Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Karush: Becoming Mother

A dear friend had her first baby a few weeks ago, and her struggles - with nursing, sleeping, soothing, and accepting the upheaval that signifies life with a newborn - have left me wondering if the first baby is a shock for every parent.

I imagine not. Folks who grew up with a lot of younger siblings must be familiar with a newborn’s pterodactyl-like cries, with the forensic science of diaper inspection to figure out why the baby’s crying, with the basics of loud shushing and tight swaddling. For them, babies are downright normal.

I had no such baby-training, and the birth and early infancy of my sweet boy nearly two years ago shattered me. The power of childbirth comes with a vulnerability and openness so profound that there are no metaphors to contain the experience. Despite all my reading and classes, I was still unprepared.

Out of that elevation and wreckage of self came a tiny, unfinished creature, as much amphibian as person, whose needs trumped and boggled my own. With my soul scraping against exhaustion and fear, I learned how to dress him and nurse him and burp him. In stunned love, I cupped my hand over his forehead and cheek, smoothing back the last fuzz of the otherworld on my baby’s skin.

The work never ended. Even at its most rewarding, becoming a mother was very, very hard.

I assure my friend that the gritty, precious time of infancy will pass. Soon enough, she will be coaxing a bellowing toddler out of cupboards and into baths. She won't just have a baby then. She'll have a son.

This stage involves less panic and more sleep, but it still isn't easy. Being a mother, I am finding, also means trying to live a better life.

My boy is fully in this world; having been created, he is becoming a creator, one block by truck by toy drum at a time.

Now that I can keep him fed, clothed, cuddled, and cleaned, one of the best things I can do for the little guy with the apricot-colored hair is to strive to be a person who persists after rejection; who reaches beyond the sphere of her mind to comfort and uplift others when she can; who dares to do the work she dreams of; who has a robust savings account and doesn't eat too much sugar. A person who is brave.

And this is just as hard as learning to care for a newborn. It's slow work with subtle reward, buffeted by failure and distraction. But I hope that my striving will help my son build his own strong life. I hope my example will give him courage, and faith that even when he hits the rough shocks that knock him loose, he’ll survive, his whole being broken open into love. That’s the kind of mother I want to be.

Becky Karush is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in biography and rural New England history.
Latest Stories