“In this collection, we describe the realities of mothering young children, from pregnancy through kindergarten. Our purpose is to celebrate this season, to illustrate its unique challenges and delights, to reveal its deep significance,” writes editor Kathryn Lynard Soper.
The Mother in Me is a collection of more than forty essays and poems, each one offering a personal and intimate view of the divinely-appointed role of motherhood. Some of the selections in the book are humorous, others thoughtful, others poignant — yet all of them affirm the richness of motherhood.
Truly, motherhood matters. Not just in the sentimental ways we talk about on Mother's Day, but in the gritty, lovely, everyday realities of walking this path.
Twenty-nine Latter-day Saint mothers delve into the messy richness of the domestic realm and find great beauty and meaning therein. For home is where everything begins — for children and mothers.
The voices in the book are as individual as the experiences they discuss — first-time pregnancies, the miracle of birth, the devastation of miscarriage and stillbirth, the uncertainty of infertility, the blessings of adoption, and the wonder of newborn nights turning into toddler days and pre-school adventures. But these varied voices unite as they show that the transforming journey of motherhood — is also exhilarating.
“This is my first pregnancy — my first everything, it feels like. I wonder vaguely if Eve ever felt as I do. On some theoretical level I know I wanted this — even chose it — but did even Eve pause in her purposefulness when she realized the known world of her peaceful garden was now nonexistent, that in choosing family, she chose to become part of the wildness of creation?” writes Johanna Buchert Smith in the opening essay, Forty Weeks 'til Spring.
The experiences shared in The Mother in Me will make you laugh and cry and hold tightly the little ones in your life.
About the Author
You’re almost one year old as I write this letter. It amazes me to realize that by the time I give this to you, you will be a grown woman—perhaps a wife, perhaps even an expectant mother!
Expectations. I had so many of those before you were born. I like to prepare for everything, big or small. I like to make the best out of any situation. I love to organize my life in such a way that things go nice and smooth, so I can focus my energy on enjoying an experience rather than stressing out about it.
During the months that I was pregnant with you, I read and read about pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood. Your dad told me I should read a bit less—he thought that I would get crazy ideas in my head, which I sometimes did. But mostly, he wanted me to read less because he knew that I might set myself up for disaster if I thought I could control each and every thing that happened to me or you. I kept reading; it was so much fun to read about your developing body, about the changes happening in mine, and about what I would need to do to take care of you as an infant.
One of the things that meant the most to me as a mother-to-be was breastfeeding. To me, that was the mark of a conscientious, unselfish, and intelligent mother. I naturally read a lot about the topic, focusing my efforts on The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I read it all before you were born. I had worked for Early Head Start for a year, and had taught women about breastfeeding. I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about it.
And then you were born.
I nursed you right there in the delivery room. You had an extremely strong suck. It really shocked me how strong your jaws were, and how even being so very tiny and delicate, you had such strength. It really hurt me, and I wondered if you were latching on properly. But the nurses told me that you were, so even though I gritted my teeth as you ate, I trusted them and continued on. Through that night, I nursed several more times, each time with more pain. By morning, and at the end of your first day of life, my nipples were all torn up.
This wasn’t what I had pictured. I had imagined a little soreness, a little tenderness. Pain, maybe. But not unbearable pain. Surely by the next day it would go a lot better.
But things didn’t improve. At home, you woke up hungry every two hours, sometimes even more often. I wanted to look forward to it, but instead felt sick every time you cried with an empty stomach. I applied the lanolin that the nurses had sent home with me. I tried so hard to change your suck to something that wasn’t so painful, but your little jaws were clenched so tight I couldn’t do a thing. I broke the suction over and over again, then grabbed my books and held the pages open with one hand to examine the latch-on illustrations.
Cradle hold. Cross-cradle hold. Football hold. I peered at the baby’s mouth in the picture, then stared at yours. I bit my lip, swallowed five or six times, and pushed your mouth near me to help you try—over and over we tried. Time after time, I broke the suction.
“Perry,” I finally cried out to your father. “I can’t nurse any more if it keeps hurting like this, not one more time.”
But as scared as I was to keep nursing, I was even more terrified of stopping. Breastfeeding symbolized all of my hopes for you to be a healthy baby, and for me to be a good mother. Your health, your growth—your survival. It was all up to me. Nursing was supposed to be the epitome of womanhood, like The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding had implied.
“Womanly” implies grace, loveliness, poise, pleasure. Instead, I felt miserable and wretched.
I took you to a pediatrician for your three-week checkup. You were only six ounces heavier than at birth. My heart raced, my throat felt swollen, and phrases such as “underweight,” and “Is she nursing okay?” hovered around my head.
