The fleeting highs and 'never-ending' lows are just a memory now.
Three years ago today was the last day I was pregnant.
I went into labor early in the morning, October 25, 2016, with my seventh child (sixth birth, since my oldest is adopted).
Laboring all day, I was attended by my husband, mom, and German midwife. It felt like the suffering would never end, as though she would never make it into this world.
But finally, my little girl, Saandriana, was born at home at 19:00 in a small village in Germany.
Today that little girl turns three.
We celebrated with our family of nine -- plus five visiting teen friends who are staying with us -- at our new home base in Georgia, USA. (We moved in about a month ago, after 12 years, 35+ countries, and five continents of nomadic globetrotting.)
How much has happened since the day of her birth...
When she was just six-weeks-old I took her to Morocco while my husband and I led a couples trip.
We rode camels in the Sahara and she was called, "Saandriana, Princess of the Desert!" by a Berber man as we were welcomed into his nomad tent.
She traveled with us (and our other six children) around Europe, to Central America, and then to the U.S. and Canada -- 17 countries in all by the time she was one-year-old.
There were so many wonderful moments. So many beautiful highs.
Walks through the German forests. Road trips through France, Italy, and Switzerland. Hikes on the moor. Sunsets over beautiful lakes. Sunny days at the beach.
Yet, too often, as I look back over my life, the lows, which feel like an eternity at the time, take up the biggest space in my memory.
Those dark, difficult moments seem to carry more weight, casting shadows over the more numerous happy times.
Being pregnant felt like it would never end. Being in labor felt like it would never end.
Sleepless nights, extreme exhaustion, and the endless neediness of little people felt like they would never end.
And when you feel like something will never end, it weighs on you heavier than a burden you only have to carry for a short while. This is also why it weighs heavier than the happy, carefree moments of life.
It's amazing what a mother gives to bring children into the world. Her entire body and soul are thrown into the work. Nothing is hers alone while she cares for her young children.
I think often of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gifts from the Sea:
"To be a woman is to have interest and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider's web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes.
How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives... The bearing, rearing, feeding, and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls -- women's normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life."
That is the problem. What is the answer?
Retirement or running away are not options. We cannot, nor should we, shed our responsibilities. We cannot keep free from life's weights.
The answer, as always, lies within. It starts with the realization that it will end.
Here I am, looking back on those years of bearing and birthing children as though they were a dream.
Of course, I'm not finished yet -- I don't mean the birthing babies part.
I mean there is still plenty of neediness and tears and sleepless nights with toddlers and teenagers. There are still plenty of 'shadows' ahead -- that's life.
Three years ago, I knew it would be my last pregnancy. My body was worn out from bearing babies. My abdominal wall was non-existent. My pregnancy was unbearable -- for me and for the rest of my family.
Today, three years later, with (almost) four teenagers and a baby that is three, every passing day and year brings me back to 'normal'.
It brings me closer to being 'just me' -- where I started, an individual woman. Is that a good thing?
It's a new normal, since I (my body, my mind, my emotions) will never be who or what they were before having children.
My body will never be the same. My heart will always be tied to theirs. And I will always be a mother, but each year they will need me less and less.
Today, I finally get to sleep through some nights. One day, I will sleep without interruption, missing their cuddles and kisses.
Today, I get to spend some time writing and reading and working on my own interests and passions. One day, I will work uninterrupted, hoping they will call.
Today, I have older children who share the burden of home-caring work. One day, they will be caring for me.
Today, I will give the shadows less weight and allow in more of the sunshine. Today, I will slow down and enjoy the beauty and divine perfection of each moment.
For I know that too soon it will pass by and be nothing more than far and distant dream.