I believe in the tribe of motherhood. Before my husband Jeff and I had our daughter, Delilah, I knew that being a mother would change my life—I just didn’t know how. When I became pregnant in my late 30s I became part of this tribe. People looked at me differently, treated me differently, and women smiled a knowing smile as they looked at my round belly growing each day. I was out with a friend one morning and she remarked as another pregnant woman walked by, “There’s one of your tribe,” and sort of chuckled. Three years later I know now how powerful that moment was.
For years I have worked in early childhood, talked with parents about their children, and taught college students how to interact with parents as they become teachers and special educators. When I was a classroom teacher one of the first questions parents would ask me was, “Do you have children?” I always felt so self-conscious saying, “No.” But what other answer was there? I didn’t. Now that Delilah is here, I fully understand why they asked and why my answer was so unsatisfying to them. It’s not that I believe people who don’t have children have nothing to offer me as a parent, it’s that I know that there is a level of understanding—of compassion, of pain, of knowing that they do not have; that I did not have when I was a teacher advising parents or telling them that I knew how they felt.
As a mother I find that I can connect with women who are mothers on a different level now. One of my students was in a serious car accident last semester that landed her in the ICU for weeks; and while my first thoughts were of her, I quickly jumped to how her mother must feel. I was not prepared for the pain and level of empathy I experienced. In a similar way, I feel connected to my ancestors, including my own mother of course, in a way that I never would have been had I not had a child. As I sat holding Lilah in the middle of the night rocking gently, during her first winter here in Western NY where snow is abundant, my mind would wander to my great grandmother; “What did she think about in the middle of the night as she sat rocking my grandmother during the winter in the mountains of Georgia…with no phone, no electricity and no neighbors near by.
Children teach us things about ourselves whether we want to learn them or not. I’m convinced that’s part of their role. They connect us to our ancestors, our spouses, our families in ways we could not imagine before they existed. To me—that’s what being in a tribe is all about—being connected. I believe that motherhood is a tribe that we become a part of—whether intentionally or unintentionally—but once we’ve joined, our perspective changes forever.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.