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Those of you who regularly read The Twelve will notice that this is my first time back to blogging since the birth of my daughter on April 3. For the past four months, you’ve been privileged to hear from Mary VandenBerg, mother, grandmother, and systematic theologian, on a wide variety of themes: baptism and the promises of God, hospitality, church unity, and being fifty (or thereabouts) in a culture that tries to deny aging. A big personal thank you to Mary for covering for me and sharing her wisdom and another thank you to Jim Schaap who blogged for me when I went into labor unexpectedly early.
As I’ve been thinking about my return to public writing, I’ve been aware of how much being the mother of a newborn shapes my theological reflections. Being pregnant did the same. In my last blog, just a week before Eleanor’s birth, I was already reflecting on what Kathleen Norris refers to as “quotidian mysteries”— glimpsing God in the mundane activities of daily life.
Now, I simply laugh at myself in retrospect. I really had little idea how much motherhood would plant my feet in the nitty, gritty; how I would both find myself and glimpse God in the daily care for new life, with all its exhaustion, worry, awe and joy. God’s vulnerability, accommodation, wisdom, and steadfast love: all of these are present for me in new ways.
To honor this reorientation and to give readers a glimpse into the past four months of my life, I’m blogging from a more distinctly personal vantage point, one that celebrates the messiness of creation and motherhood without romanticizing it, on the one hand, or denying its potency through silence, on the other.
So in no particular order, I give you the top ten signs that you’re a mother of a newborn, at least as they’ve manifest in my life:
10) You get a steroid shot in your thumb, which hurts less than using your thumb and almost as much as labor. They call this “mommy thumb.” It’s a form of tendonitis. Mothers over 40 are three times as likely to develop it. This is like adding insult to injury.
9) You spend your first day alone with your newborn and feisty dog. You manage to keep them both fed and walked and then wonder where the cheering section is.
8) You think that three consecutive hours of sleep is a luxury. Three months later, you are beginning to hope for an even more luxurious four hours. You realize this is a lot like faith—the evidence of things not seen.
7) You answer the door with a nearly nude baby in your arms and greet one of your new neighbors for the first time. He has a teenage boy with him, who keeps looking down at the ground. You imagine that he must be quite shy. Until you close the door and realize that you forgot a key piece of clothing for yourself as well. (For an explanation, see number 8.)
6) Your twenty-two-year-old niece quips at the dinner table that having a newborn clearly alters the parameters of polite conversation. You’ve been talking about baby poop for sometime now.
5) You’ve grown accustomed to being covered in breast milk. You think nothing of finding it on your iPhone, sofa, clothes, countertops, car seat, changing table, floor, television remote control, dog (okay, I’m exaggerating but you get the point).
4) Your partner comments that seeing you with your baby is a lot like visiting the Minnesota State Fair. You wonder if this is a compliment but decide, in any case, that you have newfound respect for the sow who lies still and nurses all day long.
3) Your baby triples her weight in less than four months and this seems like one of the greatest accomplishments of your life. Of course, you realize that the resilience of the human spirit and the power of the living God have as much to do with it as you do. Okay, probably more, but you still take a fair amount of credit.
2) On your way to work, you realize that you smell like baby spit up. You wear it like a badge of honor (though you’re not exactly sure where you are wearing it) and hope that no one will get close enough to you to notice.
1) Your child’s first cry, first long gaze in your eyes, first smile, first thumb-sucking slobber fest, and first series of vocalizations electrify you with delight. You wonder, “How a great a love is this?”