They say that there is no greater love than that a mother feels for her child. The moment we step into the abyss of motherhood, we tap into a love so great, so primal, so nurturing, it is unlike anything we have ever known.
Three times over now, I have held my newborn child with arms trembling, utterly exhausted, limp, and exposed, after mustering an otherworldly inner strength from some unknown source to bring them into this world, and I have experienced the birth of this raw love. I have looked into their squinty blue eyes and felt it. And yes, it was the most honest and intense love I could ever remember feeling. Nothing had ever felt so right. And yet, to my surprise each time, it was not unfamiliar.
It was a love I had always known, yet somehow rarely acknowledged.
It was a love that maybe I remembered, possibly, from when I was small.
It transcended every label and every relationship I had ever known.
It came from deep within, where it had always lived quietly.
It was the love of life, of one another, of our bodies, and each and every magical cell within them.
I discovered later that it was an extension of what they call self-love.
In giving birth to my children, I, in a way, gave birth to myself, and it has reshaped my life and empowered me as a woman in ways I never expected. When you experience your own body wax and wane, stretch, ache, and toil through pregnancy and childbirth, you can't help but realize what an incredibly magical creature you are. I think that children are born knowing this, but somewhere along the line, whilst navigating the ocean of labels and comparisons, wading through the sea of pictures and projected expectations of smooth skin, flat tummies, white teeth, and "perfect" physical bodies, we begin to doubt it. We slowly push it away, and then one day, we forget. We begin to believe that we are not enough. We think that maybe one day, one day when, one day after, one day in the future, we might be. This is untrue.
It took giving birth and tapping back into That Great Love for me to remember the perfection of what I had always been. In experiencing the awe, fascination, and pride over what my body was capable of, I was able, for the first time in my life, to look in the mirror and feel like I really truly loved myself.
I remember how strange it felt the first time I honestly and wholeheartedly looked in the mirror and said "I love you." After talking to a friend about this deep connection with and appreciation of myself that motherhood had brought about, she recommended doing it. It felt funny, but good, and I began to incorporate this practice into my life daily. At first it seemed strange, but over time, something funny begins to happen. Those stretch marks, those little age lines, those exhausted eyes, those slightly crooked teeth- you begin to fall in love with them. Then you get better at it, begin to feel it, fiercely, all the time. Soon that self-doubt and cloud of inadequacy- they begin to weigh less and less until one day, they can no longer touch you. Along with the words, I try to practice nurturing actions: reflecting daily upon all that I'm grateful for, meditating, touching base with myself and recognizing what I need to feel whole, feel empowered. At times that means waking up extra early to write for a couple of hours or to simply walk through the city and enjoy time alone, and at times it means indulging in a massage or a good book or a night out with friends or my husband, holding a space for each other to celebrate and connect. Often times, it means actively and consciously allowing myself to feel beautiful, sexy even, exactly as I am. Not when I've gotten a full night's sleep, or had my hair done, or have lost a few pounds, but right now. It's an incredible feeling.
The more I practice this, the more I begin to wonder if it might be a hidden secondary purpose of that all-consuming, impenetrable love we feel for our children. If in falling in love with them, we can fall in love all over again with ourselves, becoming our own greatest advocates and realizing our own perfection just as we are, well isn't that lucky for the little babies who we're in charge of raising? What if That Great Love every woman feels when she becomes a mother is not just meant to ensure that tiny newborns are nurtured, protected, and cared for as they grow into children and then adults, but also meant to foster a self-love in mothers so deep, so passionate, so empowering, that they become shining examples of how it should be done? So that when our babies, the little mirrors and mimickers of all that we are, grow, they will naturally believe in and realize their own perfection too.
The other morning I hazily rolled out of bed, messy-haired and disheveled, make-up-free and unglamorous. I awoke my middle child Lucien, kissing his cheek and rubbing his back and beckoning him to the kitchen table with fresh fruit and scrambled eggs. We sat together, perfect in our imperfections, me sipping coffee, he eating his eggs with extra ketchup, and he turned to me and said, "Mama I love you. And I love Papa. And I love Levon. And Biet. And Nico." Then he paused for a moment, took a bite, and continued, "And I love me."
"And you love you?" I asked.
"Yes Mama, I really do. We have to love ourselves. That's the most important thing, you know."
I smiled. We finished up breakfast. And I felt that maybe I'm doing something right in this crazy thing called parenting after all.
This post is a part of the #TogetherWeMother Essay series which I'm honored to contribute to. Be sure to check out the other creative women in the series by visiting their blogs below: