As Long As I’m Living

By Beck

My youngest child turned four this week, which feels kinda funny, really. And I found myself talking to my sister-in-law – who is expecting a baby this very summer! – on the phone and comforting her about her upcoming labour, which has me thinking back on babies and pregnancy and all that, of course.

It’s hard to know what to say to expectant first time mothers, isn’t it? Well, unless you’re one of those ghouls who like SCARING pregnant women, and you know who you are – but as for me, I struggle between putting too happy a face on labour (like the pictures distributed at our hospital pre-birth sessions, which had a frowny face representing the final stages of labour, with the word “discomfort” below it. Discomfort! HAHAHA!) and being too grimly pessimistic. So I always end up reassuring pregnant women that they’ll be all right and then we can move on to easier topics, like shopping for baby clothes.

There is a tremendously beautiful side to parenting – dressing little kids is DEEPLY hilarious. When your kids are being cute or funny or smart or just sleeping like little angels, nothing feels more satisfying. Being Santa on Christmas Eve is thrilling, suddenly seeing a resemblence to some long-lost and deeply missed grandparent in your child’s face is moving like nothing else, and your own child’s unique beauty – the way they laugh, the pretty things they say – feels like falling in love a million times over.

And then there’s the painful stuff.

Labour, for starters. It is no fun. I remember sobbing at my husband, mid-labour with The Baby, that she had better be a TOTALLY AWESOME KID (and she is, hey.) because OUCH. And then there’s breastfeeding troubles, which can sap all of your fledgling maternal confidence away from you before you’ve even been a mother for a week, and babies who are born with health problems that terrify you in a way that you did not know existed, before you were a mother.

There is watching the news, this sudden awareness that your child is so vulnerable and so loved and that the world is a wicked, dangerous place. There is your child yelling at you that you are always so mean and that they hate you and the sudden fathomless horror that you might actually be a mean, terrible mother. There is sending your shining-eyed child off to school for that first day and knowing that other children are not kind.

You can never be,  I think, truly light-hearted again once you are a mother. For the rest of your life, your child’s welfare, your child’s happiness and well-being, will be this hostage held against your heart.

And it is that, I think, that we fear telling new mothers, this knowledge that we will never be quite as happy again. I thought, rather stupidly, that having many children would spread the low hum of terror out a bit thinner on the emotional ground, but nah, it just multiplies. Nothing helps.

Is it worth it? a childless friend asked me and I found myself staring mutely at them, unable to say quite empatically enough how very, very worth it being a mother is. Yeah, I said, and laughed, unable to find the words to explain how little I value the light-hearted years I had before I became a mother, how the deep terror of motherhood is balanced by an even deeper joy. I could not even explain how even with the knowledge of how each child brings fresh new worries and trouble with them, I would still have another in a heartbeat, fully knowing. How did I manage before you? I often wonder about each of my kids. How did I survive without your face, your voice? 

You’ll be all right, I always tell expectant mothers, knowing that those words don’t answer anything. It’ll be worth it, I always say.


35 Responses to As Long As I’m Living
  1. Julie Bo Boolie
    April 23, 2009 | 10:27 am

    I find I can’t even remember the person I was before kids — nor do I want to.

  2. Tracy
    April 23, 2009 | 10:38 am

    It’s so… worth it. Every minute. Every tear. Every terror.

    I wonder about mothers who walk away from their children. How you could abandon this love, this preciousness, is beyond me.

  3. mom.huebert
    April 23, 2009 | 10:59 am

    It doesn’t get much better when the kids grow up. Will they make it? Will they find jobs/spouses/friendships/happiness? And I can do so little to help, partly because, really, what can you do, and partly because they’re adults and have to find their own way. You said it perfectly: my heart is held hostage. And like you also said, it is so very, very worth it that I wouldn’t change any of it.

