They Call It “Labor” for a Reason

Pregnant belly(Image: Pregnant belly via Shutterstock)We were rolling down Route 2 in the summer of 2012, eastbound toward Boston after a whirlwind tour of visiting family and friends, when my wife got this sudden startled look on her face, turned to me, and said, “You know, I think I’m late.” To my credit, the car swerved only slightly, almost imperceptibly, and never left the lane. We had been trying for a baby for a while, but had only days ago agreed that it might not be in the cards.

Nope.

We got home, walked to CVS, purchased a pregnancy test, and brought it back to the house: positive. We walked back to CVS, purchased the most expensive pregnancy test in the history of humankind with buttons and blinking lights – the thing could probably have done our taxes if we asked it to – and brought it home: so totally positive, and we were off to the races.

What they don’t tell you about pregnancy, the dirty little secret everyone keeps to themselves, is how physically and emotionally grueling the last month of the process is. Everything is crazy, and you’re just huge, and totally off-balance to boot. Try to imagine having a large bag of rocks strapped to your belly, rocks that kick you in the bladder, and then try to do your thing. Try to sleep, try to pee, try to simply stand up … oh, and rack in those calories because you’re eating for two, but don’t have a drink, even though after nine long months that’s all you want to do.

We walked, and walked, and walked in those final days at the close of March between towering snowbanks, snowbanks and slick sidewalk ice because that winter was an ass-kicker, because of course it was. I was like Johnny Bench, just waiting to make the catch if she slipped during her ponderous plod. And then one day she had some hot & sour soup, we watched the season finale of The Walking Dead, and boom, twenty hours later my wife held this screaming, swaddled little bean in her exhausted arms, and the look on her face was a vivid Technicolor broadcast announcing the whole thing was worth the ride.

Oh, the look on her face. Our daughter gave us a few good scares during the delivery process, perhaps because she knew it was April Fools’ Day and wanted to mess with our heads. There is nothing quite so nerve-wracking as when the baby-monitoring machine strapped to your belly starts beeping wildly, and one deliberately casual doctor in the delivery room suddenly FOOP becomes eight not-so-casual doctors in the room hovering over you like you’re Tippi Hedron in a Hitchcock movie.

Motherhood begins in blood and pain, drenched in sweat with a white-knuckle grip on the closest thing available … but when the beeping subsided and my wife heard the sound of her daughter’s first living cry, the perfection of joy that was her face beggared the word “sublime.” She held her daughter, and nursed her, and rocked her, and sang to her, and so it was that the journey of a lifetime began.

Due to the fact of my gender, my qualifications for speaking to the truths of motherhood are vacant, but I do know a few things. It is not an easy journey: It is, quite often, forty miles of bad road under the broad shadow of a million fears, a million disappointments, a million outrages, and watered to flood tide with a million tears. They call it “labor” for good reason, and that labor does not subside after you produce the person you’ve carried within you for the better part of a year. That labor continues, broadens, deepens, and will put gray in your hair faster than the corn sprouts in springtime.

The rewards, however, can put the price of that labor in deep shade. Motherhood is work – there ought to be a union so they can go on collective strike when they’re getting messed with – but it is noble work, blessed work, and the dividends paid when the job is done right do not just reward the mother. They reward the world entire, and that, in this degraded day and age, must be valued beyond the possibility of account.

Just about any woman can have a baby. It takes a true boss – and this I know from experience – to be a mother. It is a lifetime. We owe them everything, and they owe us nothing … but they will give us their last full measure all the same, because they love us. Because they are mothers.

Thank you, Mom. Thank you, moms.

Happy Mother’s Day.