by RI Editors
This guest essay by Mary C. Stelter was submitted for our series on mothering.
I am a mother.
But before I became a mother, I had a baby.
As a young newly-married woman, I longed for some feeling of accomplishment, some defining moment to announce that I had arrived at adulthood, some type of graduation ceremony to proclaim that I knew how to be a mother and was ready to welcome those precious spirits to my family. Although I felt the weight of various accomplishments like a Bachelors degree and a first real job and I earnestly revered the solemnity of my temple and marriage covenants, the Mother Degree never materialized.
All throughout this young adult, newlywed time, I was oblivious to the distillation of knowledge, experience, faith, and ability that was soaking into my being. I was becoming, even though I didn’t know it.
When we were expecting our first daughter, I read everything I could get my hands on that pertained to childbirth and parenting. I was looking for a succinct to do list of everything I would need to do as a mother. Then I would be fine. I would birth this precious child, take her home and then life would be great. Oh, sure, we’d have some rough days, but most days would look like an episode of The Waltons.
Then it happened. Before I had my Mother Degree. My husband and I visited the midwife for a regular prenatal exam and were told that I was in labor (what?!) and needed to plan to have this baby tonight. She told us to go home and take a nap (are you kidding?!) while she arranged things with the birth center, and that if contractions began in the next two hours, I was to come in without delay.
Within a few hours, my tiny baby girl left the presence of the Savior and was placed in my arms. Why?! Why were they giving this delicate, fragile creature to me? And by they I was referring to the nurses, the midwife, Heavenly Father, my mother, and all of society. I didn’t know what I was doing! How could they be so irresponsible as to place this child in my care?
So we went home.
My husband and I took turns holding her because we were both afraid to lay her down. Wouldn’t that be neglecting her? We held her, rocked her, swayed with her and coaxed her to sleep for 9 months. We were starting to feel like we were doing ok with this parenting gig and then we hit the curve.
It started taking more and more effort to get Rachel to sleep at nap time and bedtime. She wanted me to sleep with her. She wanted to wind her hands in my hair. She wanted me to breathe on her face in just the right pattern and speed. She slept fitfully and when she woke up, she was cranky.
I was at my wit’s end. Wasn’t I being a loving mother? What was wrong? We went to the pediatrician’s office for a regular well baby check up and were seen by a visiting doctor. She asked about Rachel’s sleep patterns. The regular doctor never asked. In my bleary-eyed exhaustion, I unloaded all of the frustrations I was having with Rachel and her sleep and how this problem seemed to consume every moment of the day.
The doctor listened quietly and then said, “She needs to be sleep trained. This is going to be a defining moment for you as her mother. Here’s how to do it.” Then she handed me 2-pages photocopied from a physician’s desk reference, said that we’d come through it ok and then walked out.
So I went home and read the sparse instructions to my husband, then started praying. The basic process of the plan was three steps: 1. Go through a lengthy sleep routine to get baby ready for bed. 2. Lay her in her bed and say, “I love you.” 3. Walk away and do not pick her up until she’s had a good rest. How cruel!
But I had to do it. We had to change the way things were going. I felt like Heavenly Father was watching me and saying, “Well, Mary, you wanted a defining moment, here it is.” I needed to step up and take hold of the power and authority of motherhood. I needed to do something hard because that’s what was best for my baby.
Like most new parents, we survived the initial immersion into parenting and acclimated well. Rachel survived too and adjusted to the new sleep routine fairly quickly. Now she is an active and happy 9-year-old who quite readily puts herself to bed. That one defining moment gave way to another and many more after. With each child, and each passing year, I learn more and grow in my confidence, experience, trust, and abilities. But most importantly, I realize now that I don’t need the Mother Degree.
Because I am a mother.
Mary C. Stelter is a doula and childbirth educator in the Los Angeles area. She serves mothers and families through OCEAN Birth Childbirth Education and Services. She is also a devoted wife to a young bishop and mother to five energetic children. Dipping her toes in the waters of writing after a many years absence, she’s excited to submit other pieces in the future.