Tell us about your background, and who you are.
I am a second generation American (granddaughter of Cuban immigrants). I am an attorney, but I decided to stay at home with my children instead of working outside the home as an attorney. My husband is also an attorney and we have six children, ages 7 and under, five girls and one baby boy. I juggle caring for small children and homeschooling with medical appointments and therapies for my fifth child, who happens to have Down syndrome.
What do you find most fulfilling and most challenging about motherhood?
I find it incredible and awe inspiring to be tasked with the formation and care of brand new human beings. We have the opportunity to escape our jaded adult perspectives and explore the wonders of the world around us through the eyes of our children. We get to marvel at our babies, who are such wonderful beings that you would have to be stone-hearted indeed to be in the same vicinity as a content baby and not be compelled to stop and smile at her. At no other age is this true.
But at the same time, motherhood can squeeze you dry and leave you feeling like you have nothing left to give. We are on call all hours of the day and night, and our vocation permits neither rest for the weary nor sick days. Whenever I do force myself to rest or indulge in some self care, I always have the nagging guilt that I should instead be still doggedly caring for my children. But I remind myself that you cannot pour from an empty cup.
My fifth child was born with a severe heart defect called a complete AV Canal. She would not survive infancy without open heart surgery to repair her tiny broken heart. I will never forget the day I walked toward those giant sterile metal doors leading to the operating room, escorted by a team of nurses, my husband by my side, cradling the tiny form of my four month old baby clothed only in her diaper and wrapped in the warmest blanket I could find. She was sleeping sweetly and nuzzled close to my chest. It took every ounce of my willpower to hand her small, limp form over to the anesthesiologist when what I really wanted to do was clutch her desperately to me and run the other way. I kissed her forehead, tears streaming down my face as I watched the anesthesiologist disappear with my baby behind the double doors. In sharp relief, this is the essence of motherhood. What we as mothers instinctively want is to keep our children safe from all harm and safe from all suffering always and forever. But we cannot. They will inevitably have to weather storms. Some much sooner than we had hoped. All we can do instead is to be their safe harbor to return to. Now, the sight of my baby girl running toward me with her arms outstretched is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Something I never would have seen if I hadn’t handed her off to that anesthesiologist almost two years ago.
How have you incorporated motherhood into your identity, and how have you kept your identity as a mother?
“I yam what I yam,” as Popeye would say. Motherhood has not changed my personality, but it has certainly changed my perspective. I need to be a good mother for my children, and I use that as my driving force to constantly strive to be a better person. I believe that this crucible of motherhood can transform me into something more beautiful, if I could only learn to surrender to it and allow it to do so.
Trust me, flighty, self centered, childless Sylvia was a silly ass.
What advice would you give women who are desiring or seeking motherhood?
I think the most important thing to know before becoming a mother is that the sooner you abandon the illusion of complete control over everything, the better. Childbearing is a very mysterious thing. We go into it assuming that we will only have children exactly when we want to have them, and each child will turn out to be exactly how we picture him or her. And I feel like these expectations cause anguish when we end up struggling with infertility, or hyper fertility, or surprise pregnancies, or children with health or other issues, or even daughters when we expected sons and vice versa. So if you go into motherhood with zero expectations, every child becomes a marvelous gift. I had to learn that the hard way. Don’t be me. I struggled with recurrent miscarriages when we were trying to become parents, unexpected pregnancies in quick succession when I could have really used a break, and a child with Down syndrome who had a severe heart defect when I had blithely assumed that all of my children would be healthy and typical. And every time I shook my fist at the heavens and wailed that I was Fortune’s Fool. Perhaps I am. But the tapestry that became my life and my family turned out to be so much more intricate and splendid than I would have ever imagined. Anything I would have come up with if I had had complete control over how and to whom I had become a mother would have been so dull and banal in comparison.