This Thing Called Motherhood

Elizabeth Atalay essays

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I’ve become contemplative about motherhood this week as I send my oldest child off to school four states away from the home she grew up in. My mind has been reaching as far back as the moment I found out I was first pregnant—that mysterious realization that a tiny human was developing inside of me. I had been aware after just two weeks that my body was changing, although I know some women have no idea until much later into their pregnancy. 

I was amazed to learn this summer while on an international reporting trip to Ethiopia on newborn health, that most women there do not have access to pregnancy tests. With 80% of the population in rural areas, it makes sense. Only recently has the government began focusing on newborn health and implementing pre-natal care at the rural level by developing an army of trained healthcare workers to reach remote villages.

Focusing so much on helping babies to thrive in my work, coupled with sending off my teenaged daughter, has heightened my wonder that my baby has grown up. I think back to how carefully I nourished my body once I knew I was pregnant and the overwhelming wash of responsibility for this new little being. I remember thinking that the first trimester must be the most difficult point of motherhood because of the risk of miscarriage.

Of course that was only to discover that pregnancy really was just the very beginning of a life of worry as a mother. Each stage brought a new worry. Once I’d made it through the first trimester I hoped for a healthy baby, then a safe delivery. Then I kept that baby monitor close in fear of SIDS, and baby-proofed the heck out of our home when she started crawling. And so on, and so on up till this point, when now I realize that this may actually the hardest part of parenting.

I am marveling that I grew this human being inside of me, nourished her with my own body through pregnancy, breastfeeding through her first year of life, and loved her up all of these years to culminate in sending her off. 
I don’t like it. This moment when I am no longer the one there to protect her from life’s dangers. This moment of shipping her out into the world, trusting the universe to keep her safe, and hoping that she will have infinitely more good sense than I did at her age. That she avoids trouble not just by sheer dumb luck like her mother, but by handling herself in a responsible and sensible manner as we’ve coached. 

Is this what this thing called motherhood is all about? I suppose this is getting closer to the ultimate goal of seeing your children grow up into healthy, happy and self sufficient young adults. With this realization, I wish that all mothers in the world could have the opportunity to feel this way.


About the Author

Elizabeth Atalay

As a former documentarian and multi-media producer, Elizabeth tells stories and raises awareness for social good on . Her travels have taken her to more than 55 countries around the world, and she is currently working with to help them treat 2 million children a year for malnutrition around the world.

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