A picture for Mother's Day by Johanna Benthal (May 11, 2019)

The greatest career of my life was launched from the bathroom when I peed on a stick and that little pink line got darker and darker before my eyes. My first born, a son, became my CEO for the first nine months by his very existence within the silence of my womb.

I remember the day of the discovery well — the ecstatic feelings of joy and tumultuous emotions, in part prompted by shifting hormones. I couldn’t stop talking to and touching my stomach. Those first flutters when I felt my son moving inside my womb made those five months of morning sickness well worth it. Long before I held him in my arms, my vocation of motherhood was born.

As any mom knows, the joys of motherhood are always tinged with grief. My son was born in an emergency c-section that almost claimed my life. Thirty-two years later, I still lovingly remind him of this fact. My husband’s joy in first holding our son in his arms was also overshadowed by concerns as he watched doctors and nurses scurry beside me to stop the bleeding.

Three days later, and only hours after he settled his new little family into our apartment, my husband struggled to tell me the news that one of my older sisters was killed in a tragic car accident as a drunk driver hit her and her adolescent son. In the final moments of her motherhood, my sister protected her son as she shoved his body into the safety of the floor of the front seat to reduce the impact of the crash.

In the quiet darkness of that same night, as I sat in bed nursing my infant son that still small voice of God spoke a prophetic word into my motherhood that has carried me through the past 32 years: “I gave you this child as a sign; I bring new life in the midst of death.”

This deeper truth has guided me through even the smaller joys and sorrows of motherhood. It also reminded me that every milestone and period of growth in my four children was preceded by struggle and every trial held the potential for greater things.

As any mom knows, kids enlarge our hearts even as they break them. They don’t mean to break our hearts. But the constant balance of holding them close and letting them go is part of the sweet perils of motherhood.

The strength of motherhood lies in our ability to grasp and let go of our children. We protect them from evil and step aside so life can teach them how to stand on our their own and weather the storms.

“Supermom” is not a title I ever aspired to, but she is the perfect image that haunts every mom. Every mom is a super mother as defined by the looks of admiration in their child’s eyes. We are the miraculous vessels and co-creators of human life. Whether they share our DNA or not, our children are our greatest works and gifts to the world.

The best moms know motherhood can’t be done alone and the worst moms are the ones who think they can. Each generation has its models of motherhood born of a mix of moral and cultural norms idealized in movies, television and now on social media too.

There is one model of motherhood which you won’t see extolled on the gilded pages of Hallmark cards or in thumbing through your favorite home and garden magazine.

Her face is rarely polished with perfect make-up and her nails are often broken and chipped from washing them so much to ensure adequate infection control. She is sometimes dressed like the advocate she has become — put together like a professional ready to sit at the table to discuss research protocols with the finest minds in medical fields. But she is often in comfy clothes which can be changed easily when soiled by her child’s bodily fluids, including blood.

She has mapped her child’s veins in her mind and she knows which ones are easiest to puncture for blood tests and IVs. This knowledge was born from hours of holding a baby and child steady in her arms while countless nurses take a stab.

She’s learned how to contort her body in ways that yoga gurus not accustomed to this life could never grasp. The contortions were learned while nursing an infant or comforting a sobbing child while balancing feeding tubes, wires, and lines coming from their heads, hearts and limbs.

She’s learned more medical terminology, how to read a scan and interpret blood work and vital signs than most people would ever want to know in a lifetime. Her experience far outweighs the tested knowledge of medical residents and new doctors who keep getting younger with every year past her child’s diagnosis. But she treats these young doctors with respect as she patiently tutors them in the fine art of maternal intuition in hopes that someday they will be the one to find the cure for her child’s rare disease.

The knowledge gained in the early years of advocating for child’s medical needs spills over into every area of life as she spends countless hours at the special education meetings and therapeutic exams. It’s always a battle — but she does so with grace — balancing kindness with cunning to be sure her child gets the support they need.

And while other moms enjoy shorter seasons of motherhood, as their children move from complete dependence to independence, these moms must balance the contradiction between chronological age and cognitive abilities.

Our children’s steps towards independence can’t be plotted on a curve, but rather forged on the unpaved road of endless possibilities.

The lines on her face tell a story of motherhood that only a few can tell. Her cheeks are often tear-streaked as her sobs are silenced by the pillow she cries into in the dark of night. In her, gratitude runs deep because she has learned the blessings that come through the biggest storms, the wisdom that is born of trials.

And she’s witnessed countless miracles along the way.

Her wisdom pales in comparison with her strengths. Her lioness courage was forged in the face of paralyzing fear. Each time she has to make a choice; advocating for her child’s life spurs her to leap from fear to faith.

We despise the words of consolation from the lips of outside observers who kindly try to encourage us with their phrases like “God never gives you more than you can handle” because we know it’s just not true.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 22 years of raising a child with a rare disease, it’s that I am often in over my head — whether the Lord allowed it or not. I have learned this Godly truth:

“When you are tested, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

Some days the way out is another hand to help, a cup of coffee or a home-made dinner from a friend. Our escapes are as varied as each mom — with one thing in common — we all need space to breathe.

Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. To all mothers far and near, be kind to yourselves and gentle for it truly is the hand that rocks the cradle who has the greatest impact on this earth.

And to my fellow “medical mamas” the ones I know and the ones whose eyes I meet while walking through the hospital halls — I wish you endless strength today.

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