Stronger Than We Know


tina osterhouse -stronger than we know-4

My only son turned 13 last month. I cried the better part of three days. A memory from his childhood would spring up before me, and tears would pool in a sea of nostalgia.

The year he was born, I was still young, more girl than woman. His older sister came only a month after trying to get pregnant–easy peasy. Pregnancy with Emma was lovely. A bit of gestational diabetes, terrible acid reflux and 25 pounds of pregnancy weight, but all in all, nothing major, and not a single stretch mark. After she arrived, my world lit up with joy. She slept six hours straight at three weeks old. She cried when she needed something and sat contented with herself the rest of the time.

She was five months old when I got pregnant with her brother.

My breasts had started to hurt in an awkward way. I was a nursing mom with a young baby. I didn’t know what to make of the breast pain. I called my doctor to complain and she suggested a preggo-test. I reassured her there was no possibility I could be pregnant. She laughed and asked if I was sexually active, and then told me to buy a pregnancy test. The stick, peed on at the wrong time of day, with diluted urine, turned positive in about the same amount of time it takes a traffic light to turn green. The one-off, no need for birth-control, I’m-sure-you-won’t-get-pregnant, resulted in pregnancy.

I stared at the blazing blue lines, and crumpled against the bathroom floor. Time stood still. I wasn’t ready for another baby. My bladder control hadn’t even returned. (Never has, actually. I still pee just a little every time I jump on a trampoline.) My tummy was still squishy. My breasts hurt and I needed them to feed the daughter I had, the daughter I planned for, the daughter I loved. I hadn’t slept properly in months. I was still getting used to one baby. My body wouldn’t know what to do with another pregnancy. It was not ready.

My body, even though exhausted, knew exactly what to do. My hip bones softened, my tummy grew, and the beloved acid-reflux returned with a vengeance. My back ached. Stretch marks appeared on the inside of my thighs, and the months passed, one by one.

Life is strange that way. Sometimes it comes because you’ve planned for it, organized for it, structured for it. And sometimes, life just comes. We are given one choice: embrace life with gratitude, or not.

Right before my son’s due date, I panicked. The pain from my daughter’s birth lingered, hovering over me like a poignant, visceral nightmare. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready to have those god-awful, painful contractions. The shaking. The nausea. The ring of fire. And the pushing. It is hard to push a baby out of your body. It takes strength. A strength I was certain I didn’t have. I didn’t have time to build up the reserve I needed. I had used every ounce of strength I possessed to push my daughter out. I had nothing left.

I was more weak than strong, more vulnerable than fierce, more fragile than resilient. I went to the hospital, worried, convinced I didn’t have what I needed to get this next baby out. He’d have to stay inside.

What I didn’t understand, because I was still young, was the stuff I was made of.

I am a woman. When those contractions came, I knew exactly what to do. I knew how to bring forth life. I found my breathing, one contraction at a time. I discovered my concentration, my focus against the sound of my best friend reading the Psalms all around me. I paced and paused. I groaned and shook. I centered down into the core of my being.

When the time came, I drew forth from the deep reserve of strength I never knew I had, the strength that dwells underneath. I gathered my legs into my arms, leaned forward, tucked my chin to my chest, and bore down with a mighty roar.

Life emerged. Small and bloody, perfectly formed from head to toe.

Everything I needed to know about life was wrapped up in those two pregnancies. Sometimes, you plan for it, and it’s brilliant. It’s gorgeous and tender, quiet and serene. And sometimes life comes upon you, and it’s overwhelming and unexpected, and that is brilliant, too.

How we handle the stuff that is thrust upon us is what ushers us into our womanhood. Women bend and let their bodies guide them.

Women yield to life.

Now my son is 13, still boy-becoming-man. The soft pads of his hands that clung to me as a toddler, cling less. The joy I had no vision for when I saw that positive pregnancy test, is tender and lush and so poignant. The love I was convinced I needed to plan and prepare my heart for, sprang up and out and took up residence inside me like an oak tree.

Just as my body knew how to yield to life, and make room, so did my heart. My children became my deepest joy, my most fierce reality, and the greatest honor of my life.

I realize there are several, nay hundreds of ways a girl has the potential to become a woman. A woman need not give birth to her own child in order to become a woman. That was my way. Becoming a woman has to do with life and choosing to embrace its strength and its powerful pull.

It has something to do with yielding and surrender, but also with love. Women can love with great generosity of heart, not only the things they planned for, but also the gifts they did not.

Wherever you are on your own road to womanhood, remember this: when the contractions come, if you yield to them, your body knows exactly what to do.

So does your heart.