The Meaning of Children: My Dirty, Little Secret

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In May FDW is hosting a new series on  stories from people in all walks of life and their observations of children and what they make us. Click here for more on the series and a list of the contributors. This post was written by Ashley Hales, someone I feel like knows me because the way she writes turns me inside out. Originally posted at her blog here.

I have a little secret: I never wanted to be a mother. At least not in the conventional sense. And certainly not a mother to four.

I wasn’t one of those baby-loving, babysitting girls who fawned over the little ones in the church nursery. I had more important things to do like schoolwork and have a boyfriend and think up big, crazy dreams that would take me to prestigious colleges and travel all around the world. I thought motherhood as a calling was what you did if you didn’t have any better option.

I was supposed to be the smart one. The one living overseas doing important work, thinking big thoughts and living an adventure.

But at 25 I found myself pregnant for the first time and my husband and I lay awestruck on our bed, giddy with laughter — at the newness and hopefulness of it all. But just a few weeks after that, I miscarried. It was then that my transformation into “mother” began. I became disconnected from the self I had known and became something new. I hated myself as I cramped and bled and cried. All I wanted was to be separated from my body that was letting go of this little life.

And so motherhood, for me, began in loss.

And the losses compounded — not in miscarriages — but in the sleepless nights, the pouring out of milk, reeking of baby spit-up, changing poopy blow-outs and, as they grew, calming fears and refereeing sibling fights. And as we felt like we were finally getting out from under the weight of the neediness of little babies, another would come along, leaving us flattened to the ground. Leaving us needy — arms outstretched — needing more of Jesus; or in worse moments, fighting for preservation, clutching on to shreds of our old selves as these same old selves turned to dust in our grasping.

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Truthfully, most days still feel like loss.

Daily, I choose losing my idea of a good time in favor of showing big love to my people. We wrestle. We dance. I make food and sweep the floor.

I can’t just drop everything and go out on a date with my husband, I can’t jet off to Greece for a week away, I can’t even drink a glass of wine when I want to because of a baby who depends upon me for sustenance. Feeding on me, like the body and the blood.

I’ve found myself in an unlikely place where motherhood has become my teacher. And not in the beautiful “Madonna and child” way — with the tenderness of connection frozen in stone between one solitary mother and her child. No, motherhood has brought me to the end of my rope as my body has borne down four times; and I bear down again daily, as I find myself at the end of me, holding on tightly to frayed edges, birthing new life.

I’ve traded world travel for the smaller world of four little people. I’ve traded my own sleep for another’s comfort. I’ve traded my literary theory for Goodnight, Moon and every Star Wars book imaginable. I’ve traded my quiet for chaos.

And so everyday I (like you) face a choice. Will you believe in your bones that this life you lead day-in and day-out has sacred meaning not just in the midst of, but because of, the mundane? Will you see the mundane as glory-filled? Or, will you keep wishing for that old self, thinking that the old you will satisfy?

Will you see the hard gifts of motherhood or will you cling to yourself? 

The gifts of motherhood can’t be measured in what we do, but in who we become.

Motherhood is my greatest adventure. Because through it, this half-dozen of us are all becoming, all moving towards maturity. Sure, there’s more noise, more chaos and less time for me. But, we all need something to whittle us down, to push on us until we are all changed and born anew. Even though I didn’t want to be a mother, I’ve found as in all hard things, there is a gift there.

Your hard may be infertility or choosing to not have children in a sea of parents. Your hard may be the drudgery of your work or the hurt you bear from people who should’ve had your back. But the hard is a gift. Because if we let it, loss pushes us to face up to our failings and cast ourselves on the wider mercy of a Christ, who welcomes us to a table and who promises to gently bear our sorrows.


AH 3Ashley Hales loves to help others tell their scary brave stories. She’s wife to her church planting pastor husband, mama to 4 littles, and holds a Ph.D. in literature. She’s working on a book about coming home and our spiritual journeys and loves a good family dance party to Taylor Swift. You can find her at Circling the Story, on Facebook here (Circling the Story), on Twitter here, at the collaborative blog The Mudroom.

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