I sit in the local cafe: my flat white just arrived and my 7-week old nursing peacefully as I try to peruse the morning papers. The kids are back at school and for the first time I have two children to rally, motivate and drop off every morning. With my eldest in primary and my second starting kindergarten, I get through the morning bustle and am taking this moment to exhale without my usual entourage.
I look up and my gaze meets that of an old colleague I haven’t seen in some time. She smiles as she saunters over and I see her take in the two little feet poking out from under the bottom of my scarf as she exclaims:
Aiysha! Did you have a baby? A new baby?
Yes, I did!
No, my third.
Oh goodness. Isn’t that something, congratulations! How is it? You look really well.
I am well, thank you – third time’s a charm!
A few more pleasantries and she turns back to her table as I to turn back to my reading but I can’t seem to focus as the exchange replays itself in my mind. My choice of words niggling at me.
Third time’s a charm? Why do I keep using this expression? Whenever someone asks me how it’s going or what it’s like to add another baby to the mix or anything baby related, I come out with third time’s a charm. So cliché and also somewhat meaningless – as if there’s a magical number at which new parenthood suddenly makes sense and everything clicks together without much effort or anxiety.
Could anything be further from the truth?
It’s sometimes said that the birth of a child is also the birth of a mother, but we tend to limit this experience to that all important and golden first born – as though once the label of “mother” is bestowed upon us, it remains as it came and stays exactly the same.
But I am not the same. Not the same person and not the same mother I was two, five or even seven years ago. I can see now that every new child we’ve welcomed into our family has made me a “new” mother. Each one changing the alchemy of our home and transforming us into an updated (and often improved) version of what previously existed.
And beyond the change in basic logistics and other practicalities, comes this cosmic realisation that each experience of my ever metamorphosing motherhood has brought me exactly what I needed, even when I didn’t know what I was lacking. It gave me what was necessary to, in spite of myself, become better, stronger, happier and more grateful.
Seven years ago, my eldest child arrived after a particularly brutal period at work, where my toxic office environment had me feeling crushed and depleted, my confidence shot and my feelings of inadequacy slowly seeping into everything else. After a lifetime of believing I would be an awesome mother, I suddenly wasn’t so sure. But I needn’t have worried, as my daughter came into this world a cool cat .
She was content and easy to please and came with me everywhere: coffee shops, concerts, spiritual gatherings or meetings, it didn’t matter the time of day or night, she was happy just to be together and observe the world. As I witnessed her grow and thrive, I felt myself do the same, so that by the time my second was to be born I thought I had this motherhood thing down. I was self-assured, upbeat and, if I’m entirely honest, a bit smug. I couldn’t relate to mothers who struggled with their babies, surely they must be doing something wrong.
Until, that is, I became that mother. My son arrived joyous and exuberant but I didn’t recognise this kind of baby. He seemed to need so much of me all the time. He wasn’t happy with simply being toted along. Sitting still in a coffee shop? Forget it. Attempt to attend a meeting? Ultimate cryfest. Endeavor to play with my eldest? Time to clusterfeed.
At once, all the mums I’d seen looking stressed and rushed made a lot more sense. And as our early years progressed, on many days, I looked like that too. When people remarked that I should “control” my child or friends couldn’t understand why I declined play-date invitations which would keep us indoors, I felt a sinking feeling in my heart for all the times I had ever thought the same of another parent. How horrible to have been so insensitive and not even known it – my judgey-judge face finally took a backseat. So, motherhood second time around gifted me with a deep sense of much needed empathy and camaraderie… but also exhaustion. Pure exhaustion.
I was exhausted when we learned we were expecting again (our third!). I was exhausted thinking about the pregnancy and beyond. I was exhausted considering about how it would all work. How we would find the emotional resources to be good parents, the physical resources to provide well and the support we would need to make it through the newborn days. We were totally happy with the news but just plain overwhelmed with everything else.
I didn’t know what to do so I prayed fervently that the exactly right kind of help would come in exactly the way it would be most helpful and that, most importantly, I would be able to accept it when it did. Fast forward a few months and, by the grace of God, that is precisely what happened.
Without even realising it, throughout the years of parenting and friending and learning and growing, we managed to create a village of sorts. The type it takes to raise a child and one that sprung into action when needed to fill in the gaps and relieve many anxieties. When help was offered, I graciously took it – no longer held back by an absurd need to feel like we had to do it all by ourselves. And though it’s only been a brief couple of months, this time, the experience of motherhood is underscored by the joy of being and belonging.
Our tradition teaches us that every moment is in constant motion, nothing is static or unmoving – the earth itself is continually turning. Why we expect ourselves to stay the same or our experiences to remain unchanged is a mystery. Whether you are a mother of one child or of six, every time, you are born anew and every time should be honoured thus.
As for me, whether it’s third time a charm, seven years a journey or simply the act of life being lived and lessons being learnt, one thing is clear: nothing about this messy, beautiful, exhausting, ego-crushing, heart-expanding experience ever seems to gets old.