Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Literary Reflections Selected Short

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In April, we asked the question:

"Before children, what fantasies did you construct about childbirth and parenting? How did you come to terms with the disparity between your dreams and reality?"

This month, we have two exquisite submissions. Look for the second essay next week.

Ellen Painter Dollar wrote:

Even before my husband and I conceived the first of three children, I understood on some level that motherhood would bring about my body's redemption. My body was fragile, broken, scarred. I was born with a genetic bone disorder that led to three dozen fractures, a dozen surgeries, and a bunch of deformities. My body had failed me in so many ways. But I sensed that in pregnancy and birth, it would not fail. I assumed we would conceive easily and that I -- with so much experience handling severe pain and an appreciation for the body's wondrous capabilities that only comes from brutal experience with its limitations -- would push my baby out of my own body with my own might.

We did conceive easily, but beyond that, my body failed to perform as anticipated. My first daughter was breech, and my fragility combined with the 50 percent chance that she too would have fragile bones meant that an external version was out of the question. She was born via planned c-section.

I made a point of telling people that the c-section was because she was breech, not because of my bone disorder, because I wanted them to understand that my body could birth a baby. I planned a VBAC with my second pregnancy. At the end of my textbook labor, a resident discovered what my doctor had failed to even look for: This baby, too, was breech. Back into the operating room I went. My third baby managed to get himself into the correct head-down position, but it was too late. After two c-sections, a third was a no-brainer. Honestly, I didn't even care any more.

By that time, I understood that childbearing had redeemed my broken body. My body carried and nurtured three new human beings. That they were cut out of me rather than pushed out just doesn't matter.

I still read birth stories sometimes, even though my childbearing days are over. I share with home-birth and natural-birth advocates a frustration with over-medicalized birth and too-frequent inductions and c-sections. But I also roll my eyes at those who, in advocating for less medical intervention in birth, claim that women can "trust their bodies." Don't they know, I wonder, that bodies are not really worthy of one's trust?

I recently came across one theologian's description of people without any obvious illness or disability as being "temporarily able-bodied." There is such truth in that. All bodies break, all bodies fail. The power of childbearing does not lie in our bodies' ability to do exactly what we want and expect them to. My body has never done exactly what I wanted and expected it to, especially when it came time to birth my babies. The power of childbearing, rather, lies in our bodies' ability to bring forth something exquisite, miraculous, and imperfect (as all human beings are) from its own exquisite, miraculous, and imperfect depths.

Ellen Painter Dollar can be reached at 5dollars(at)comcast(dot)net.


Merle Huerta, an army chaplain’s wife, is the mother of a blended family of thirteen children. During her husband’s combat deployments, she co-authored articles appearing in the Jerusalem Post and National Review. She has a Master�s from Columbia University in Instructional Media and Technology and a Certificate in Nonfiction from The Writers Institute at CUNY. She lives at the U.S. Military Academy in New York. “Tuesday Mornings” is her first solo publication.


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Exquisite indeed. This piece goes right to the heart of what bothers me so much about the natural/homebirth movement: an intense, narrow focus on the 12-36 hours during which our bodies actually give birth (and the pass/fail grade that accompanies the process) but utter disregard for the 9 month miracle that leads up to labor and delivery and the gift of motherhood that follows it.
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