From the moment I gazed into the eyes of my firstborn child, Annie, I was enchanted. Given what I teach now (and how I practiced medicine), I think you will find this ironic: Up until the moment that I actually went into labor, I treated my impending motherhood in a detached clinical way and managed to stay totally immersed in my career. Talk about a mind-body split! Then happily, suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, at age thirty-one, my innate nurturing and mothering skills were awakened in me as I went through the process of labor and birth.
Even though I had spent much of the five years prior to Annie’s birth delivering babies and marveling at how infinitely varied were the ways in which their mothers responded to them, I was completely unaware of what my own response would be. I share this with you, because every woman, no matter how maternal she is, has doubts. And every woman arrives at the place she needs to be for herself and her family at the right time. And that includes women who never have children of their own.
Like my mother, I had not been particularly interested in babies, but I always knew I wanted to be a mother someday. One of the things that amazed me at the time was that I instantly had the urge to have a whole lot of children. I was thrilled with my ability to create this beautiful baby, a fact that both surprised and delighted me, given my prior take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward babies. I was caught up in the wonder and abundance of biologic creativity at that moment in a way that I will never forget.
Like my mother before me, I had never doubted my ability to care for a baby. It seemed like common sense. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of heart-bursting unconditional love I felt for this little being. The very day she was born, Annie laughed—a tiny laugh, I’ll admit, but coming out of her perfect rosebud lips, it sounded like the voices of the angels themselves. I had the distinct feeling that she had spent a good deal of time with the angels. And she looked as though she hadn’t quite left the spirit world behind. I knew that I would do everything in my power to protect her, provide for her, and let her know that she was loved. I thought she was the most precious child ever born.
But despite my immediate postpartum enthusiasm for making babies, it was two and a half years before I gave birth to my next child, my daughter Kate. And by the time I turned thirty-seven, with two small children in the house, I realized that although I felt a strong biologic urge to have a third, I didn’t have enough life energy to carry, birth, and mother an infant in a way that I considered optimal while also tackling another huge project that I was gestating—Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom.
I chose the book.
I adore my children and have found motherhood fulfilling beyond my wildest dreams. But being a mother is only one aspect of who I am. And that’s OK. As a physician and a writer, I have strong needs for inward focus, solitude, and scholarly pursuits—lifestyle qualities not easily available to the mothers of large families. To be a truly happy and healthy woman, and therefore a happy mother, I needed a focus other than my home and family, just as my own mother had.
When I was a young mother, my spirit urged me to create a life that encompassed all the aspects of my personality. I didn’t know if I could find the right balance between the joys and demands of motherhood and the joys and demands of a practicing physician, especially one who delivered babies in the middle of the night a few times a week. Later, the question became what percentage of my time should be devoted to practicing medicine versus writing? Later still, how much time did I want to be away from my teenage children, traveling to speaking engagements or pursuing my own hobbies?
And so it goes. Thousands of women were—and still are—asking the same kinds of questions and making the same kinds of decisions in their work and personal lives.
Here’s my advice: There is no right answer, just the answer that is right for you. And that answer is likely to change. Let it! Know that it’s OK to want and even need the satisfaction that comes from creating a home and a family, from being cherished in an intimate partnership. It’s also natural to crave the personal power that comes from having a career and financial clout. Your soul will direct you and help you to be the best kind of mom you can be, if you let it.
Adapted with permission from Mother-Daughter Wisdom.