  4. Tammy
    April 23, 2009 | 11:12 am

    Loved your article Becky! I’m terrified and thrilled all at the same time. Not so much of delivery – I’m sure it will hurt like &*(& – but that is to be expected. I’m scared of the things afterward – like trying to protect him from the world and give him the resources he needs to survive on his own. To help him grow up as a good person, but also one that does not get walked on by others… To be loving and loved.

  5. edj
    April 23, 2009 | 11:29 am

    This post is far better than that stupid book you took the title from. Please write a book. Because you are exactly right. So worth it.

  6. Sara Joy
    April 23, 2009 | 11:38 am

    I am due in 6 weeks with our first. This is exactly what I thought, only you say it so much better than I ever could, thank you. 🙂

  7. Nicole
    April 23, 2009 | 12:32 pm

    It is worth it, all the difficulties, but it is so hard to put into words – although you did a great job doing just that. The hard stuff is really hard, but I can’t imagine my life without my kids, and I don’t want to imagine it.

  8. Heather
    April 23, 2009 | 12:38 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I’m having an excruciating morning of tantrums from a toddler, but I can step back and look at his face, and know he is my purpose and yes, he’s totally worth it.

  9. Subspace.beacon
    April 23, 2009 | 1:10 pm

    Motherhood also brings to an end ones ability to watch v. gory tv shows about horrible crimes. Pre-motherhood I could watch CSI and Law & Order SVU, with ease. Now I find them horrifying. The stuff of maternal nightmares!

    Which is fine — the love of my boys is more than enough to compensate for missing out on what are — in essence — crappy diversions.

    As for labour: I always tell expectant moms that labour is PAINFUL, but that the pain doesn’t mean “my body is being damaged” but rather that your body is doing EXACTLY what it needs to in order to give your child safe passage. Consciously thinking “I’m not being damaged” while in labour really helped me stay calm and not panic. And the narcotics helped, too.

  10. Don Mills Diva
    April 23, 2009 | 1:19 pm

    It’s such a hard thing to articulate to someone.

    I think what was suprising to me about parental love is the tyranny of it. You love them too much – you’re stuck – your happiness is forever in someone else’s hands. It’s terrifying but wonderful all at the same time…

  11. Chantal
    April 23, 2009 | 1:33 pm

    Beautiful! and so true 🙂

  12. Minnesotamom
    April 23, 2009 | 1:44 pm

    Beautiful, Beck. Simply beautiful.

  13. Lynn
    April 23, 2009 | 1:47 pm

    Such a lovely post, so perfectly said.

  14. Nadia
    April 23, 2009 | 2:14 pm

    It is so worth it. Although we are the parents and have to teach our children, sometimes I wonder if they teach us more. Becoming a parent is truly life changing.
    I hate that book by Robert Munsch. Makes me cry every single time I read it.

  15. Anita Jo
    April 23, 2009 | 2:30 pm

    “…how little I value the light-hearted years I had before I became a mother, how the deep terror of motherhood is balanced by an even deeper joy.”

    Yes! Once again, you captured an essential truth of motherhood, beautifully and succinctly. And still, most mothers-to-be probably wouldn’t get it. I think it’s something you just can’t know until you experience it.

    (Btw, “Love You Forever” is right up there with “The Christmas Shoes” for me. I hate the emotional manipulation…Also, it’s just kinda creepy.)

  16. Omaha Mama
    April 23, 2009 | 2:31 pm

    I always say that becoming a mom is my very favorite thing I’ve ever done. Really just the best. And then tell all sorts of horrible labor and delivery stories! 🙂 It’s all about balance.

  17. Alison
    April 23, 2009 | 2:53 pm

    Oh, Beck, you have said it so perfectly here, I wouldn’t change a single word.

  18. candace
    April 23, 2009 | 3:03 pm

    I love being a wife and mother. I do remember what it was like before my son and sometimes miss the spontaneous trips with hubby or just being lazy saturday morning! But I love being a mom and all things great and not so great about it. B/c lets face it, its has some not so great things(currently for us: potty training). I am on of those first time moms that pretty much wing it everyday and well it all seems to work out okay.

