Sunday, May 14, 2017

Learning About Motherhood with Rilla Blythe

I settled onto the old, floral-patterned couch, and my newborn baby eagerly latched on and began nursing, his tiny, wrinkled face pressed into my chest. I took a deep breath as I tried to bear through the painful struggle of first-time nursing, and I grabbed a book nearby. I tentatively opened Rilla of Ingleside, by L. M. Montgomery, for the first time. I was unsure of what I would find in its pages, since I didn't know much about the story. I figured it would be entertaining, and a good distraction from the discomfort and soreness of new motherhood. 

Yet, as I read Rilla-devouring it eagerly as my son gulped milk at my chest-I was profoundly touched. As page after page turned, I found myself learning about motherhood right along with Rilla Blythe.


I've seen many birth videos and read countless birth stories. I've spoken with several women who have given  birth multiple times. In nearly every single birth that I've heard about, there is consistency in how the woman reacts at the end of labor. For example:  

The woman pushes, intensely focused on the task at hand. The baby comes out, sometimes wriggling, sometimes crying. Passionately crying out, the woman welcomes her child into her arms, sometimes panting "My baby, my baby!" or a similar phrase. The emotions are intense as the mother watches over her child, and these emotions of fierce, passionate love will continue to influence her actions as she cares for her child. 


I did not experience this. 


Granted, I did have a very strange and comical natural labor (you can read more about that here), but I did spend several minutes pushing my child out with a focused, intense determination. In between pushes, the kind nurse at my side reassured me with, You can do it, you'll feel so much relief when he's out! I figured that I would experience the intense, happy, relieved emotions of The Mothering Moment that seems to be so commonly encountered in birthing suites.

To be perfectly honest, I did not experience an overwhelming, emotionally-charged experience of euphoria as my son was held in the air and handed to me. I was happy, and I was glad to no longer be pushing him out, but I did not feel the kind of emotional rush that I've seen and heard about. Instead of experiencing all of these intense emotions that I had been expecting, I felt...a strong sense of tranquility.  I thought of the way that Elijah encountered God in 1 Kings 19:11-13. 

Sometimes, God works in dramatic flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. But at other times, God is present in the "light silent sound." And as I sat in the hospital bed, looking at this tiny newborn baby with my husband, I experienced God's presence in the stillness and overflowing sense of peace. 

In the days that followed, I continued to not feel the overwhelming "mama bear" emotions that I have often heard about and seen.  I continued to experience this deep peace, but occasionally, I would wonder about those moments right after birth. 

Why didn't I feel an overwhelming urge to never let go of my baby? Why didn't I feel the intense passion that so many new mothers exhibit?  

As I sat on the couch with my newborn, reading about Rilla Blythe's journey into a motherhood of sorts, I realized that my experience of motherhood does not have to look like the experiences of others. As Rilla began caring for Jims, she did not feel a strong attachment or motherly rush of emotions. She felt pity, and wanted to do the right thing, but that was the extent of passion.  In fact, Rilla (who had been a fairly self-centered, petty sort of girl at the beginning of the novel) went so far as to dislike babies in general! Moved by this pity and urged by Gilbert Blythe, her father, Rilla began caring for this child. And as she struggled in this mothering role of feedings, bathing sessions, and middle-of-the-night wakings, she sacrificed herself for a child whom she did not feel attached to. At one point, she even says to Walter: 
"I wish I could like the baby a little bit. It would make things easier. But I don't. I've heard people say that when you took care of a baby you got fond of it--but you don't--I don't, anyway." (68)
Eventually,  Rilla begins to experience an emotional "mother love." But, this strong mothering love comes slowly, building over time with each determined sacrifice that she makes for the boy.Upon hearing Jims cry one night, she suddenly tries to see the world from his perspective. As she holds Jims close to her, he begins laughing, and Rilla finds herself overwhelmed with delight.  
"She wanted to squeeze him--to cuddle him, just as she used to squeeze and cuddle her kittens. Something delightful and yearning and brooding seemed to have taken possession of her. She had never felt like this before." (94)
In a similar way, I've found that my emotional "mother love" has grown gradually over the past several months, gently building into the strong, sacrificial bonds of our family. I find that there are moments when I'm swept with an urge to cuddle my little boy, to let him smack his slobbery mouth onto my cheek in a big kiss. Perhaps this wave of "mothering emotions" does overwhelm me as frequently as it does other women,  but I've learned that this is quite all right. 

Looking cute, like always. 
I'm grateful for my experience of motherhood. I've grown in my understanding that each woman's expression of motherhood is unique. My experience of stillness and quiet in the hospital room looks very different from the atmosphere in other birthing suites-but all of the varied embraces of motherhood are valid and beautiful. 

Love is a decision, a commitment of self-sacrifice. Each and every person is called to intense, radical self-giving love. Regardless of whether we feel heartwarming emotions or not, we can all grow in this determined, powerful gift of love that we see Rilla Blythe demonstrate so well. 

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