The Buisness Of Wiping Bottoms: Thoughts On The "Dirty" Aspects Of Motherhood

I gave birth to Patrick at 7 pm on a Sunday evening and at 2 am, a nurse entered my room to tell me I needed to use the toilet.  I was basking in the miracle of birthing a child into this world and because I was feeling rather "I am woman, hear me roarish", I refused her request.

"Honey, it's been awhile since you've urinated, you need to get out of bed and try to go on the toilet," she encouraged me.

"No, no I don't, what I really need to do is take a bath," I replied.

She shook her head. "You can't have a bath unless you use the toilet," she said.

"But I don't have to go to the toilet," I responded, this time more aggressively.

"How 'bout this?  You use the toilet and I'll let you take a bath all by yourself.  Deal?"

I thought about her proposition and realized my desire for a bath trumped my reluctance to obey this pesky nurse.

"Deal," I grinned.

I threw back my covers, swooned briefly at my sleeping babe and husband, and stood.

Repositioning myself from a supine position to an erect one caused my bodily flood gates to open and--horror of all horrors--I peed, all over myself and all over the floor. 

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry!  I didn't realize I had to go!  I'm so embarrassed! Please forgive me," I begged.

I grabbed a towel from my bed and tried to wipe up urine while I rushed to the toilet, leaking fluid the entire way.  The nurse giggled at me, partly because I was so horrified and partly because I had been so adamant about not having to go.

"It's OK, honey, it's OK.  I'm gonna clean it up, no harm done," she tried to assure me. 

"I couldn't feel my bladder.  I couldn't feel how full it was," I explained.

The nurse giggled again.

"Yeah, I know.  Happens after childbirth.  You had a big old baby sitting on your bladder for 9 months and when he came out, you couldn't feel it was full.  It's OK, honey.  I promise."

I sat on the toilet, mortified, and watched the kind woman disinfect the room.  When she finished cleaning, she let me have my bath as promised and every time after that, when some nurse told me to pee, I did it---promptly and without argument.

I thought of that nurse recently because her willingness to clean up my mess---which could have been avoided had I not been so stubborn---was a great example to me.  I'm ashamed to admit this,  but in my early days of my mothering, I maintained the notion that the constant disposal of dirty diapers was somehow beneath me.  I had a graduate degree and 18 years of education and professional experience and all of that had prepared me for....emptying diaper genies and managing waste removal?

Didn't I have other more important, more exotic things to do?

When did my sole talent dissolve into procuring and disposing of waste products?

I'm afraid my list of resentments wasn't limited to wiping people's bottoms, either.   I was convinced my skill set for laundering and cleaning and cooking was much less important than the my calling to, you know, save the world.  Forget about those children of mine, real people needed me.

(Wasn't I a peach?)

But what about the nurse who cheerfully cleaned up the urine I sprayed all over the hospital room floor?

She didn't think it beneath her to wipe my bottom.  And thank God, because I needed her help.

Betty Duffy writes of a similar light bulb experience she had right after giving birth to her sixth child.  She states:

It struck me in the hospital, what a dangerous world we would live in if more people felt that cleaning those who can’t clean themselves is “beneath their talents.” Consider that my OB doc, a highly skilled professional, spent about thirty minutes post delivery…uh… cleaning things up, and that later it was the nurses who helped me to the bathroom, following that, the housekeeper who, for a living, mops the floors and collects the trash and towels of women who’ve just given birth–there are many, many people on many different pay scales, making a living wiping people’s bottoms.

Duffy is right.  It is dangerous to think physically caring for those who can't care for themselvesis "beneath our talents".  We need hospital workers and doctors and nurses and the others like them--people willing to wipe people's bottoms for a living.

And more importantly, we need mothers convicted about the importance of wiping their own children's bottoms.

Even if we can't see the immediate value in the work, our lack of vision can't negate it's importance.  Our children need us.  The service we provide to them out of love is inestimable.

I'd like to say that after 10 years of parenting, I no longer think my skills and talents could be best used in other areas.  I'd like to claim I clean up puke and strip vomit bed sheets and scrub toilets filled with yuck with a smile on my face.  While I do admit that I no longer engage in the "isn't there more than this?" debate with myself, I still possess a very real human tendency to think I'm better than certain tasks related to motherhood.

I'm still guilty of refusing to serve in ignoble ways.

The truth is, a great amount of pride still lurks in the crevices of my mom-being.

But I also have hope.

In November, I will give birth to a sixth baby, another small person who will offer me a million opportunities to embrace all the difficult aspects of motherhood---especially the dirty ones.

I hope I do it better this time and maybe with a bit more humility.

“How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”  GK Chesterton