt their cries vibrating, I tasted their breath, I sensed their wonder and fear. I was sliced and tugged and sewn and sucked with joy and fear and pain and light; then sorrow, tininess, fatigue, love, delirium, fear and more love until I came out to this side of myself to begin again. It seemed that the old me slipped off quietly when I wasn’t looking. She folded herself into a sturdy boat for me to sail into motherhood.
As I have grown with my children, I have come to see how the transformation in them, in me, continues each day. We glide and journey together.
“Mama, before I was born, where was I?” one child asks.
And I can see that their passage into life, and mine, started long before today. If I observe, I revel at all of the pieces carefully placed there, like tiny parts on a strengthening ship, on a fantastic journey. I see my son and my daughter lying on the wide green lawn, smiling upward at the big open sky, just like I would have done with my sister. I hear my boy solving complex math equations, creating engineering feats in his head, just like my husband. I see my daughter drawing her hundredth detailed cat family like a dreamer, like my dad might. I see the softness of my family in the kind eyes of my son who has struggled so, as he helps another child who is also struggling. I see the strength of my husband’s family in that same boy, in all of my children, in me now too, as we paddle through unbelievable challenges.
I see all of this life, flowing together on a magnificent, difficult and gorgeous river. When I look back, my parents, my husband’s parents are waving. Their parents are behind them, and so on. When I look forward, I see only a horizon reflecting fragments of every color of light— BIG light. And I see a church full of people— a church that I never needed to travel so far to find.
And then the longing ceases to exist.
This is motherhood.
Amy Aves Challenger is a writer and artist focusing on topics relating to the marginalized, families and children. She has been published regularly in The Huffington Post and also in The Washington Post, Mamalode.com, and Brain, Child Magazine. Her poems and a short story will be published in an upcoming anthology by Kind of A Hurricane Press. Amy lives in Fairfield, CT where she runs a support group for special needs mothers and also leads a writing workshop. She is writing her first novel about a child with special needs. Her poetry can be read daily on twitter @amychallenger.