Motherhood is an emptying.
And the pouring out, with all it’s awkward splats and splashes, really starts the day God drops the seed of a child, planting a soul in our most cavernous places, claiming the soil of us for His own harvest. The latching on of new life breaks walls, bruises tissue, draws blood. And this is fact: whatever raw materials a mother’s diet fails to supply, the fetus literally leaches from her bones. Mothers are Giving Trees, right from the first day we wear the title, well before we ever know what it will mean to touch our children with our hands.
The choice to give life is the choice to give life over, to keep nothing safe and nothing for ourselves.
The giving empties, but if the soil of us is tender enough for the lesson, the sacrifice makes us happy, even as it scoops us clean. Motherhood teaches us love in another shade, a clinging, desperate tone.
The day hardly begins and my heart breaks. Riley sits next to me, staring at her knees, her eyes blurry pools. I look down and find my mother’s hands in my lap. For a moment, I stare, flexing the fingers, fingers sore from gripping life, hardly recognizing them as my own. Veins tangle over these hands, ropy roots rising under my mother’s olive skin. At three, Zoe traced my mom’s veins with her little fingers, her baby brow a crinkle, her voice light. “Grandma, you gots trees in your hands.” I lift Mom’s hands and wipe the tears that slide down Riley’s cheeks.
She tries so hard to be strong.
Four-thirty in the morning, I had stood beside my bed feeling like a husk, reading the texts my dad had sent in the night. Somehow, the dead tired darkness had stripped Kevin and me of hearing too. We’d missed the rings, the alarms, the emergency. By the time I woke up, Mom lay in a hospital bed, weak but recovering from an appendectomy. They had taken the nasty thing quickly, before it ruptured. I had called, sitting in the darkness talking to my parents, gathering what was left of their strength. Mom’s voice sounded high and fading, as though it might float a way. It’s something else she passed to me, the way our words drain, emptied out right along with our strength.
I turn Riley’s face toward me, and with Mom’s voice, I tell her that everything will be okay. We will see them soon, when Grandma’s feeling better. Riley’s tears fall over the word hospital, over the way it sits heavy. “Do you want to talk to her? You can call her,” I say, pressing my phone into her hands, knowing she’ll not be able to move, to get dressed, to eat, until she hears for herself. She nods, staring back at her knees, then picks up the phone and dials.
I watch her talking to Mom, her voice tender, smearing the last of her tears against her own cheek with her thumb. Sometimes she nods, forgetting that Mom can’t see her. Or maybe she just knows Mom will hear anyway. Mom gave Riley words when she had none, knowing her deep. 3 am every night that Mom and Dad were with us, Mom lifted her own weary body from the bed in the stillness of night, hearing the little feet on the stairs. With those arms, ropy with roots, my mother wrapped Riley’s frustrated, unyielding body in a blanket, lifting that wordless, blonde baby up to her chest. They sat on the porch for hours in the darkness, rocking, and Mom spoke with Riley and for her, of birds and wind, whispering in Riley’s ear, walking fingers up her baby arms. Riley learned to laugh because my mother was not afraid to laugh for both of them.
Riley pushes the button on the phone, turning on the speaker, just as my mom says, “We need each other, you and me.” Riley and I smile at each other in the dim, new daylight, appreciating the solid truth of it. In the silent darkness, years past, God gave life the way He always does, taking from Mom’s words and her laughter and her fierce strength, weaving parts of my mother into her granddaughter, building a little girl. Together, my mother and my daughter determined to press on.
And I smile, watching Riley’s eyes glitter, her head tilted toward the phone, thinking that my mother has never held back a part of herself. My mother is a Giving Tree. I am made of her too—my mother’s hands, her blood flowing through the tangled roots and limbs, her voice. It’s the way God gives life, the way He builds children, taking our limbs, our trunk, our roots, the minerals in our bones. The more of ourselves we yield, the more He uses, twisting and molding and shaping someone new, someone strong, someone planted beautiful. Life is built on life surrendered.
Motherhood is an emptying, and love the fruit of the yielding, and the sacrifice is worthy of notice, of its own honor.
“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her,” the wise poet wrote (Proverbs 31: 28). So, when I stand up on Mother’s Day, when I reach for my mother, wrapping her in the arms she gave me; I promise I won’t begrudge you tears for the mother you miss or the mother you never had or the mother you wanted to be. I know the day can ache, like every other. But please, don’t think me insensitive for celebrating. I don’t think I knew how much my mother had given until I became a mother myself, and now I know. It’s proven by my bones, that motherhood is an emptying. She held nothing sacred to herself, but demonstrates still, by her life, what God has done for me.
And God asks one thing of us in the sight of sacrifice– that we remember, that we give thanks, that we celebrate the life given that we might have life.