Twice, I’ve been without air, and felt myself flailing. Twice I’ve wondered if I’d catch my breath and I considered what might happen if I could not.

On a family vacation when I was a girl, I jumped into the deep end of the pool. Not so deep that there was a diving board, but much deeper than I knew how to swim. I jumped high and big, and as I came down into the cool water, I felt my body exhale a bit. It was unintentional, but there it was, and now I was deep beneath the rippling water, shorter on breath and struggling to surface. I’d never been a spectacular swimmer and preferred to bob in the shallow ends. I was always in it for the cool relief and the gathered friends. And so here I was, climbing my way to the top and wondering who would come to my rescue if I couldn’t make it.

And then I did. I gasped and looked about. My mother cracked one sleeping eye open, my brother cannonballed somewhere further down, and my dad looked up from his book. And I remember realizing the world could end for one moment, for one person, and it might go unnoticed.

It was like this in the moment I left your father. I left him in my heart and mind nearly four months before I truly walked away. Perhaps, I left him a bit each day from the moment I heard your beating heart, but I jumped in on the day you were born. Holding you in my arms, I found myself deep beneath the surface of the world, consumed and encased by my love for you, and entirely present in the cool waters of motherhood. I felt myself sinking, getting further and further away from rising, and wondering who might save me now. Breathless within myself, I went on unnoticed, ever falling to the bottom of the pool, and watching as my last breath bubbled to the top.

And then, so much like the first time, I found some reserve and pushed my way upwards, emerging, gasping, sucking in all the air I could gather, and taking in the light.

As I look back now, I see that the strength of motherhood is much like the strength of womanhood and girlhood – unknown, unseen, unrecognized except by we who embody it. We are driven, daily, to find that last drop of energy or hope or courage, and we are constant and steady in our drive to continue on. When I’m asked how I mother alone, or mother at all, I must admit that it’s easier than it seems because it’s a battle I’ve been fighting since I was a girl. I’ve been building up the reserves, stockpiling determination, hoarding my power for the moments when I will be tested, breathless, and full of despair.

You will be like this. One thing I know is this constantly changing, heartbreaking, wicked world will make you brave beyond reckoning, and you will be secretly unstoppable. On land, folks will glance up, turn over, or go on. They will miss the weeks of quiet packing and the screamed please. People will not notice the fortress of resolve, which lives beneath your skin, propelling you up, up, up. And they needn’t.

Twice I’ve been floundering and dipping, and twice I’ve summoned the power of all the women within me. Twice I’ve been unsinkable. And so, I think we can manage today and tomorrow and the depths to come.

JOURNALIST: Adrienne Oliver

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