To hear natural childbirth advocates and lactivists tell it, the entire story of mothering can be reduced to 3 body parts: uterus, vagina and breasts.
Alisa Quart points out in today’s piece in Salon that she mothers her young daughter with her brain as well.
That got me thinking about how I have mothered my four children over the past 26 years, and seems like I have used just about every part of my body.
Arms: I used my arms a lot, not merely to carry my children, although I carried them quite a bit when they were small. I used my arms primarily to embrace them. Hugs are the appropriate response in times of both happiness and sadness, or for no better reason that to be close. I cannot count the times I hugged my children, and even now, when they are adults, I still do.
Hands: I think I spent 10 solid years holding hands. Holding toddlers’hands when they learned to walk. Holding hands crossing the street and in the parking lot. Holding hands just because it is fun to hold hands.
I also used my hands to sew clothes for my children, to fill out a million permission sheets for field trips, to feel foreheads for temperatures, and to help with a billion school projects (if anyone needs pipe cleaners, I still have hundreds.)
Lips: I kissed my children over and over and over again. I kissed to heal boo-boos. I kissed to check for fevers. I kissed for no better reason than I loved to kiss them. Of course there were years I had to lay off the kissing because public kissing was just too embarrassing for teenagers, but those years are over now, and I can kiss again, at least for greeting.
Legs: I walked miles holding fretful infants in the middle of the night, shopping for clothes and shoes and toys, tramping out to baseball fields, football fields, soccer fields and basketball courts to watch countless youth sports games.
Mouth: I used it to tell my children that I loved them, but I also used to advocate for them, to seek out appropriate evaluation and therapy for learning disabilities, to explain them to teachers and to explain life’s leassons to them.
My entire body: Is there anything that gives comfort like a mother’s body? It provides comfort when you are awake sitting near your children, and even when you are asleep lying in bed next to them in bed after a nightmare.
Brain: I thought about my children constantly, when I was with them and when I was not. I taught them facts and I taught them morals. I worried when they were little; I worried when they were teenagers; and I still worry now. I shared my views on how they should treat others and how they should be proud of themselves (or not, as the case warranted). I conveyed my religious beliefs and my political views. I planned for them; I brainstormed with them; and I hoped desperately that I could give them what they needed to be happy, healthy and to reach their full potential.
Last, but not least, my heart:
Not my physical heart, although it sometimes felt like it when they were hurt or disappointed. I am referring to my metaphorical heart. I loved and I still love my children more than life itself and I have tried to convey that to them. They and their father are the most important people in the universe as far as I am concerned, and it is my deepest wish that they know it and feel it.
Yes, my children grew in my uterus. Yes, they transited my vagina when they were born. Yes, I nourished them with my breasts, but I don’t think that made much difference to who they are and to how I love them. I would gladly have had C-sections if there had been even the slightest chance that they were at risk during birth. I would have happily supplemented with formula if I hadn’t been lucky to produce enough milk. My children don’t remember those days, and frankly, they couldn’t care less.
That’s fine with me. Those body parts are not the ones that I want my children to think of when they think of me. I want them to remember holding hands when they were little, countless hugs and endless kisses. I hope they remember my physical presence beside them when they were sick, next to them in bed when they had bad dreams and in the bleachers or the audience for sports and plays and graduations.
Motherhood is so much more than whether or not your newborn passed through your vagina or whether or not you fed your infant with your breasts. In the grand scheme of motherhood, those body parts are trivial, eclipsed by the rest.
I mother with my entire body. Isn’t that what good mothers do?