  19. Kimberly
    April 23, 2009 | 3:24 pm

    Knowing “why” you are in pain helps immensely. Both for labor and for raising the kids once they are born. Doesn’t mean that sleepless nights don’t completely sap your energy and make you crankier than you have ever been in your whole life, just that you know there is a reason.

    Also, I really really really dislike that book.

  20. Cyndi
    April 23, 2009 | 3:47 pm

    It’s true but not someone can believe or understand until they are there, don’t you think?

  21. Janet
    April 23, 2009 | 4:26 pm

    The Deep Terror. That is the perfect way to explain it. Which sounds awful until you balance it out with the multi-layered Jello of Joy.

  22. Sarah
    April 23, 2009 | 5:03 pm

    Absolutely beautiful! It made me cry, because it’s so so true. As terrifying as being a mother is, it is worth every single second.

  23. Kyla
    April 23, 2009 | 6:55 pm

    It is so worth it.

  24. Susanne
    April 23, 2009 | 7:16 pm

    Definitely, definitely worth it!

  25. Amelia's Crumbs
    April 23, 2009 | 9:23 pm

    Sigh. This post is perfect.

  26. Mad
    April 23, 2009 | 10:38 pm

    That about sums it up.

    I got new glasses today and when M saw me wearing them for the first time, I said “Am I pretty.” She replied “almost.”

    How is candour/humour/hurt of all that not worth it? It’s worth every penny and over again.

  27. Zina
    April 24, 2009 | 1:17 am

    I loved this. Thank you for writing it. (And yeah that book is one it’s better not even to think about when wishing to stay dry-eyed.) (And if the person who said it’s creepy is being serious, I’m wondering if they missed the humor of it?)

    My friend Darlene wrote a poem that I think expresses some of the very same things you’re saying here. Here’s a link to it.

  28. Heidi
    April 24, 2009 | 9:17 am

    Lovely post. Very honest and sweet.

  29. christine
    April 24, 2009 | 7:27 pm

    seeing that it my first child’s birthday this post really, really hit home. we also just got back from visiting our neighbor’s 5 day old baby. all this terror and this love–it can be suffocating in a terrible wonderful drowning in light sort of way.


  30. No Mother Earth
    April 25, 2009 | 8:10 am

    Despite how much I want to be away from them, I always find myself at a loss when I am.

  31. […] As Long As I’m Living – Beck has this unspeakable gift that you have to read to believe. […]

  32. Heather of the EO
    April 26, 2009 | 5:27 pm

    “You can never be, I think, truly light-hearted again once you are a mother. For the rest of your life, your child’s welfare, your child’s happiness and well-being, will be this hostage held against your heart.”

    I will never forget coming home with my first and crying alone in my room, grieving the light-hearted me that was passing away.

    Until this post, I didn’t know how to articulate it. Thank you.

  33. Yamile
    April 27, 2009 | 12:30 am

    yes, it’s worth it. I’ve discovered who I really am, and what I can really do thanks to my kids. They’re my greatest teachers. Thanks for the wonderful words Beck!

  34. Jennifer
    April 28, 2009 | 1:35 pm

    Oh my gosh, this is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. My sister is expecting her first this summer, too, and I’m printing this for her right now.

    You are so right – motherhood brings a gravity with it that becomes part of who you are. Exactly.
    Occassionally my kids get to see me lose myself for a few minutes with an old friend or a family member, and I see them, round eyed, staring at me as if I were another person. I think it’s a glimpse for them into who I was before, someone rarely seen anymore.

    But when I think of that person I think of bubbles, of lightness and nothing permanent, nothing of weight and substance. They are my saving graces, these three little people. As dangerous as the world is for them, I think it has become exponentially dangerous for me with each of their births – there is nothing as vulnerable as the soul of a mother.

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