Milk for thought

I am still mortified, almost two years later, by what I said to that newly-pregnant young college student. I was at a dinner with my husband for the guest speakers at a university’s pre-professional writing conference. Tom was the corporate drone representative. Our dinner companions were poets and fiction writers and essayists. And the newly-pregnant daughter of one of the distinguished guests. She and her husband were excited about the baby, but he was much more talkative than she. I’m afraid I let my own recent experience of natural-ish childbirth and my innate inclination to argue overcome common sense and I said a lot of things that probably frightened/discouraged/overwhelmed her. Our friend (the one who had invited Tom to the conference) tried to stem the debate over doctor versus midwife and I couldn’t stop myself from one last prod: “Well, you are going to breastfeed at least, right?”

If I could go back in time and duct tape my own mouth shut (preferably before my first response to her husband’s opinions), I would.

Now it is not-long-enough later, and my baby is weaned, officially: this time it is really true. It has been three days since our last “last” nursing. Our nursing chair is now the reading chair. Instead of patting my breasts and asking for “nur-ning,” at naptime, Molly leans happily back against my chest and looks intently at the books. The literal has become the metaphorical.

My body is, again, and permanently now after four children, exclusively my own. My mind is still not my own. What I cannot give in milk now I give in words and images and story.

Where with nursing I was able to give them all they needed from my own body, with stories I rely on others. Authors and libraries and illustrators. It is still me: my eyes reading the words, my mouth speaking the sounds, my lap cradling and my arms embracing, but the words are usually someone else’s.

And yet, or to twist the metaphor back, I must recommend nursing to you, if you have ever had any interest or desire or passing of thought of what it might be like. It is wonderful! I have loved it so much! There is nothing quite like it, as I am sure there is nothing like walking in the Lake District or practicing yoga in an ashram in India.

I must recommend it, I cannot be stopped, just as I would recommend to you my favorite novel. (Have you read The Blue Castle yet? How about some Annie Dillard? Emily Dickinson?) Perhaps my favorite novel is not translated to your language yet, or it is on hold at the library for somebody else. If so, I am so sorry, and I do not (of course I do not) disparage you for choosing a different book. Just be kind, I beg of you, when someone admits they’ve named all of their children after characters they found in the pages of their own favorite books. — And when someone you know reads their favorite book in public.

Reviewing Molly’s Birth, a natural childbirth testimony

Breastfeeding in public: What’s the big deal?



It’s supposed to be hard to climb mountains

I spoke in church yesterday, and afterward a kind missionary fellow, a male somewhere between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, showered me with praise and said, “I know exactly how you feel; I have been there myself.”

My talk was on motherhood.

Since he was complimentary, I will take that to mean I succeeded in my half-hearted attempt to universalize the concept of faith in Jesus helping us to endure trials, though honestly it was pretty maternal-centric. In fact, I set out to give the talk I always wish to hear on Mother’s Day. There was nary a pedestal in sight, not even the Virgin Mary’s.

I introduced our family and then this is how it went (kind of. Lots of improvising and almost-restrained hand gestures):

Now I will tell you what is the hardest thing for me right now – being a mother.  I am really struggling. Day to day I have irrational anger and little patience. One moment I see how innocent and pure and eager for my love my children are, and the next the baby is ripping off her poopy diaper and chucking it across the room before I can get to her to change her.

I am jealous of my sister’s divorced and remarried state because it means she is without her kids often as they’re with their dad. Of course, she would rather not have been abandoned and would rather have her family always intact.

I don’t eat my feelings so much as drink my entitlement. The kids are screaming and kicking the doors and each other again? I am certainly entitled to another diet mountain dew.

This sounds small and petty as I drag my frustration over into our nice clean chapel where we are all scrubbed and clothed in our Sunday best, where kids are bribed into semi-reverence and –

And as my topic today is on how faith in Jesus Christ can help us endure to the end, it kind of seems like I should be addressing REAL trials, like: losing your house to wildfire or dealing with longterm unemployment or suffering from cancer or burying children along the trail as you pull a handcart to Salt Lake City, and believe me, I understand that those are the real trials, but —

This is what is hard for me today, what has been hard for me for the past eleven years, and I think it is hard for other women too. And whatever our trial, our mission, our life, — faith in Jesus Christ makes it better.

Faith in Jesus

Gives us comfort – Maybe the hardest thing about being a parent is the unrelenting waves of need – for food, for dishes on which to eat the food, for clean clothes, for new bedding after sheets have been vomited on, always at 2 am in the morning, for bathrooms clean enough that we don’t get sick or stay sick — and those are only the physical needs. Even harder is the great sapping need for emotional comfort – for a listening ear, empathy over a friend’s rejection, a sounding board for frustration with math concepts, and if your spouse is lucky enough to have a challenging job – sympathy for a hard day’s work.

What our children need from us: love, comfort, security, peace when contemplating the future — is what we get from faith in Jesus Christ. He is the source of comfort, our listening ear, our older brother who suffered our sorrows and pains and sadness so that he would know how to succor us. But how does he succor us? The only thing he can do directly, himself, is send the Spirit to change how we feel and how we think. If we can figure out how to let him, he can change our hearts and minds.

Our need is never too much for Jesus. When he was about to be taken away, he said Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Gives us purpose – I don’t know how to say that Jesus meets our physical needs as we meet our children’s (except creating the world and everything in it for our stewardship, of course), but faith in Jesus gives purpose to the physical things we do for our children. King Benjamin said that when we serve our fellow beings we are only in the service of our God – surely our children count as our fellow beings. Faith in Jesus inspires us to serve others and thus get perspective and forget our own problems.  He can change our anger, our despair at having to do the same drudgetastic, mundane, infuriating tasks every day into a labor of love and worth and nobility.

