It is an early Saturday morning, and I am standing at the bottom of Mount Royal. I don’t think I can climb all the way up the mountain or even make it halfway. Mt. Royal, which is in the city of Montreal, immediately west of Downtown Montreal, Quebec, is only a small mountain with 400 stairs to get to the top.
The stairs are not built in one straight line. They are arranged in such a way that small blocks of stairs spiral at different angles, left to right and back to the left again. Accessing the top of the hill is not clear; the angle of the steps makes my head spin. I am anxious, scared even, but determined to take on the challenge.
I climb Mt. Royal anyway. I take one step then the next step, and just like that, one block of stairs is complete. I keep going up, to the top of the mountain. I am out of breath but very satisfied with my perseverance. Soon, climbing reminds me of motherhood.
I began climbing the steps of motherhood the day I knew I was six weeks pregnant. I was fascinated with the idea that another human being was growing inside me. My pregnancy journey was steep and scary. Even though I was married, I felt very alone. Being pregnant gave me hope for the company of my baby, but it also exposed the realities of never having discussed our priorities as a couple. We never conferred to discuss our child raising values, the education system, time dedicated for our family, and so many other important topics.
I became unsure of my footing when I learned that I was having a complicated pregnancy. I can still remember the look on the radiologist’s face as he ran an ultrasound scan on me. He was like Randall Boggs, the lizard in the animated movie Monsters, Inc. Randall would change colors according to his emotions. Well, that was the radiologist’s look as he discovered that I was pregnant with twins. He filled up with joy and excitedly asked if I knew I was carrying twins. That look didn’t last long when he realized that he might have broken the news too fast. The smile and excitement left his face and were replaced with a frown, uncertainty, and puzzlement! The radiologist quickly discovered that only one twin seemed to still be growing and the other….had stopped.
Pregnancy was a climb of pure faith, one where fainting was frequent along with unwelcomed bed rest. At 32 weeks, it was apparent that I could not carry my baby to full term and needed to have a C-section for the safety of the baby and me. After the surgery, I woke up from the anesthesia weak and in pain, but that didn’t matter once I held the little human being, the little miracle, in my arms.
Walking up the stairs, I watch the people around me. There are very athletic bodies. Some people casually walk down the stairs while holding hands. There are people of different ethnicities. Some people passing by me mutter encouraging words.
There is this man who seems to be a regular. He is extremely fit and determined. He runs up and down Mt. Royal while I am still at my first attempt. While I am out of breath, keeping my focus on just one step, and avoiding looking further up because of the anxiety that this gives me. I can hear my heart pounding hard inside my chest, playing a song for me to keep going. I do.
I pause every so often to look at where I am coming from.
My first bundle of joy grew up into a teenager who would later call for meetings in my bedroom to talk about her crushes. She would then burst into tears over the fear that she might never find love, and I would find ways to gently explain that her heart might feel broken to pieces a few times in her life.
Holding her in my arms as a baby, I felt like the strongest and most achieved hiker of all time, climbing to the tip of the highest mountain. At that moment I would never have imagined that there would ever be other climbs, other children. Well, five years later, I became a mother of two. The second bundle of joy came out very different from her older sister. She was 4.5 kg and ready to take on the world. Ready to create a unique vibe in our home.
Having my two daughters has kept me on a path of reflection, one that takes me down my own journey as a child, as a sister, as a daughter, and as a granddaughter. I find that being a mother to my awesome girls is very joyful when they ask questions and I know the answers. When they ask for treats that I can afford. When we giggle and dance together or when we play tag in the swimming pool. When we hold hands and say grace together. There’s joy when we sit around the dining table to eat and share stories about our days and share our GLADH—what we’re Grateful for, what we Learned, what we Accomplished, what Delighted us, and what we are Hopeful for in the day. Moments like those make me feel like the best mother in the world.
But there are other moments when the euphoria of my motherhood passes and my own demons cloud me. When I yell and scream. When I have “unmet” expectations. When I am consumed by what I believe society requires of me as a mother. When I see fear and terror in the eyes of what I believe has been my greatest achievement: my daughters. I search myself and ask, “Where did I learn to yell this way?”
Some days, motherhood is a mountain that is too steep for me to keep climbing and also very difficult or impossible to come down from because the slope is slippery and I simply have to hold on tight. Hold on tight to the promise that I am not the first mother to not know what to do, that I am not the first mother to have no answers to their numerous questions, and to instead say to my daughters, “I do not know the answers, but I would like to explore and learn the possible answers with you.” I simply have to allow myself permission to be vulnerable and cry and not worry about letting my daughters know that I am human. That I was once a little girl myself, and I was “me” before I was a mother. To not be ashamed to show that the climb of motherhood sometimes causes me to sweat, that it makes my heart beat faster, and to let them know that all these emotions can be confusing and scary, but they fill me with great joy, hope, and achievement.
I am hoping to make this climb, these 400 stairs, a weekly tradition. Not only do I enjoy getting to the top of the mountain, but I enjoy feeling my feet move forward, lifting to claim one step after another. Parenting is just like that for me, except there is no destination that I’m trying to reach, like the top of Mount Royal. I choose to enjoy this journey. I am filled with gratitude and the realization that sometimes there is no destination that I ought to be aiming for, but I know that I just need to walk, to take a step.
Kya Mara is the inaugural recipient of Raising Mothers’ 2022 We Are The House: A Virtual Residency for Early-Career Writers. WATH is a year-long virtual residency for one BIPOC nonfiction writer dedicated to helping early-career, underrepresented writers who are also parents build their writing portfolio. To learn more about our residency, click here.