Love Poured Out
I pace around our living room, wringing my hands, instinctively practicing the deep breathing of my labor weeks earlier—slow, sharp inhale…long, forceful exhale—in an effort to calm myself down.
Eric holds our tiny firstborn, who sucks vigorously on one of my husband’s pinkies with all the ferocity of a ravenous vacuum cleaner. Eric tentatively ventures: “Are you ready? He seems really hungry.” I shake my head no.
I step towards the couch and bounce up and down on my toes a few times like a prize fighter before the starting bell. I know my baby needs to eat. I also know how painful it will be. I am working up literal courage. I count down from ten, intending to be ready then, only to find myself needing to count down again—three more times. I land, once again, at zero, and I force myself onto the couch, rip off my shirt, and look down at my cracked and bleeding nipples. Tears begin to roll down my face as I lift my arms towards my newborn son.
Not my will but yours be done.
Eric gently places him in my arms, and already his face thrashes towards my body, his mouth wide and searching. I recall the laughing words of the nurse at the hospital: “He’s like a baby piranha!” with a wry half-smile. He is wailing as I take one more deep breath and gingerly lift my right breast, engorged and scabbed, into his desperate mouth.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.
He sucks and pulls with relief while I stifle audible yelps; sharp pains emanate from my nipple into the rest of me. In the prior few weeks of my baby’s short life, my breasts had seen their darkest days. My confused body had been trying to produce milk as if for triplets; the oversupply had left me swollen and fighting off plugged ducts with every trick the lactation consultant and Dr. Google could provide. I had bathed in lanolin. I had slept with ice packs. I’d even tried covering my breasts with cabbage leaves like some kind of diseased Ariel, willing to try anything to reduce the swelling and pain. I had sweat my way through a sky-high fever brought on by mastitis, and each day my nipples bled, scabbed, and reopened in a cycle that felt like it might never end.
There on the couch, I leaked blood and milk and sweat and tears, every orifice of my being pouring out love. As he nursed and I continued to breathe through the intense pain, my life (or at least my life as mother) flashed before my eyes as I recounted the moments that had brought me to this corner of our green couch.
I recalled the joy of our positive pregnancy test, rivaled only by the intense anxiety of carrying a baby after having lost one. I pictured each garbage can I’d thrown up in, how for months the smell of anything that was not Sprite made me deeply nauseous. I remembered how I’d ached for brie cheese and the Jimmy John’s Italian Night Club sandwich with its forbidden deli meats. I thought of how my skin had stretched, how my veins had ached and pulsed.
I breathed sharply as I recalled the way each contraction wracked my body, how for twelve hours, I rocked and swayed and breathed and screamed. I thought of how I had been ripped open and stitched up, in order to bring a new life into the world, how each effort to feed my firstborn since had been an experience in pain and sacrifice. With startling clarity, I finally began to understand Jesus’ words:
This is my body, broken for you.
Take and eat.
It had only taken a few short weeks of motherhood to begin to rearrange what my previous twenty-nine years of Christian education had taught me. I suddenly found myself searching for a God who could indeed “sympathize with my weakness”—a High Priest who could relate to my hormonal night sweats and bleeding nipples. Each time I nursed, I would tilt my head towards the back of the couch and plead for help that seemed only to be met time after time with the unfeeling silence of the popcorn ceiling of our living room.
In those early weeks of my son’s life, I was more easily able to picture God the Father in the face of my own husband, eager to help, decidedly there with me, but not in any way having experienced the intense physicality of labor, birth, and nursing. I struggled to see God in my own face, now marked by dark under-eye circles. Within my deep shift into Mother, I struggled to know the love of God the Father.
But it was in looking down at the face of my firstborn that I finally found God again. Through my own tears, I would watch him flail his tiny body, whip his head around, searching for me. In my arms, on my soft belly, at my breast, he found safety. His needs were met in me. I was his calm. I knew what he needed, and he, blissfully unaware of my intense pain and sacrifice, received it from me, knowing only milk-soaked love and comfort.
I began to see God more clearly in each moment of motherhood—for who can, like a mother, understand what it means for a grain of wheat to fall into the earth and die to produce new life? Who can, like a mother, bear the image of a God who gave His life and body up for us, that He might bear new life? Who can, like a mother, display the fiercely soft love of God who covers us with his wings? Who can, like a mother, mirror a God who neither slumbers or sleeps in caring for us? Who can, like a mother, show us the literal meaning of This is my body, broken for you; take and eat?1
My son is satisfied, milk-drunk in my arms, limbs relaxed, his brow smooth. His full weight rests on me. I am a little shaky, still bleeding, but he is held. I have given of my very self for him, chosen pain and sacrifice so that he would know love. And in that, I am held by a God who has mothered me since the day of my birth.
- See John 12:24-26; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Psalm 91:4; Psalm 121:4; and Luke 22:14-20
Elizabeth Berget is a mama to three who has always done her best thinking while writing—from her angsty teenage journals until now. She’s lived in Africa and Asia but is really just a country mouse with a Minneapolis zip code. She primarily writes about the image of God as seen in motherhood, mining theological gems from the everyday trenches of diapers and dishes. She has been previously published on Coffee+Crumbs, The Joyful Life, and in other publications. Connect with her on Instagram (@elizabeth_a_berget) or at elizabethberget.substack.com, where you can subscribe to her Substack, Back of the Flock.