The midwife’s wisdom
She said it loud and clear as she paced the shiny white hospital floor, her solid black shoes tapping an inarguable beat: ‘Women are competitive, and scared. They all think they should be further along than they are.’
The room of new mothers nodded quiet, stunned into silence by the simultaneous exhilaration and exhaustion that came from having only given birth mere hours or days earlier.
I sat with my notebook out, so I could avoid making eye-contact with this midwife who both inspired and intimidated me. N was famous on the maternity ward where I had just delivered my third baby, J. This was the third time I’d spent time in her presence, and the first time I wasn’t literally quaking in my dressing gown, scared she’d look my way. She pulled no punches, and her infamous Going home talk, delivered to nervous parents about to leave the insulated cocoon of the maternity ward and venture into the big-wide-world with fresh, fragile offspring in hand, was no exception.
But her words, delivered forcefully, came with a forceful truth:
We mothers, we women, have a tendency to be our own worst enemies. We’d never expect it of each other, but we expect it of ourselves. We expect ourselves to be perfect.
And then she said the line that sticks with me. She was encouraging us to tap into support networks and get all the help we could on the homefront. She told us, as soon as we got home, to put in a phonecall to the Community health centre to register our names on their books, to make sure we had access to nurses and professionals who could stand alongside us as we attempted to stand. But like everything else N said, she chose punchy over polite. We were to introduce our tender selves with honesty over bravery:
Hello, my name is Nikki. I’m a new mum. And I’m a mess.
I’ve said it before, and I still think it’s true. The newborn season is a time of extremes. There is nothing quite like having a tiny, entirely dependent human being (prone to wailing at all hours of the day and night) entirely in your care, to make you nervous.
But the newborn-zone is just an amplification of what we all experience in this life. Life is fragile, unstable, both joyful and wail-able. And we all need to hear it. Perhaps we women most of all. Put another way by a wise mentor and confidante of mine:
It’s okay not to be perfect
It’s the anthem of the recovered Anxiety sufferer. It’s okay to be just okay. If anxiety has taught me anything, it has taught me this. Perfection is an illusion. Perfection only exists in one place. With the creator. God alone. Jesus walking on earth and dying in our place. Here is perfection. Taking the weight of all the world’s imperfection on his shoulders and damning it to the grave.
Humanity, well, on our own, we are imperfect to the bone.
So why do we women expect so much more of ourselves than we are required to give?
At our best we are a sisterhood, encouraging and hearing one another, putting wind in one another’s sails by sharing our souls.
Where we fall down is when we pull ourselves down, comparing ourselves to one another.
We mothers know it well. We set the perfection bar high and watch as we fall flat on our faces, and as we feel ourselves tumble we look sideways and think: How come she has it all together? Why can’t I be a better mother, a better wife, a better woman. Like her?
And in doing so, rather than seeing reality, we see life through the lens of our own self-scrutiny.
I know because I’ve done it so many times.
Anxiety has amplified for me what I think is a fairly normal experience. We always think we are worse off than the woman next to us.
But the truth is, we aren’t.
Not one of us is perfect. Not even one. The good Word tells me so.
We aren’t called to accept stagnation. That’s true. We are called to grow. In the fruits of the spirit, in the immeasurable, incomparable qualities of love. But we aren’t called to do it on our own. Nor to track our own progress on a miserly chart that always leans to zero. And definitely not in comparison to others.
Jesus loved us. He died for us. He was and is PERFECT for us. And so, when we pray, we can say this:
My name is Nikki. Here I am, and I’m a mess.
Tidy me up if you will, but your way, not mine.
In your time, not mine.
Led by your priorities, not mine.
In your perfect freedom alone.
And in so doing we can take our fragile selves out into the world, confident of his care, over and above our despair.