Eleven years ago I gave birth. The doctor announced, “it’s a girl,” as she took this new life out of my body. Relieved, I released my breath and my body melted down into the bed. A girl. I have a daughter. I got my first glimpse of her and then, as the doctors and nurses cleaned her up, I fell asleep. Not much later, the nurses woke me up and encouraged me to try nursing my daughter.
She was so little. So fragile. So beautiful. A tiny little bundle of life. My daughter.
The next few days in the hospital were a blur. Friends and family came to visit and I was in and out of sleep. I would try to nurse her, swaddle her, then carefully place her in the bassinet next to my bed. I perfectly placed the knitted purple hat made by hospital volunteers on her head and wrapped the matching purple blanket around her. As she lay sleeping, I stared at her pink cheeks, tiny nose, and long lashes, watching her chest rise and fall until I fell asleep too. Every time I woke up, she was gone. The nurses took her to the nursery so I could get some sleep. And every time, I would groggily get up and wander down the hall, “can I bring my baby back to my room?” I was so uncertain, so unsure of what to do, what was allowed. “Of course!” was always the reply. So I would push her little bassinet down the hall back to our room and just stare at her some more while she slept.
On one of those groggy hospital days, a nurse came in and gushed about how gorgeous my baby was and how I must be showering her with hugs and kisses. “Kisses,” I thought, “I can kiss my baby?” So I did. One little kiss on her check and her forehead. It felt so awkward. So foreign. But so right — a mother kissing her daughter.
A few months after Hannah was born there were two significant experiences that changed the trajectories of our lives, and our relationship, forever. The first was the moment I realized how much I loved her. She was crying and crying. For hours she cried. I tried all of the tricks, nothing soothed her. As I held her and bounced her, I began to whisper promises to her: I’m here. I’m never going to leave you. I am your mom. It’s okay. You can trust me. I promise I will take care of you. I will protect you. I love you. Don’t worry. I am here. In that moment, I started to become her mom. I knew every promise was true and that my life, no matter how messed up it had been before, was changing.
Around the same time, a second event occurred — I looked into this sweet child’s eyes and I realized I want the world for her. I want her to believe she can do anything that she wants to do. I want her to know that she is loved and capable and worthy. As I looked deeply into her blue eyes I realized that if I truly want her to believe she could accomplish any dream she has, I would have to show her it was true by accomplishing mine. I would have to become the person that I want her to believe she can be. It was the moment my life changed.
The only dream I had then was to get a Bachelor’s Degree. At the time, a goal like that seemed so far out of reach. I was 27, penniless, and a community college drop-out. How could I ever attain such a lofty goal? But her eyes, her sweet cheeks, her innocent life, I had to try to prove to her, to prove to myself, that she really could have the world. So, I set out to rid myself of destructive patterns and relationships. When she was 15 months old, her father and I split up and not long after I went back to school to get my Associate’s Degree. It was a long, bumpy ride and I made so, so, so many mistakes. There are numerous examples of when I let the wrong person into my life or made a bad choice. I could fill volumes with the amount of shame, abuse, and sin I allowed into my life. But still, I kept going, kept trying to be a better person, to be someone Hannah could be proud of. I persevered through the hardest of times, through moments that seemed impossible, and shattering heartbreak. I persevered.
Hannah is turning 11 today and I truly think she believes she can do anything. Supreme Court Justice, President of the United States, construction worker, neuroscientist, architect, mathematician — these are just a few of the dreams she has. She is no longer a baby. She is a deep thinker that is not afraid to ask the hardest questions. The way she sees the world and people around her is inspiring. Her laugh is infectious and one of her favorite things is to make a joke, no matter how silly, just to see me laugh. We watch movies together and eat together and have family traditions that surpass any of the experiences I ever had as a child. It is in these moments, in these conversations, in this life, I know I am a mother.
Eleven years ago an event happened that set my life on a course unlike any I have ever experienced — the transformative journey of becoming a mother. It was not giving birth to Hannah that made me a mom, it was all the in-betweens. It was the hospital visits when she was sick, the hugs when she needed comfort, and the cheers when she needed praise. It was changing sheets after nighttime accidents and soothing hugs after nightmares. It was the long talks on the way to school, meals together, pancake breakfasts, rules, consequences, boardgames, puzzles, movie nights, chores, and family traditions. Becoming her mother involved setting boundaries, giving consequences, and being present, even when I didn’t want to.
Eleven years ago I gave birth to a girl. She had grown inside of me until she was capable of sustaining life on her own. She still needed me but now her body could function outside of my womb. She could breathe and eat and see and hear. She had a tiny little brain that could process the world around her — not just lights and noise but she actually knew my voice, my touch, and my face.
On October 14, 2008 I became a biological mother. But, the journey through motherhood is so much more than giving birth to a child. Over the last 11 years I have helped my daughter learn to navigate this messy world we live in. I have taught her to take care of her body, her mind, and her heart. I have walked with her through all of the ups and downs that she has experienced. Hand-in-hand we have travelled through so much. Now, as she turns 11 and begins the process of entering adolescence, her grip on my hand is becoming looser. She is gaining an independence appropriate for her age and an identity that is independent of her family. She is asking questions and exploring ideas and developing interests that are completely her own. Each stage of her life is so very different but, at each stage I find myself incredibly grateful that I get to have such an intimate view of her growth and development. I am honored and humbled with the knowledge that God granted me the incredible duty of ushering this precious life into the world to guide and give witness to all that she does and is.
Happy birthday sweet baby girl! I love you so much, and I am so very proud of the person you are. Love, Mommy