I wrote the following essay in loving memory of my cousin,
Joyce Morgan Riding,
November 5, 1981 - September 28, 2007.
We miss you Joyce. Happy Mother's Day!
The Gift of Motherhood
I can’t remember the exact moment I first started to feel like a mother. Was it when my pregnant body began to expand and contort? Was it the morning I watched the sun rise with a fussy baby in my arms? Or did it come later? Is motherhood thrust upon us in all the small, lovely and traumatic instances of fierce hugs, throw up on the carpet, or your teenage daughter gently suggesting you seek fashion advice from one of the more stylish moms before buying her anymore clothes?
A friend recently mentioned that she keeps waking in the night to find little feet kicking her in the face. She wasn’t complaining so much as describing the reality of motherhood and I nodded, understanding exactly what she meant. As mothers we’re never really alone because that child, no matter how old, will always be there. Not necessarily crowding us out of bed, but certainly they inhabit our very purpose, tangible reminders of what is most precious and painful.
My cousin Joyce was diagnosed with lung cancer when she was twenty-three years old, right as her life’s red carpet was beginning to unroll. She was happily married. Her husband had been accepted into medical school. And more than anything she wanted to have a baby. Of course the cancer diagnosis tossed these carefully laid plans to the wayside, paving the way for what would become an uphill battle. Then one day a doctor walked into her hospital room and said, I don’t know how this is possible, Joyce, but you’re pregnant.
In the months that followed a poisonous battle took place beneath the smooth porcelain of Joyce’s skin as the chemotherapy wrestled against the cancer cells. But there was one place the conflict never reached. Deep inside Joyce’s womb grew a perfect, beautiful little boy who would be born with a silent clock ticking. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Joyce wept every time she felt the baby move, and again when she saw the crib all set up for him. She wrote in her journal, I woke up around one am and could feel the baby. I kind of felt like it was a gift while at the same time I sobbed in fear. I want so badly to be able to have this baby and to be here and be his mother.
After Joyce’s funeral I lay in my darkened bedroom remembering the photograph of her frail body with its small pregnant bump. Although she was bald and her face had sharpened into gaunt, tired lines you could see the determination propping her up like an invisible infrastructure. I’ll never forget that image because in my mind that’s exactly what motherhood looks like. It strips us down, forcing us to acknowledge what is fleeting and essential. At times we all feel afraid and overwhelmed. Much of our experience as mothers will feel out of our control and yet Joyce’s example has always had a steadying effect on me. There isn’t a moment to lose, her memory urges. Love your child with all you’ve got for as long as you can because it’s the most important thing you will do. Motherhood is your most precious gift.