Before I became a mother, I used to have no way to understand mother’s who were sad, let alone cried, on their kids’ birthdays. It took becoming a mother for me to understand the birthday crying, along with the rest of the feelings that mother’s have about their kids and motherhood. I just couldn’t go there (and honestly, I didn’t try very hard) until I experienced it.

But after many life changes, lots of maturation, and a willingness to jump off the cliff of parenthood hand in hand with my husband, I might understand something about motherhood now. For the moment anyway.

Because that is the thing. Any understanding I seem to have about motherhood is always changing, evolving, shifting, morphing. I haven’t come to any finite conclusions about motherhood, really, at all. I have learned a ton.  I am still learning a ton.  I know what I know when I know it. Then, it changes again.

So back to the crying on birthdays. I have been crying off and on about my daughter’s sixth birthday tomorrow. I keep thinking I’ve never cried about one of their birthdays before. But then, I also think I have probably cried on all of them. And that kind of contradiction, in my own mind even, speaks to the paradox that is motherhood.

This might sound weird, but mothering is kind of like witnessing an endlessly repeating process of birth and death. I watch pieces of my child’s way of being—her movements, sounds, expressions, ideas, preferences—be born, and die, every day. Some brilliant quality emerges. Some formerly cherished behavior is gone. She is forever altered every day. That is the process of growth.

And mothers are, if nothing else, in the business of growth. We arrange our lives around supporting, analyzing, and obsessing over our children’s development. We lose sleep over it, talk endlessly about it, feel deeply responsible for it and also like its beyond our control. We are captivated by what will most nourish, or fearful of what could potentially deplete, these beings whose growth we are entrusted with.

Because we are so intimate with growth, mothers also know loss like a river knows her way through a canyon. Loss is familiar, inevitable, and what occurs alongside growth when it’s unfolding naturally. We lose something whenever we gain something.  We gain something when we lose something.  And I feel these losses, even micro losses, in my bones.

Her brand new teeny tiny hands, the urgency of her breastfeeding, the smell of the crown of her head, the sound of her voice. Its never coming back. Despite her being very much alive, she is transforming before my eyes. I feel this with every cell of my body.

I could take 10,000 more pictures and yet I can’t capture any of her.  I can hold onto nothing and this moment holds everything.

So, I cry for the five year old I want to have forever. I cry for the baby I first met after a very fast and intense labor. I cry for the toddler who I knew so deeply before she could even tell me who she was. I am the one remembering and feeling all that is left behind as she moves on.  I loved all those forms of her. More than I can bear.  Almost.

Since I am in the business of growth, I want nothing more than for her to continue along the journey of her life. I am a witness, a midwife, a facilitator of that. I don’t own it. I don’t want to slow it down or stop it or do anything besides unflinchingly support it. I want her to grow, develop, and flourish. I want nothing more than exactly that.

So I let the tears roll and bake cupcakes and wake up at 6am with a cold to make frosting with her. I am reassured that she is growing, since that is what I am here to help her do.

Happy Birthday, Neva.