The Messiness (and Wisdom) of the Birthing, Lactating Body

A female figure in birthing position - perhaps used by women in some ancient society to aid them through birth.

A female figure in birthing position – perhaps used by women in some ancient society to aid them through birth.

Being a pregnant, birthing, and eventually lactating, body is a wonder, but also complicated. While I marvel at my body’s innate abilities to bring forth and nurture life, sometimes the experience feels too physical. Too sticky, smelly, bloody, gooey.

As I prepare to birth, breastfeed, and take care of a newborn, I am coming to terms with this overwhelming physicality. Childbirth books describe labor as this time when the body completely takes over. Birthing women need to surrender to the primal force of the body in labor, which one woman says is like being plastered to the front of a train going 150 miles per hour, scared you’ll fall off any second, but learning that surrender is what keeps you on board. In birth, the logical mind retreats, and laboring women’s consciousness descends into the uterus. Every ounce of energy is focused on what’s going on there.

If childbirth demands our 110% bodily presence, childcare is no different. This is where part of me throws back  its head and wails objections. The fact that men’s and women’s bodies are designed such that childbearing, breastfeeding, and some of the most intensive aspects of caring for a newborn fall to women seems unfair, in some ways. Why is it that this little life that we created together demands more from me, more out of my body, than from my husband’s? Why must I be the one to wake up in the middle of the night to nurse, to lose sleep? (I really like my sleep, and all those warnings about never getting to sleep again after the baby is born are probably what scare me the most!) While the intricate connection between my body and my child’s is something I cherish, on another level it feels like too much. Too attached, intertwined, enmeshed.

There are ways to reduce and balance out the weighty childcare burden that mothers carry. My recent Her.meneutics post on attachment parenting addresses this. At the same time, this does not mean that we can escape the truth and wisdom of our bodies. For some reason, God designed women to have a kind of intimate, physical connection to their children that men don’t have. I think it will take me a lifetime of being a woman and a mother to figure out what that means.

In the meantime, I am still learning to trust my body. I believe that the way our bodies are created, the ways we experience connection to others through our bodies, is something to embrace, not resist. Being a woman’s body, being a mothering body, especially in an age when the role of women and mothers is constantly contested, is indeed complex. But I will try to take the advice of a dear friend and fellow mother who urged me to put aside the intellectual objections when Baby comes. “Just be present in the physicality,” she said – in the gooey, sticky mess of having a child. I am sure this will teach me more than any abstract wonderings ever could.

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In the Womb of God

In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

A friend reminded me of these beautiful words when I confessed to her some fears about my newly discovered pregnancy. Even as I write, these fears flutter up. The little life inside me is the size of a kidney bean, so tender, so fragile, so vulnerable. Will s/he survive? What if I eat something wrong? What if I breathe in too many noxious fumes? There are so many factors outside of my control!

Bubble of a Womb, by nwinn

Bubble of a Womb, by nwinn

These fears that spring up right at the start of life follow us through our entire earthly existence. What shall we eat, drink, wear? What if we make a wrong decision? How can we minimize our risks and reduce the impact of all those unknown outside variables? We are in a constant state of unease about this breathtaking yet fleeting thing called life.

As I pondered Paul’s words to the people of Athens, “In him we live and move and have our being,” it struck me that just as a newly formed life is knit together and held firmly by God in the mother’s womb, so we, as fragile creatures on a brief and exhilarating sojourn through planet Earth, are being formed in the womb of God until we are one day delivered into the broad daylight of everlasting union with our Creator.

As babes yet unborn into the full likeness of God, we now endure a dark and often grueling process of being knit together, according to a mysterious design, into a reflection of the Son. In the darkness of the womb, we hear his voice, but one day, we will see his face. We hear inchoate murmurs of the world beyond, so vast that our little hearts cannot take it in. We incubate in a twilight of semi-conscious spiritual awareness, seeing through a veil darkly, until one day the veil is torn, and we behold the Son in all his glory.

One day we will use to full capacity these lungs, feet, hands, mouths, hearts, that for now seem limited in their range and power. One day we will open our mouths and the fresh air of God’s kingdom will flood our lungs. One day we will run with abandon into the arms of the One who is both father and mother, lover and Spouse.

For now, all creation groans in the pains of childbirth, waiting with eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed (Romans 8).  For now, we rest in the womb of God. We await the day when we will be delivered from our fears into a perfect everlasting love, one that has enfolded us since before our life began.