Gives us understanding — That it’s supposed to be hard, and that’s okay. We’re so often told to enjoy this time with our young children, that the gospel makes (or should make) us happy, that if we are “doing it right” we should be happy all the time, but it’s also hard. The Savior is not recorded as minimizing struggles and heartache – quite the reverse – he wept with Mary and Martha when Lazarus lay dead.

Sister Hinckley once said in a regional conference that “I love to see you mothers with young children. It almost makes me want to trade places with you.” (emphasis added. emphatically)

The Savior asks hard things of us, and he knows that they are hard. When Nephi and his wife and their families, Lehi and Sariah and Ishmael and his wife and all their children were wandering in the wilderness for eight years, the scriptures acknowledge how hard it was physically on them:

“And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.” (1 Nephi 17:2)

That it was miraculous that the women were able to breastfeed illustrates how real their physical deprivations were, and how aware both Nephi and the Lord were about their circumstances. The women were able to succor their children — as the Spirit and food transformed miraculously by the Savior succored them. Perhaps this primal understanding of the transference of nourishment helped the women remain faithful later when Nephi’s brothers and the sons of Ishmael were complete buttheads. (I didn’t say buttheads in church. I can’t remember exactly what I did say.)

Gives us hope — That things can change and get better, and even more so, that we can change and get better. In Kantian morality, the most moral action is doing the right when wanting the wrong. The whole point of Christ’s atonement is belief that we can change, through the grace of God and through Christ, what we actually want; not only what we do, but who we are. As a mother this applies to how I treat my children. I have hope that I can not only force myself to stop yelling but that I can, eventually, want to speak softly, want to watch that cartwheel again, want to wipe sticky fingerprints off the couch. (Maybe not on that last one.)

Ultimately our hope is in the better world Ether talks about:

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4)

Apparently in that better world the children are angels, otherwise why would Jesus tell us to be like them?

Gives us patience – Jesus had the power to call down angels to deliver him from Satan’s temptations and from the cross, but he endured for our sakes. When we want to get better at something, we make it harder for ourselves. If we want to be better at running, we run longer, push ourselves faster. If we want to be better at math, we take a harder class, we go from algebra to calculus, not back to addition. If we want to be stronger, we lift heavier weights, we don’t think, when five pounds is easy that the obvious next step is to start lifting three pounds. And we don’t expect to be able to do those new, harder things immediately, we know that we’ll have to study and learn and practice and repeat and run again next week. We expect eight pounds to be heavier than five, to take more effort.

And yet, when Heavenly Father makes or allows things in our lives to get harder, our (my) first question is often “Why do you hate me?”

When we have our fourth baby or our fifth baby or our first baby, it’s supposed to be harder; we should expect that and be patient with ourselves.

Gives us a break —  Although we don’t know if or how the Savior was a parent, we can look at how he interacted with little children. In both Israel and the Americas, Jesus suffered the little children to come unto him. He held them, he blessed them, he called angels down to minister unto them. They were surrounded by fire and by his love.

But also, we know some of how he prepared for his mission in life. He was thirty before he began his ministry – at a time when the life expectancy was shorter (and his much shorter). His evangelical mission was just three years long. He spent thirty years probably apprenticing to Joseph, probably serving and learning and growing, and he prepared just before he began preaching by going to be alone with the Spirit and his Father in the wilderness for 40 days. If Jesus needed time and quiet and peace and stillness alone in order to prepare and renew himself, then can’t we grant ourselves the same?

Gives us a model for motherhood – Jesus’ mother Mary is revered around the world and yet, she is one of the first instances of the forgetful mother who leaves her kid. This is in Luke 2:41-51. They went up every year to Jerusalem to the feast, and the year Jesus was twelve they didn’t notice for an entire day that he wasn’t with the company. After three days they found him in the temple. Jesus said he was about his father’s business, but went home and was subject unto them, and Mary kept all these sayings in her heart. I think this means that Mary was doing her best, probably busy with other little kids, hopefully also socializing with her family and friends. She and Joseph were doing the right things, making this yearly spiritual pilgrimage, and still she forgot him, and it was all okay.

I like also how what happened when they found him. She reprimanded her son, and then listened to his explanation, and even though Mary didn’t understand it, she “kept all these sayings in her heart” – i.e. she was a thinking and wondering woman.

Gives us fellowship in the fight to endure to the end. I was assigned President Eyring’s Mountains to Climb as the topic for this talk, and what I like most about President Eyring is the great spirit of humility he always exudes. He admits that his advice in enduring to the end is not yet proven as he still has trials to face, and he also worries that his prescription may discourage those of us who are already discouraged. But he is sure that “That particle of faith most precious and which you should protect and use to whatever extent you can is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Somehow it comforts me to think in terms of being able to use even a small particle of faith.

President Eyring spoke of his mother, Mildred, who suffered from cancer for ten years. At her funeral, President Kimball said, ““Some of you may have thought that Mildred suffered so long and so much because of something she had done wrong that required the trials.” He then said, “No, it was that God just wanted her to be polished a little more.” At first this seemed a little shocking to me. Surely we are past wondering whether the blind man or his parents sinned that he is blind, but it is a good reminder. Bad things happen to good people, and we are called to bear each other’s burdens.

I didn’t set out to use the “Faith in Jesus gives us….” structure, but it works, especially as it frames faith as a gift and a blessing, something we can give ourselves or something the Spirit can give to us, something we can pray for and hope to receive. I believe that faith in Jesus Christ can make our trials, including motherhood and parenthood, be for our benefit.


Segullah’s Supposed to be hard

Momastery’s Don’t Carpe Diem’s Mountains to Climb