Part of our work is to help expectant folks prepare themselves for becoming parents. And it's a delicate thing, you know, because... it can't be done. I mean, I think we do an excellent job, but the process is always necessarily incomplete. Because the thing about parenthood is this: you can't prepare for it. Trying to prepare someone for parenthood is like trying to prepare a rock for sitting at the bottom of a riverbed for a hundred years.
The stone has been sitting happily on the riverbank for a long time now, enjoying the sun and the insects and the fresh air and the sound of the water rushing past. And the stone says, "listen. I can do this. I've seen other rocks go down there, I've seen how smooth and worn-away they get after they've been there for a while. I've seen the water, and I've felt it rush over me from time to time, in storms or in the rain." And the stone thinks it's ready.
And one day, along comes a child, who smashes the stone open. Carelessly, inexpertly, perhaps violently. And the child throws the sundered rock into the depths of the river. The very heart of the stone is exposed, raw and jagged, for all the world to see. And there is no way to prepare for what comes next. Not only the disorienting moment where you are immersed, where your world of sun and air and birds is swapped for one of water and stone and strange light and strange creatures, but also for the constancy of the current. The way that you live in it every day, every minute of the day, and how it changes you.
It's not the abrupt splitting-open of a volcano (although there's that, too, at the beginning), or the heat of a lightning strike. It's not even like being struck against steel to start a fire. It's a slow, constant wearing-away of the self. The constancy of the current erodes away your rough spots, and you get surprised at what is revealed underneath. Underneath, it is smooth, pale from lack of sunlight, and fragile and beautiful. The insides, the workings of yourself, are revealed over the months and years. And there's no preparing for that moment of meeting a bit of yourself that you never wanted to admit was there. There's no preparing for those raw, smooth places that are exposed over time. There's no preparing for the relentless, slow sweep of the current that wears you away hour by hour.
And this, after all, is parenthood: parts of yourself that you thought were gone become exposed, parts of yourself that you didn't know were there see daylight. You think you are one thing, and you learn, through the slow erosion of your surface self, that you are wrong. Always, I saw myself as a stone in the rough: unattractive, abrasive, brittle and grainy, unfinished. And here I am, nearly 11 years after the moment I first learned there was a life growing in this body of mine, 10 years after that careless child (or two) smashed my rock-self open on the riverbank, and I am not what I thought I was. At my core, there has been revealed a chunk of stone that is stronger than any diamond, as smoothed by the currents of motherhood as if it had been at the bottom of the river for a thousand years. I am stronger than I ever imagined myself, more worn away than I thought I would ever become. And more beautiful than my wildest imaginings. I am still becoming myself.
This job is not just hard; it is actually, literally, impossible. It's not possible for our bodies to run on no sleep and only the nutrition we can cram into our mouths in a spare moment. It's not possible to love another human so desperately. It's not possible to survive this much anxiety on behalf of the small people we find ourselves responsible for.
We do it anyway. Every day.
This, then, is my prayer for you parents: don't be prepared, be patient. May you break, and then heal. May you find the beauty in your new watery world. May you find yourselves able to bear up under this relentless, loving current that both destroys and creates us. May you be wrong in the best of ways: stronger than you imagined, and only growing stronger as your beauty is revealed.
Liz Libby is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, a Certified Lactation Counselor, and a CAPPA-certified childbirth educator. She lives in Brewster, MA with her three wild boys, canine sidekick, and her partner. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org.