I felt ill, overwhelmed, and angry all at once. We’d just moved and were living out of suitcases. In the midst of packing up the apartment, I’d been nursing every two hours. Yes, it had still been painful, but you had been eating—hadn’t you? I had heard you suck, watched your ear lobes twitch just like the books said, watched your jaws move . . .
I forced myself not to cry. The doctor kindly wondered aloud if perhaps my body had not produced enough milk because of the stress of the move. Could that be it? She recommended that we go to a wonderful doctor specializing in feeding issues.
This specialist spent two hours with us during our first visit. She weighed you, naked, then had me feed you on one side. After you ate, she weighed you again, calculating the grams you had gained in liquid measurement. In twenty minutes you had swallowed only half an ounce of milk.
I felt myself die inside. She must be mistaken, I thought.
“Let’s do the right side now,” I said. “I have a lot more milk on that one.” I did. Back onto the scale. You’d drunk a sixth of an ounce.
I felt like an idiot. Here I had been bragging to everyone for the past few weeks that my body was making extra milk. It was so great that I wasn’t having any problems making enough. Putting the pieces together, I realized what had really been happening. You weren’t getting the milk . . . that’s why I had so much.
Embarrassed, I wondered how I didn’t notice something as profound as whether you were actually eating. I still protested, thinking this couldn’t be what was happening. “But look at how she’s sucking,” I said, pointing. “See how her jaw is moving? It looks right to me.”
“Yes, she is sucking,” the doctor said. “But she’s not swallowing. Here . . . let me help you listen and distinguish between the two sounds.”
I bent my head forward to listen for your swallow, my mind was blank, numb. I felt utterly beside myself in confusion and sadness. I listened, and there—you made a soft gulping noise. The swallows were few and far between, but I heard them.
But all along, you hadn’t been swallowing more than a few times each minute. Again, a flood of failure dumped over my head, drenching my whole body and heart with feelings of inadequacy and desperation. I had been living in an illusion, literally. What I’d thought was happening was actually the opposite of reality. You had been so hungry, for so long.
And it was because of me.
We got back into the car. I was supposed to be driving, but I just sat in the driver’s seat, motionless. I couldn’t move my hand to put the key in. I just stared. Dad tried to get me to say something, but nothing was there. I felt dead. After about twenty minutes, Dad tried talking to me.
“I’ve never felt so empty and sad,” I said when I finally spoke. “I don’t feel like doing anything. I just want to die.”
His response was, “Kristen, you’re depressed. We’re going to go home and get some help for you.”
Help? I didn’t even know what I ¬needed.
I was a failure for unknowingly underfeeding you all that time. Here I had been giving 200 percent to you, and it hadn’t been enough. That’s what hurt the most—the feeling that I wasn’t capable of meeting your basic needs. I had failed in something that was a given: keeping you alive, giving you the nourishment you needed. If I couldn’t even feed you properly, how would I ever manage other parenting issues?
I imagined myself as a grandmother having conversations with other women as we sat in rocking chairs and looked back on life.
Friend: “My daughter chose to do drugs at age thirty, even after we raised her right. It’s too bad she decided to take that path.”
Me: “I starved my baby girl as an infant and didn’t even know it until she was a month old. Everything else just fell apart after that. I guess I wasn’t cut out for motherhood.”
I see now how ridiculous and irrational my thoughts were at the time. But back then I was scared, so scared. Scared enough to try one more time.
After that terrible trip to the doctor’s office, I took some time to rest. I was physically and emotionally worn out from the delivery, the move, and now this. Everything had piled up.
After a nap, I could think logically again. The specialist had said you’d need to be supplemented with formula while my milk supply was developing and you were learning how to nurse correctly.
She had encouraged me, saying, “The most important thing isn’t that you are exclusively breastfeeding, but that your daughter begins to gain weight and is healthy.” I slowly began to realize that she was right. You would be able to be nourished with formula. And I would still be a good mother. Possibly even a wonderful one.
Throughout the rest of that afternoon, I felt more energetic than I’d felt in days. I felt a lightness in my body. Whether it was the Spirit comforting me and giving me a boost of confidence, or simply the relief that came from a huge paradigm shift triggered by this wonderful specialist, that afternoon marked the beginning of a big change.
You and I started over. A small well of hope grew each time I fed you and throughout each nap you took when I got to rest and rejuvenate myself. A new set of skills to practice gave me a challenge to look forward to as well. Each time you were hungry, I gathered my pillows, set them up around my back, and put several under you. I waited for your little mouth to lunge toward me, and as you latched on, I used my forefinger to push your bottom jaw down as far as I could, so that you would open wider.
After several days of doing this a dozen times a day, I heard the soft sounds of swallows more often. Such a wonder¬ful sound; it was a sign of success for both of us—you were learning to eat, and my body was making more milk.
