I recently participated in a panel for survivors of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (PPD/A) set up for social workers in training. One of the mothers on the panel described the facial paralysis she has experienced since her pregnancy as her “mark of motherhood.” Ever since, I’ve been thinking about what marks, visible and invisible, define motherhood for me and the mothers I know. Here’s a list of a few that I came up with.
The most obvious motherhood mark for me is one that only my husband, a few medical providers, and I ever see. My Cesarean scar is a tactile yet rarely visible reminder of one of the saddest and yet most joyful days of my life. Hidden under my clothing, it marks the doorway through which my first daughter Karys entered the world while I slept away under general anesthesia. It is a mark of disappointed expectations and grief as well as a mark of my dream of motherhood being realized.
Then there's the more visible mark: the set of worry lines that sits between my eyebrows. These “11s,” as I’ve heard them called, seem to deepen every day as my daughters grow up and make their way in the world. Whether I’m watching my 15 month old climb the swing set or listening as my eight year old navigates first crushes and playground bullies, I can feel my brow knitting as I try to decide when to help and guide and when to stay hands off. Left behind is the mark of worry that I recognize from my own mother’s face and her mother’s face…in fact these worries mark the face of most mothers I know.
My smile lines and crow’s feet are another example. My daughters bring me so much joy that I can’t help but smile and it shows at the corners of my eyes and the edges of my mouth. My younger daughter, Saryn, is at the stage where she will do anything for a laugh. From dropping my shoes in the bathtub to screaming “Dada” at the top of her lungs the moment she hears the front door open, she is more fun than a carful of clowns. My older daughter, Karys, is a rollicking contradiction between ever-growing maturity and “childishness” (a word to which she takes great offense). When she goes off to her room, I never know whether I will find her writing in her journal or dressing up in three different costumes and singing an original musical to an imagined audience.
Some marks of motherhood are more fleeting. I once had a black eye for two weeks because I fell flat on my face chasing two-year-old Karys who was running away from me toward the road. In my mind, she was heading straight into the path of a car, but my husband insists the street was quiet. I’ve had injuries inflicted by Saryn as well, like the searing scratch she left on my eyeball when she coupled pointing at my eye with learning the word “eye.” Stretchmarks have the word “marks” built right in, and whether they are bright blue or already fading to white, my stretchmarks provide lasting evidence that my body grew and reshaped itself to make room for my children.
Some days, my marks of motherhood are made by markers and paint, like the time on a snow day that three-year-old Karys and I decided to make our bodies our canvases. Some days, they are made in glitter when my daughters paint my nails or put on my makeup so I’ll look “fancy” for a date with their daddy.
Whether visible or invisible, these marks of motherhood are my treasures. They are reminders of the moments that have made me a mother and carried my children from dreams into the wonderful humans they are today. I do not dread the next marks, because I know they will represent all the wild and wonderful moments yet to come.
Kendra Atkins-Boyce is a mother, doula, and writer living in Oregon. She believes wholeheartedly in the beauty of birth, and in the comfort of family. She is always ready to support those who need her in any way she can, and you can find out more about her services here.