I wasn’t going to get the epidural. And they laughed at me. They told me oh you just wait! And I defended myself. I did my research and I did my preparations. But my plans didn’t work out like I wanted them to.
I’d love to go through one by one all the reasons I did it. I’d like to lay out the justifications which, in my eyes, made my labor pain-relief-worthy. But I know in doing so I would only be avoiding the nagging question deep within me. That nagging question—was I just weak? Was I just too sensitive? Not strong enough? Would any other woman have been able to handle whatever I went through? That’s the question I don’t want to address. The question of weakness. And why? Well, because a mother isn’t supposed to be weak. A mother is supposed to be invincible. Because, after all, if she is not, in whom will her children put their trust?
This is today’s conventional wisdom. Just look on Pinterest. Look on Babycenter.com. Read the mommy blogs and watch the Facebook posts. You’ll see this strange competition—this tallying up of how many ideals you have reached—an obsession with breastfeeding and for how long, with diapers and their decomposition or lack thereof, with vaccines that will kill and vaccines that will save and how in the world you’ll ever figure out the difference. It’s an obsession with the apparent evils of strollers and pacifiers and babysitters and breast pumps and (oh the horror)—formula. It’s how perfectly matched your baby’s nursery is and how instagram-worthy his face is. It’s an obsession with making sure that baby doesn’t get fed by anybody else. That he stays wrapped up in your carrier and tied to you at all times. It’s an obsession with being super-mom. Because if you’re not super-mom, if your arms get tired or if your hormones fluctuate or if your baby is surgically removed from your stomach, or if his carrier isn’t ergonomically superb then your baby won’t be healthy. Or worse off—your baby won’t know love.
Now, I am all for searching for the ideal and striving to reach it. That’s why I started this blog. That’s why I know what’s out there. I’ve done my midnight Google searches—probably too many times for my own sanity’s sake. I’ve researched the heck out of everything. Agonized over it. Prayed about it. By all means I want what’s best for my child. I mean, shouldn’t that be a given when you bring one into the world?
The problem is, it’s not a given. There are people who don’t want what’s best for their children—or even if they do, aren’t able to give it. And occasionally, we, every single one of us, are one of those people. Why? Because we are imperfect human beings and this world is an imperfect world. And whether with good intentions or bad, we fail. And that fact is just about the scariest thing in the world. After all, we know that our little ones depend entirely on us and if we fail them in any way, well, there’s no end to the consequences we could imagine.
And so what do we do? We spend tons of time trying to prove to ourselves that that imperfection is not there. Because maybe, just maybe, if we can convince ourselves that we are perfect we can convince ourselves that we will not fail our children. We can convince ourselves that they will be safe and loved forever, at all times, and that they will not ever get hurt—at least not by us.
This would seem noble. And its root is surely that. We must certainly strive for perfection for the sake of our children. We must certainly strive for the ideal. But who is this obsession with perfection for? Our children? Or ourselves? It seems we can grow to care more about it than about our child’s actual well-being. And why? Not because we didn’t originally care, but because in the midst of our fear, we lost sight of our goals and their purpose. In the name of love, we get caught up in the details of it and lose sight of it’s point. We begin to see ourselves as gods responsible entirely and solely for every good thing in our child’s life. We forget that the point of parental love is not to be the source of all love in our child’s life but rather the primary vessel of it. And then to remain ever aware of the fact that that is all we are and all we ever will be.
It is only in admitting our weaknesses—in admitting that we are vessels, and no more than that, that our children can truly know love. They will experience pain and sometimes that pain will be our fault. But they will survive that pain because we have taught them to rely on more than us. We have taught them that Love is bigger than us and beyond us. That Love can love better than we can and that we can always love better than we did before. The problem with the parental god complex is that it is incorrect. And children eventually figure that out and when they do, well, it turns their world on its head. If we let them they think that we are everything, if we get too caught up in the hero they mistake us for, then we become everything but a hero to them. For indeed, the heroic parent is not the one who manages to tally up every single ideal at the same time but rather the one who tries their best and admits that their best is all they can do.
But it’s so much harder to be a hero of humility. Why? Because in a world of godlessness, we want to provide a god to our children. We want to give them somebody or something of perfection. And so we can tend to make that someone ourselves. In the absence of another, we make ourselves their god. And we beat ourselves up over c-sections. We beat ourselves up over babysitters and swings that rock our babies to sleep longer than our exhausted arms can. We beat ourselves up over weakness. I know. I beat myself up during those contractions every time the epidural crossed my mind. I’ve beat myself up when he cries and I don’t know what’s wrong. But beating myself up does him no good. It doesn’t make me better and it doesn’t give him more love. In fact, it only detracts from my ability to love him. It focuses my attention away from his needs and upon my own pride. And pride is the very antithesis to love. I must recognize my own weakness as his mother. I must do my very best to give him everything, but I must recognize that I cannot give him everything—and that that’s okay. I should try all the ideals, pour my heart into them—but if I fail, I must not let that close my heart. I cannot let my own weakness harden me and turn my focus away from the very point of it all. After all, my baby doesn’t really care where I am on the super-mom scale. My baby only wants to know that he matters more than that scale. That I don’t even have time to look at the scale or where other mothers stand on it precisely because I’m too busy looking at him. My baby doesn’t need me to be perfect and he doesn’t need me to be his god. All he needs is for me to love him and point him to the God who can love him better than I can.