The Stain Of Motherhood

I have this spot on my shoe. It’s one more stain of motherhood for a woman who was spotless.

This is not my only stain. It’s the stain I see every day. It’s the stain that reminds me of how much harder life can be. It’s the stain that tells me that I am uniquely qualified as the world’s leading expert in this new career of mine.


I am a mother. A mama. A mommy. A Maaaahhhhhhm.

I am an embracer of tired, hurting bodies. I am a healer with magic kisses. I am a laundress of muddy pants. I am a gentle wiper of poo. I am a cheerleader. I am a chef who values the importance of differently colored plates. I am a theater troupe in one person, reading books with animation and voice talents I didn’t know I had. I am an emerging expert of Hot Wheels and construction equipment. I am a personal driver. I am a teacher who believes that experience trumps lecture. I am an assistant architect of cardboard box masterpieces. I am a champion hugger.

I am an expert in reading my son. I am a tenacious advocate for what I know to be best for him.

My little boy is three. He is a medically complex fellow who lives with a gastro-intestinal (GI)condition that has required two surgeries as well as epilepsy. He is not a textbook case.

This spot on my shoe is barium. It used to be bigger. I acquired it in July, and although I wear these shoes nearly every day, I cannot bring myself to wipe away the spot. When I see it I remember so much, and I see it - really see it - every day.


In July my husband and I rushed our son to the emergency room for severe abdominal pain. He was in the hospital for ten days and had surgery on day five. Part of his experience was a small bowel study that involved drinking a large amount of barium and tracking it through the GI tract via X-ray. Except that he was in no condition to drink, so the barium went through a nasogastric (NG) tube (nostril to stomach).

I’ll spare you the other details, but as you might expect this was a difficult procedure for such a young person who was already in extreme pain. The combination of his emotional distress and the band of tissue that wrapped around his small intestine tightly enough to close it off to all but the tiniest travelers resulted in vomit. Lots of vomit.

The technicians had just left the room and we were alone. I held him closely to me and sang, partly to offer meager comfort to him and mostly to calm myself. I was still wearing the lead apron when the first spray of barium came up and covered it. I was clean except for my shoe and toes.


This was the first of many episodes over a 16-hour period.

I felt like my heart and every fiber of my mama soul was being squeezed in a vice. For as much as I hurt I knew his hurt was immeasurably more. In the process of helping him I was asking him to take on more suffering. This is one of the impossible pieces of motherhood.

In his hospital bed later that day I cried while I held him. I had slept for little more than six hours in the three days we had been in the hospital. I was overwhelmed with the amount of information I needed to process and understand to make appropriate decisions on his behalf. I was frustrated by the lack of continuity of care among the six doctors on his team and pointed out inconsistencies and asked questions in each conversation. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough as his advocate.


He leaned into me and whispered, “I’ve got you, Mommy. I’ve got you.”

The day of his barium study was the hardest day in the hospital. I learned that he does have me. I learned that he trusts me. I learned that as much as he may not want to, he’ll do everything he can to cooperate when I explain the circumstance. I learned that he’s incredibly strong and full of love.

I learned that even adults with the best intentions sometimes see children as incapable of communicating clearly or unworthy of respect. I learned that he has his own voice and that when he told nurses or doctors to stop touching him, that I needed to step in and find other ways to help them assess him. I learned that I am an expert on my little boy, and while that takes away nothing from the medical profession, it certainly provides guidelines for how to provide patient care.

I learned that I’ve got him, too.


When I see this spot on my shoe every morning, I experience so many things. I feel fierce love. I feel pain. I feel grateful. I feel strong. I feel connected to him in a way I can’t explain. Every day I see a reminder of our most difficult day together. I see how different my life is with him in it. I see that it is infinitely harder and more rewarding. I see how much I have learned about myself and how much I have yet to learn.


I see he is his own person today.


These stains come and go in our lives. They show up in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. They prompt us to think about specific, defining moments where things shifted. We experienced some sort of breakthrough.

What is your stain? Where is it? What does it tell you? How are you using it to change your life?


Photo Source: Shannon Mcfarlane Photography


Author Photo:  Shannon MacFarlane

Shannon is an advocate for wholehearted connection and intentional living which are central to her work as a photographer and family educator.  She believes in holding hands, talking about feelings, learning the science behind behavior, and the power of the scientific approach - when we know better and feel better, we do better.

Families with challenging circumstances are of special interest to Shannon - her son is a NICU graduate and lives with epilepsy and she lives with three chronic illnesses.  Shannon brings her experience and education in emergency and disaster management (like FEMA at the state level) to help families navigate the hazards and threats they encounter with the least amount of destructive impact.  She is working on her doctorate in psychology and is a certified parent educator.

Shannon lives with her husband, son, great Dane, and two cats in Tacoma, WA.  She shares science and stories of parenthood and family dynamics, like the time she thought that a trip to the pumpkin patch for a four-month-old would be fun, at Shannon Macfarlane.  Her life and work as a photographer lives at Shannon Macfarlane Photography.  

Website | FB: Shannon Macfarlane Photography 

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