My mother often used to say, “the umbilical cord is never cut.” As a teenager, I never liked that remark, because I took it to mean I’d be tied to my mom forever and could never be free. When she said that, she often followed her remark with, “just you wait.” I’d cringe and then stomp, or sulk, away, and wish I had some serious space from my mother.
I know now what she meant was a mother doesn’t stop feeling her baby inside of her. I don’t mean the latter literally. I don’t actually still feel those first tiny bubbly movements like a minnow in my womb, a human glass of champagne kind of feeling, nor do I feel those foot pushes against my spine that made me uncomfortable for two straight months of my pregnancy, nor do I feel those sweet little hiccups, where I called to my husband to “come feel this” and we laughed together as we placed both our hands on the underside of my big belly where our daughter worked on strengthening her diaphragm.
What that phrase means to me is that when my child is gone from my sight, I still feel her connection to me, viscerally if not literally. And though the phrase refers to the umbilical cord, I imagine many moms of adopted children feel the same way about their own kids. I imagine many of us, when separated from our children, feel their absence, and feel loss and longing at the same time.
My time now is spent in full-time motherhood, and most days I love it. I love watching my daughter grow, learn, laugh, be excited about new things (especially when meeting a new friend or learning a new skill like jumping up with both feet). I feel grateful I have this opportunity to be here for her. Yet, I’m not gushy or over-sentimental about this short time of getting to be a full-time mom. Many days I can’t believe my main identity is now “picker upper of many small toys,” or “swing pusher,” or worst of all, “time-out monster.” I daydream all the time about doing other, more glamorous or lucrative, or, even, dangerous things.
And most days, all I really want is to shower by myself without worrying what she’s getting into while I’m in the bathroom – my daughter is not the type to go play quietly and neatly in a corner while I bathe, and I don’t believe those kind of children exist. But the other day when my husband happened to be home in the morning and I told him the night before (yes, I have to schedule a private shower) I really wanted to take a shower without having to worry about what was going on in the living room or, worse yet, put my daughter in there with me like I used to do only a few months ago because she’d scream the whole time I was in there even if her dad was watching her, and even though I took that shower with the water scalding hot, and soap dripping all over me without worrying it would get into my daughter’s eyes, even though I had enough space to shave my armpits, and I didn’t once have to stick my head out of the curtain to listen for screaming or crying or general mayhem, I missed her. I actually missed her sitting in the tub between my legs, the water running down her feathery hair. I missed her looking up at me with her wet eyelashes like starpoints all stuck together. I even missed her saying “mommy pick me up,” and then rocking with her as the tepid water ran over us both. That old cord is powerful and baffling.
Today is not one of those days of loving full time motherhood. My duaghter woke up too early, right as I sat down to write, and she has been whining much of the day. I couldn’t wait for her naptime just so I could write for a few minutes and then, maybe, run off to pick up toys in peace, or actually cook something toward a healthy meal for dinner. But in the same moment I am finally breathing and relaxing for the first time since seven this morning, I miss my daughter, I feel her absence. I understand what my mom meant all those years ago.
While I was pregnant, another wise woman, now a grandmother herself, said to me, “just enjoy being pregnant because it’s the only time you’ll know where your baby is and what she’s doing.” There's truth in that statement, too. Once we are mothers, there’s no going back: there is no freedom or space. There is a lot of longing and loss and worry. But there is also connection and love and nourishment from the inside out. What blessings those mysterious umbilical cords are.