Every few days, I took you in to be weighed. You were such a little ¬champion—you did so well at gaining weight, usually several ounces a week. There was one day that I will always remember more than the others: September 1, 2006. You were about six weeks old. A week had gone by since your last weight check. This time you gained thirteen ounces in seven days. The doctor was amazed; she said she’d never seen a comeback quite like yours.
After about four weeks, we’d done it, together. You gained weight, my body healed, and we became a great team. And we kept moving forward.
You’re now about to complete your first year of life. As I see your independence grow daily, as you boldly tumble and scoot and do gymnastics across the house, my mind swirls with thoughts of the future and the person you will become. I want to meet all your needs as you grow. I hope you will trust me enough to tell me what you need so I can help you.
But my expectations for myself as a mother have changed. Before you were born, I thought that if I worked hard enough, I’d be able to do everything right. Now I realize that I probably won’t always recognize exactly what you need, and exactly when you need it.
It’s better this way. The pain and challenges you experience will be chances for you to develop strength, and to look inside yourself for the answers.
You and I will experience many challenges as you grow, and you can count on a number of them being caused by my mistakes. But when those times come, I’ll remember the only thing that matters—that we keep trying.
I’ll look back on the hundreds of times I nursed you. Your rosy cheeks, long eyelashes, and your hand gripping my thumb. You looking up at me, smiling at me. The sound of you swallowing.
I’ll see your eyes getting heavy, your body melting into my arms. I’ll feel the sweetness that came from fighting to give you what I knew was the best thing for you, and the happiness of finally succeeding.
And I’ll remember that we have sweet ties holding us together: bonds of trust, perseverance, and love.
The best book on motherhood I've ever read
by Erica - reviewed on October 30, 2008
My copy of _The Mother in Me_ arrived this afternoon, and, not being being an angel mother, I plopped down and read it while my older boys ran wild outside and the baby played, nursed, and napped in my arms. I bet my afternoon was better than yours. Because _The Mother in Me_ is a very good book. It's simply a compilation of essays and poetry from the _Segullah_ women on motherhood, specifically young motherhood. I usually avoid motherhood books because they annoy me. But this one didn't, not at all. Maybe it's because it's written by women who are in my stage of life. Or because these women don't make motherhood angelic or messy or whiney, just real. I don't think I've ever been reading something about motherhood where I thought "I know exactly what she's talking about." I can often relate, but I've rarely found something where the author has had an experience just like one of my own until this afternoon. The essays here cover such a wide range of emotions and experiences and are so clearly written that I'd imagine many different women might find that perfect match too. I did have one quibble with the layout though. There were too many words crowded onto a page with the longer poems. Johnna Benson Cornett's "origami birds," for example, felt right, but her "no time" was packed onto one page and it was difficult to read. Anyway, this is all to say that this little book covers a huge range of experiences. It's by women who are there, right now, with little children. They don't blame, they don't give advice. It's simply a celebration of motherhood and the women who make it possible, despite everything that might make it seem impossible.
A Book for Every Mom
by Debra - reviewed on November 11, 2008
"The Mother in Me," a compilation of essays and poems written by various authors, exudes down-to-earth eloquence. Every essay, every poem is one-of-a-kind, reminding us that we as mothers do not have to be cookie-cutter copies of one another. What the authors share in common is a passion for motherhood and the willingness to tell it like it is. They also share a love of language and of story. I found myself rereading passages aloud because of the sheer beauty and force of the language. "The Mother in Me" contains something for every mom -- experiences you can relate to, inspiration you've been searching for, and solid encouragement to be your own kind of mom. Perhaps more than anything, this book serves as a powerful reminder that every mother's story matters, yours included. -- Debra Sansing Woods, author of "Mothering with Spiritual Power: Book of Mormon Inspirations for Raising a Righteous Family" and "It's Okay to Take a Nap: and Other Reassuring Truths for Mothers Everywhere."
by Mary - reviewed on July 07, 2009
Motherhood is complex, yet simple. It is exhausting, yet rewarding. It is heartbreaking, yet joyful. It is life changing and fulfilling. This collection of poems and essays will leave you full of the joys of mothering but understanding there are days of sorrow. Cry, laugh, nod in agreement, and be grateful you aren’t alone. These stories will bring that to the forefront. Anyone who has been a mother, who has yet to become one, who is in the throes of day to day parenting, or who has yearned for motherhood through the pain of infertility will find something with which to identify. Each story is individual, yet global; we can all see ourselves in some, if not most of the essays and poems. Kathryn Lyndard Soper brings them all together in a flowing fashion. The various authors are women in various stages of their lives who share with startling candour what motherhood is really like. Prepare to enjoy it from start to end.