When Mel and I first decided to have children, I didn’t think much about how brave she was. I’d read stories of how childbirth can be complicated. I’d seen movies that had made the act of giving birth look very comical, with a mother saying things like “You did this to me!” and a father being sent to boil water. But it wasn’t until I was in the delivery room, watching it all happen, that I realized how gritty childbirth actually is.
Before my wife’s C-section, I’d seen some really grotesque horror films — movies showing people cut up, or chewed up, or torn apart. I watched them with friends while eating pizza and drinking soda. None of it affected me much. But nothing prepared me for my wife’s C-section.
Reaching from a gaping hole in my beautiful wife’s stomach was the head and right arm of a bloody, powder white, childlike creature. Something reddish white and veiny was wrapped around his neck and shoulder that seemed unnatural, but thinking back it must have been the umbilical cord.
The actual act of birth — the moment of — was hands down, the most frightening thing I’d ever seen.
My knees went weak.
I sat down.
Mel looked up at me from the delivery table and said, “You look white. Are you okay?”
“Are you okay?” I asked. “You don’t want to know what they’re doing to you.”
Once it was all said and done — once I was holding our son, after he was cleaned up, and Mel was stitched and bandaged, and all our family had left — I can remember looking at Mel and realizing just how brave she was. I don’t know if she knew much more than I did about the reality of childbirth, but what I can say is that she handled it with strength and austerity that I know I’m not capable of.
Honestly, I would have cried, and not emotional tears of joy, but tears of fear and pain and frustration. And I can say that I never would’ve had another child.
But not Mel. She went on to have two more children, knowing full well what the doctor was going to do to her body and how long the recovery would last.
And that was just the beginning.
In the nine years since having our first son, I’ve watched my wife breastfeed in public despite nasty looks. I’ve seen her lock eyes with some hater across the room and stare them down while cradling a latched-on baby.
Four years ago, she went back to college because it would be good for our family financially, and to set a good example for our children. Then I watched her manage to juggle children and schoolwork with grace and determination, despite being the only 30-something mother of three in a traditional college classroom.
I’ve watched her dart into streets and parking lots to catch a runaway toddler. I’ve sat next to her as she’s looked teachers and doctors in the eyes, and asked them critical and directed questions about the education and health of our children, never backing down until she felt comfortable with their answers. And if she didn’t feel comfortable, she found another option.
I’ve had her turn on me when she felt I was doing something unsafe, or unhealthy, or flat-out asinine, as a father and question my motives and goals with a white-hot heat that is both terrifying and admirable.
Mel isn’t a particularly large woman. In fact, she only stands about 5 feet 2 inches tall. She’s petite and soft-spoken, with a subtle and quick wit. She’s not domineering, and she’s definitely no Marvel hero. Without observing her closely, I think it would be easy to overlook just how brave she is.
I believe most mothers are like this. I think a lot of people assume that the bravery of a mother is just something that mothers are supposed to do because it’s been happening for so long. There is something inside a mother, some spark from God, or genetics, that makes them bring a baby into this world regardless of the pain and torment of their own body, and then do everything possible to make sure they turn out healthy, happy, and intelligent.
Each one of our children has come via C-section. Across Mel’s abdomen is a lengthy scar; it’s deep and pink. It’s larger than any scar I have, or probably ever will have. And even if I do get a scar that equals hers, it will never signify nearly as much importance, because it will have to do with my survival alone and not the creation of life.
Her scar shows the first step in her dedication and determination to our family. It’s evidence of her willingness to do whatever it takes to bring our children into the world — a boy and two girls who fill my life with more joy than I ever thought possible. And every time I see it, I am filled with a swell of admiration for how brave my wife is. I am reminded of her willingness to go through the physical torment of childbirth three times and everything that comes after, and all the brave acts she does every day for our children.
The fact is my wife is brave. Incredibly brave.
Mothers are inherently brave.
A mother will jump in front of a moving truck to save her children. Mothers will jump into shark-infested waters or leap from a plane to save their child. But the bravery of motherhood doesn’t always look like some TV-worthy heroic act. It looks like multiple childbirths and recoveries, followed by endless hours of arguing with a child until they understand basic hygiene, how to stand up for themselves, how to sit down and learn, and how to seek respect from others rather than attention. It looks like pure love and dedication to their children. It looks like gazing at the father of their children and telling them to step it up — and when some of those fathers don’t (because sadly they don’t always), pulling their parental weight as well as their own.
But just because the bravery of a mother is subtle, or expected, doesn’t mean that what a mother does isn’t brave. It is very brave, and it should be noticed, because without my wife’s bravery, I wouldn’t be a father, and my children wouldn’t be growing into remarkable adults.
So here’s what I want you all to do: I want you to acknowledge the bravery of the mothers in your lives, to respect it, and every once in a while, comment on it. Because it is, without a doubt, something to be admired.