It’s Anna McGahan’s first Mother’s Day and in this beautiful blog, she reflects on the holy joy and suffering love that unites mothers around the world.
I’ve made up my mind
Until the darkness disappears and the dawn has fully come,
In spite of shadows and fears,
I will go to the mountaintop with you –
The mountain of suffering love
And the hill of burning incense.
- The Shulamite Bride, Song of Songs 4:6 (The Passion Translation)
This is my first Mother’s Day. It doesn’t feel like a Hallmark celebration worthy of whatever burnt toast and hand-drawn cards I brought my mother in bed, however many years ago. It’s more of a quiet initiation. Where I previously felt left out of a holy circle, I am now considered part of it.
And yes, it is holy. I am feeding my three-month old from my own body, as I type this with one hand, and to do so is an honour. It is visceral, spiritual and consuming work, raising this daughter. It is a change nobody could prepare me for.
But I wonder now if motherhood is not something I finally see, when before I was blind, but rather an intrinsic capacity of my womanhood. If perhaps I was always a mother, and the birth of my child has revealed it all the more.
I pose the question, not knowing the answer, but as I listen to the stories of the women around me - my friends, family members, and the strangers in my mother’s group - I am struck by the remarkable theme that connects them all: the journey of a mother is one of suffering love.
It is the nature of God, too, of course – the most tender of mothers and gifted of nurturers. To love is to labour, and to labour is to break through the threshold of pain to deliver new life.
I see the labour and suffering of the mother-heart in my friends that have given birth, and those yet to give birth. I see it in those yet to conceive, and those that possibly never will. Women of all ages and backgrounds, some with ten children and others with none, driven by their primal, extraordinary motherhood.
Though so often tired, these mothers walk in peace. They claim their joy. Their bodies and hearts are given over to the growth and comfort of those that need them, and their eyes have moved off their own desires, towards service, endurance, and simplicity.
I see the mother-heart in men, too. I see it in people serving their communities, workplaces and families with that spirit. They feed others, teach others, ask others how they are. It is the very spirit that inspires creativity, empathy, healing and comfort. It is the open arms in the circle of security, welcoming the wandering child home.
My labour was different to the labours of most other women I speak to. I did not have contractions, and crowning. My labour was a month of twice-daily visits to the NICU, to deliver milk and desperate affection to my premature baby. It was watching her suffer, and slowly heal, through my own gasping sobs and tired bones. Enduring it, because I was her mother. It was suffering love, and it - along with extraordinary medical interventions - brought my child home healthy. I can now pair my pain with the deep joy I receive from the labour of motherhood. My daughter’s smile gifts me a surge of oxytocin at the end of a long and sleepless night.
The truth is, motherhood is miraculous – but it is also perilous. Metaphors aside, the process of birth is unfortunately very close to death.
Every day, over 800 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, and 7000 newborns die at less than one month of age .
Today. Tomorrow. On Mother’s Day.
That is 300,000 women, and 2.6 million newborns per year.
Almost all of these deaths are in developing regions.
Almost all of these deaths are preventable.
The path to motherhood discriminates. The countries we abide in determine our trajectories. The life-time risk of maternal death for me is 1/3300. For a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa, it is 1/36. Babies born in the highest-income countries are fifty times less likely to die in the first month of life than the babies born in the lowest-income countries.
I am acutely aware that had I experienced my complicated premature birth in one of these developing regions, both my daughter and I would not have survived. My luck and privilege at being born an Australian, with access to a world-class public health system, saved our lives.
My heart breaks for the mothers that do not walk in such privilege. The women and babies that are suffering instead from a lack of resources, hygiene, trained medical professionals and medication. Those who are now without their mothers or without their children, due to entirely preventable deaths.
This Mother’s Day, we will partner with those around us in celebrating our own mothers, the powerful female body and the spirit of motherhood so present in our communities. We will acknowledge and thank those around us for their suffering love.
I pray that as we rejoice in mothers everywhere, that we are reminded of those women currently preparing their bodies and children for an unknown future, and that we can shoulder the burden of their circumstances.
I pray we can equip ourselves to be part of the change.
I pray for deliverance and healing for these women, for aid, medical intervention and education.
And I pray that we are all touched by the deep compassion and justice that can only come from the mother-heart of God.