Last year I had the joy of hearing Rowan Williams speak at my seminary. My partner had introduced me to his work years ago, and it was incredible to hear him in person, lecturing on Bonhoeffer’s Christology. After the first lecture, a listener posed a question to Williams about the sadism of the incarnation, God sending God’s child to pain, and how we can contend with the portrayal of divine willingness to suffer. Williams owned that this was a weak place in his theology, and moved on to address other questions. I was sitting with S slung on my chest, next to a friend and mentor who is a priest and mama. I grabbed her arm tight and whispered, “A mother can answer that question!”
What else could I do but split my mind, spirit, and body wide open and send him out into the world? What else could I do but feed him, again and again, sometimes easily and sometimes painfully? What else could I have done? And I would–and God willing, hope to–do it again in an instant.
How much more must our Mother in Heaven know that nothing else could be done but to send a piece of herself out into the world, to nourish and watch him grow, to then feed us, her people, in Christ, again and again?
The oils used at the very end of pregnancy to support healthy labor and delivery are the same ones that can be used to slow milk supply. Over the last couple of months I would lay on my side at night, soaked in peppermint and clary sage. Drifting off to sleep I would remember the discomfort of those last heavy pregnancy days and feel empty and light as the herbs slowly work to untether our last bodily lifeline.
We were lucky. Nursing was good for us. After a rough first few weeks and a tongue-tie procedure we were on track. S was a good eater and I had good supply. I nourished him and we bonded easily, deeply. I was only apart from him one or two days a week in his first year. The connection was the same and different each time. It changed from the early weeks where I did so much of the work, to the end where the toothy toddler would crawl over and sign for milk, pulling on the hem of my shirt, practically helping himself. First every two hours, then three, then four, then morning and evening, then once in the afternoon when we reunited from work and daycare.
We were lucky, too, that weaning was good for us. We were both ready. He wasn’t distressed, and I wasn’t engorged or infected. Nursing just faded away.
I’m a firm believer that some knowledge is embodied–cellular, behavioral, and elusively unspeakable. Those wild pregnancy cravings that were supplying nuanced nutrients to grow a body; the milk coming in and letting down on its own accord when it was time for S to eat; and those first days, nursing through lingering contractions as my womb worked to resume its size and place in the pelvis; my body waking up, feet hitting the floor and moving to his crib before he had finished the first cry. All unconscious, unarticulated. A growing and refining but fundamentally innate knowing.
What have I been knowing in my body about the heart of God, about incarnation, about Eucharist, that is now unknown?
When I neared the end of my pregnancy with S., I had this horrible thing called prodromal labor. Basically this means that for the last three weeks of pregnancy, I would have contractions off an on, ten minutes apart and lasting for hours (even a day or two) that would suddenly… stop. Nothing.
If you haven’t had this, there is absolutely no way to explain how maddening and exhausting it is.
The midwives cheerfully told me that my body was hard at work and the baby would come in time. Yeah yeah yeah. They said, “If you think you’re in labor, go for a walk. Then drink a big glass of water and eat a snack. Take a bath. Take a nap. Then wait. And then, if things are still happening, you might be in labor.”
This was the most annoyingly simple, obvious, and profound advice. And as much as I spiraled through emotions, bouncing myself silly on a labor ball, absolutely willing that baby out, this list of fundamental mind-body caretaking never failed in revealing what was happening. And of course, eventually I did all these things, the contractions continued on, and I had a baby the next morning.
Aside from the temporary plague of prodromal labor, I also contend with a more long-standing struggle with anxiety and Really Big Emotions. When things are a little out of balance and I’m not caring for myself, anxious thoughts and Big Emotions can feel like reality (when they’re usually just, well, thoughts and emotions). Over the last several months when I feel this coming, I return to the midwives’ advice, and in these small acts of bodily nurture, I can listen to my spirit, hone back in on wise mind, and see what is really happening.
So, how are you doing? Is it too much to manage? Does it feel like things are out of control or changing too fast?
Go for a walk.
Drink a big glass of water.
Eat a snack.
Take a bath.
Take a nap.
Nurture your flesh. Listen to your spirit, the Spirit.
Diffusing some Grounding essential oil blend: white fir, spruce, ylang ylang, pine, cedarwood, angelica, juniper