Sacrifice

The important thing is this: to be ready at any moment to
sacrifice what you are for what you could become.

Charles Dickens

Kneeling on the hard tiled floor of the public restroom, curled inwards with elbows resting on the grimy brim of the toilet, my first experience with morning sickness sent me into a quivering mess. Glancing in the mirror at the puddles of salty water pooling in my blood shot eyes, my secret pregnancy, only in its early 'pre announcement' stage, was already hurting more than I expected. That first time I threw up so badly the blood vessels burst in my face and I felt more than a purging of the contents of my stomach. It was the beginning of the leak; a slow dripping leak where the body and person I once knew was draining from me.  A new life was forming in me, not the baby, for its life though nourished from me was separate, to be its own being. Even though this sweet child had yet to enter the world, I was already mothering her, and I was receiving my first involuntary initiation in to the world of maternal sacrifice. I was learning the role of being a parent first begins with letting go, laid out bare and exposed, relinquishing control over to nature, to allow my body to do what it is made to do, to create life. 

Labor came on slowly, teasing me with it’s long drawn out intervals, sneaking up full of intensity then creeping away again in hiding leaving me on high alert for the next wave. Bouncing and jiggling on my fit ball I would yearn for another tightening but sometimes 30 minutes would pass before it tantalized me again. I was already 41 weeks, I needed this baby out and this last marathon was testing my patience. I had read every book on positive birth and, like a sick addict, watched countless YouTube births. I was in full control…I wanted control. I didn’t understand the surrender that needed to come and I would fight it to the bitter end when all my grand desires would be laid to rest. Time ticked on throughout the day until a long walk got things moving and I stared down the beginning of a long night. I writhed in agony for hours until at 3am I accepted the advice of my midwife and husband to admit defeat and take the pain relief, sacrificing my ideals of the drug free birth I had prepared for. Voices circled around me creeping into the wee hours of the morning, threatening of intervention, until I was given the last chance from my OB; 20 minutes while she did her rounds, or I was being sent to emergency. I locked eyes with my husband with such urgency to pray this baby out, and on return from the OB our prayers had been answered, I had finally progressed and my sweet girl was suctioned out, quietly gasping for air. 

She was in shock, as was I, and was whisked away to receive oxygen. That moment we were faced with our first decision of placing her needs over my own. My husband was sent promptly off to be with sweet Annabelle, while I lay bare, raw and exposed waiting to be stitched and waiting to gain feeling again in my lower body. I was paralyzed in body and mind. One piece of my heart thumping inside my heavy chest, the other somewhere floors above resting with my new babe. The long arduous pregnancy and labor seemed so quick so rushing, and now my stomach felt depleted and felt hollow without tiny feet tapping on the lining of my stomach and I felt empty, no longer recognizing the person who had just relinquished all control. While my body was left in the room being stitched together I was slipping away, a trickling that I couldn’t grasp. Every moment seemed out of my control and I was at once present and removed. 

That sacred word coupled with motherhood swirled around in conversations: the beginning of giving something up for the purpose of someone else. Of course it happens like autopilot, without thinking, the leak becomes a gushing fountain and your own basic needs seem to be swept away. Yes I was full, full of love and wonder and amazement at this little person we had created, but sacrifice felt like such a heavy word, the obligation of it, the responsibility of it. There is something about that word that comes paired with every mother like a trophy: giving up our bodies, pressing pause on our careers, wearing our hearts outside of our chest, opening ourselves up for judgment and opinion, giving up our independence and our freedom. But I felt its weight pulling me down, reminding me of all I had lost as opposed to all I had gained. 

Since the birth of my daughter I have been plagued by my idea of the perfect mother, what does she look like, what does she do, how does she do it all and why can’t I. Does she sacrifice all for her child or does she hold on so dearly and so fiercely to the person she once was? Does she strive to show her children the epitome of a strong woman, a woman with a successful career and independence? I love, adore sweet Annabelle, but I didn’t know who I was in this new picture of life, in this new role where my sole purpose was to nurture her body, through my body, to feed her mind and place her needs above my own. Breastfeeding had me feeling like I was doing everything right, giving her the absolute best, but I also felt trapped, and envied my husband for his freedom to walk out the door at a moments notice without having to count the minutes until the next feed, without the fear of leaving her side in case she felt abandoned. Of course I would give her everything, change my choices for her best interest but there was a part of me I didn’t want to abandon, because I still needed it. I needed to see myself as a person with her own passions and goals and I needed my children to see me as their advocate but not their doormat. As I had sat at home with my newborn, the leak dripped on and I felt my independence and freedom wash away, any personal goals were completely out of my grasp and impossible to attain. Did it mean giving up everything I ever was or ever will be? It terrified me, this loss. The word sacrifice felt like the expiration of one life for another. 

Pre-motherhood, I knew myself as someone hard working and social but I was also the person who would cherish alone time, savor the quiet moments in life, nestle in bed with a good book or slowly browse the local boutiques. I tried to fit my new babe in to this life, but when she only slept for 20 minutes instead of the anticipated hour, cried early for a feed or had an explosion in her nappy, I became too aware of myself in my surroundings, all eyes were on us and I wasn’t the me I once knew, no longer surreptitiously meandering through life, my daughter’s needs went well above my own. But I didn’t quite have this mothering role down either, and felt like I was an empty shell. Ironically, to be full I had to learn what sacrifice really meant, I had to let go. So I stopped it all, stopped trying to fit Annabelle in to the way of life I had before. For a while it felt like my identity was sucked away and all I loved had leaked with the birth and the breastfeeding. But as days carried on, I slowly learnt that I hadn’t lost myself and what had been emptied had to be filled again. I found fullness in watching her grow and we learnt together about the complications of life.

We began to drift in the same direction, I stopped fighting the leak, allowing my fixed ideas on identity to wash away, as I learnt to swim in her beautiful, slow and carefree way. I stopped to lie on the grass and look at the clouds. I sculled my coffee so we could take an hour to walk the 300 meters to the beach, picking flowers along the way and talking about the fairies living in gum nut trees. The leak was slow, but perhaps all I had really sacrificed was the selfish person in me and with this I found my new life and new space for my children. It wasn’t a loss of my life for my child’s but an extension of it, my love comes as a free will, a choice. I stopped viewing my losses as the grand sacrifice, making a martyr of myself, instead making conscious choices where my suffering is really not that great. 

I found my new identity in being confident in my role as mother. The leak transposed the old me into something new. I stopped looking to others and looked to my daughter to direct me, on the days when we giggle and cuddle and the days when she stamps her feet and cries and screams, she shows me what it is to be her mother. As we learn together, I am grateful for new days and for her innocent forgiveness of my mistakes. We read books on what’s in your heart, and I learn that some days we are shy, some days we are bold and some days we are happy and sad and angry and it’s all ok. She is her own person as am I, but that is life isn’t it, as we grow we are all experiencing that leak, a loss of the old, making room for the new. Is it a sacrifice to be made new, to find new depths, strengths and patience you never knew was there? What have I sacrificed that I did not gain, gain more and more than I ever gave up?

Written by, Katy Andrews