The bodiliness of parenting young children. A comment I received on this post set me to thinking about the subject early this morning, as trouble sleeping leads me to spend the pre-dawn hours writing in my head, trying to will my mind back to dreamland.
Like Amy, I have been struck by how the meaning of the words from the Eucharistic prayer – “This is my body, given up for you” – have taken on a profoundly different meaning after the experiences of bearing, birthing, and nursing a child.
I remember being overwhelmed with emotion (and post-partum hormones, no doubt) at the first few Masses I went to after S was born. I heard Christ’s words of love and sacrifice, and I could barely breath through what they now stirred up in me: the recent, raw memory of my body broken and bled, given up for another. The well-worn phrase I’d heard thousands of times since childhood now seemed shocking in its earthiness, its bodiliness, its brute power.
Pregnancy for me is not the glowing euphoria it seems to be for some women. It’s an amazing experience, don’t get me wrong – but I do not love it. I’m exhausted, uncomfortable. Nauseous in the first trimester, winded in the third. I struggle with the loss of control over my own body, and I wonder if I have the physical and mental strength to bear what it demands of me.
So when I meditate on these words and their meaning for pregnancy – “This is my body, given up for you” – I’m reminded that I do this out of love. I do not carry this child for self-fulfillment or my own delight. I do this because I am called, and because I am graced with the gift to do so.
Childbirth is the same. I did not relish the hours of laboring through contractions, riding waves of greater pain than I had ever known in my life. I did not love the long healing process or the wringer my body was put through. But I loved that child it gave me; I loved him more than my small heart ever thought possible. I gave my body up for him, and I learned so much about love and sacrifice in the process.
I can say that I did love nursing, much to my surprise. After a thoroughly unexpected birth experience, nursing S helped me to bond and heal. Months of thrush were challenging and cringe-worthy even in retrospect, but I was determined to make it through. Persevering taught me much about what I was capable of and what the gift of self was all about.
But the bodiliness of parenting is hardly restricted to maternal actions of gestating, birthing, or breast-feeding. Fathers know this truth. Mothers of adopted and foster children know this truth. It’s the sacrifice that all parents make, giving up their own bodies for the children they love.
It’s pacing the floors of a dark house, your ears pierced by the screams of a colicky newborn.
It’s dragging your sleep-deprived and throbbing head out of a warm bed to make a bottle for the baby down the hall.
It’s holding a sick and sobbing toddler through the night until your arms ache.
It’s scrubbing the toilet on your knees when the stomach flu tears through the household.
It’s standing on aching feet for hours at a time, at work for the ones you love.
It’s the panicked heart that thumps through your whole chest as you wait for the doctor to give you the prognosis.
It’s wrenching together the zillion pieces of the coveted Christmas toy until your fingers bleed.
It’s perching your tired back on rickety bleachers at fall after fall of sports games to cheer on your child.
It’s tossing and turning a worried body through sleepless nights of missed curfews and unanswered cell phones.
I imagine it never ends, the bodliness of parenting. People joke about children causing wrinkles and grey hairs, but it’s true that we bear the marks of sacrifice in our scars, our aches and anxieties. This is my body, given up for you. Out of love, out of faith, out of hope. Out of the dream that perhaps one day you, too, will give yourself up for another.
Take; this is me. There is no greater love.