Wednesday, December 14, 2011

the blessedness of motherhood

I remember when I was pregnant with Burrito how irksome I found so many of the symptoms.  I felt "urpy" my whole pregnancy, tired most of the time, and Burrito laid on a nerve that ran down into my thigh for months.  I started losing sleep in the last trimester as I couldn't get comfortable and Burrito loved to kick me hard.  I couldn't take any medicine when I was sick or had a headache.  I couldn't take too hot of a shower, eat lunchmeat, or drink a glass of wine.  I got so sick of the deprivation.  I was excited (and scared) about the new life that was on the way, but, sister, 9 months is a long time for deprivation!

And then Burrito was born and it was such a tough delivery, and then a c-section.  Everything was hard at this point.  I got so little sleep.  Nursing hurt really bad (don't believe those Le Leche ladies who say, "If you're doing it right, it won't hurt!  Baloney!").  I felt overwhelmed all the time.  I felt alone.

And I found myself resenting the fact that there were aspects of motherhood that my husband could not share with me.  There was no taking turns in pregnancy and nursing.  There was no taking turns in the deprivations of motherhood.  When we got married, like most modern couples, we had the idea that we would cut our responsibilities down the middle and each take half of the burden.  But in the early, intense days of child-bearing, there is no way to do this.  The burden rests heavily on the mother.  Only she can do certain tasks.

And initially, only the mother is tuned into the child.  After all, she has been connected to the baby for months and has gotten a head-start with bonding.  The father cannot be blamed for this.  When I was pregnant, my husband was very excited but had a disconnect with the reality of the baby growing within my womb.  She scarcely seemed real to him until she was born.  And then I found myself waking instantly when she cried in the night.  Inexplicably, my husband was able to sleep through her cries early on.  I was so biologically connected to Burrito that I couldn't understand this at all.  In time, he caught up with the bonding I had already gotten done.  Now, if Burrito wakes in the night, sometimes he wakes up before me and hears her first.

In the early days, we found ways for Christopher to try to share the burden that I was bearing in the midst of my exhaustion and recovery.  When Burrito woke in need of a feeding as a newborn, he would go and get her, change her diaper and bring her to me.  Then he would sleep while I nursed her and rise to take her back.  This helped assuage the exhaustion a bit, but of course it could only go so far.  He also made me a big fatty, protein-laced breakfast in the mornings (I had no idea how draining nursing could be).  He did a lot of other things to help me.  Still, I found it hard at times not to resent the unequal balance in our parenting.  There was absolutely nothing he could do about it.  He could not give birth to Burrito.  He could not nurse her.  It wasn't his fault, but still I found myself bumping up against my 50/50 idea of parenthood.

I think this resentment over our role as women is the primary reason that even after the advent of the ultrasound machine and advanced scientific knowledge of the womb, women persist in saying that when life begins in the womb is a matter for religion not science.  The statement is clearly illogical.  We now know that a baby's heart begins beating by week 6.  By week 12, a baby has fingernails.  At 18 weeks, the baby can hear.  An ultrasound reveals a clearly real human being, moving about within the mother's womb.  A being who has already been given life.  Simply looking at the matter from a purely scientific, logical stand-point, without religious encumbrances, it is clear that life begins in the womb very early.  The pro-choicer's persistence in pursuing broad abortion rights despite our modern scientific knowledge flies in the face of reason.  It reveals the strong, under-girding resentment that many women (perhaps all of us at one time or another?) feel at having the burden of child-bearing laid on our shoulders.  We say that life begins when we say it does because we want this to be true.  We do not want to have a responsibility so heavy and so strong that we cannot escape it.  Not only this, but not every woman has a loving husband who would take on more of the burden of motherhood if only he could.  No, there are times when the burden of motherhood is forcibly laid on the shoulders of women through rape or perhaps, less traumatically, through the failure of birth control.  We shake our fingers at our state.  It's not fair!  Why should we have to bear this burden?  Why should we have to endure deprivation, pain, exhaustion in a way a man can never understand?  And so, we decide to ignore reality in an attempt to escape our fate.  We decide to pretend that little one in our womb is just a mass of tissues and not a real life.

In the midst of my pregnancy, I happened to read a Christian book that dealt with healthy remedies to be used while with child.  Early in the book, the author talked about the blessing of pregnancy.  I remember having a light bulb moment when I read this passage.  I was eager to have my baby, but I was so deeply frustrated with what I--and I alone--had to endure to get to this point.  The author of the book pointed out that a man can never experience the miraculousness of giving birth.  He can never feel the wonder of a living being moving within him.  He cannot bear life into the world.  And of course, he also cannot experience the wonder of the bonding that comes about through nursing.  He does not experience the strong emotional connection that this produces between mother and child.  He does not know the awe of sustaining life from his own body.

I know I am drawing in broad strokes here and I know that some women cannot--or should not--carry a baby in their womb.  Some women cannot nurse their little one.  I mean no disrespect to these ladies.  God gives us each different calls and theirs is certainly equally important, just as the call of father is equally important to that of mother.  And even when a woman cannot or should not engage in child-bearing, she is still given a unique maternal ability that is different from that of a man.  All that is real.  But, broadly speaking, what I am saying is true of women.  We have the unique burden--and the unique gift--of the connection to our child through child-bearing and nursing.  We can choose to look at it as a hassle, or as a uniquely supreme privilege.

At Christmastime, I think of Mary, who bore the greatest burden when it came to a child: the burden of being and unwed teen mother who everyone would assume was promiscuous.  This was not her choice to be pregnant.  It was thrust upon her, despite her status as a virgin.  It was not even something she tried to be open to.  It simply happened to her.  Not only did she have to experience the pain and frustrations of delivery--not to mention travel on a donkey late in pregnancy, but she had to endure ridicule by her community.  How embarrassing and burdensome her state!  But what did she say?  "Let it be unto to me according to Your will." 

I still struggle with the "inequality" of motherhood as I look into the future and wonder if God will give our family more children.  But I have the choice to focus on either the suffering or the miracle.  I hope if I am ever pregnant again, I will be able to choose the miracle more often when in those early intense days.

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