This week I spent almost 3 days away from my nursing baby. Three days with a machine to extract milk to save for the future, keep me comfortable, and keep my supply abundant. When I finally got home, I was anxious to feed my baby for many reasons, but most urgently, so I could finally feel emptied. For many, many nursing mothers, electronic pumps just can’t coax the milk out like a baby can. As usual, God has used my vocation of motherhood to help me reflect on His selfless love for us.
Empty is usually considered a negative. Pessimists describe the glass as half empty. Someone who lets me down offers me empty promises. A symptom of depression is a feeling of emptiness. But this Wednesday night, empty is my goal. Why would the significant relief of pumping not bring the same satisfaction of being emptied by a hungry baby? Why does the balance of maternal hormones refuse to reward me until there is nothing left to give?
I turn to a piece of scripture I have found so difficult to understand.
“Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8 NAB)
When God had unlimited possibilities and resources with which to save us, why would He do it Himself despite the horrible suffering He would endure? Why would He want to empty Himself?
My simple nursing of my son is nothing compared to God’s self-giving, but it makes me appreciate why God would want to EMPTY Himself completely out of love to keep us alive and with Him. He, of course, would choose the most loving and selfless solution to save us, and He allows us mothers a tiny glimpse of this when we experience the satisfaction of emptying ourselves out of love for our children. Nursing is amazing that way.
Breastfeeding also serves as a microcosmic example of how we were made to love. When our bodies work as creation intends, emptying ourselves is natural, pleasurable, and mysteriously feeds and fills us as we pour out calories, hydration, and nutrition to our children that our bodies would have otherwise received. Isn’t true love the same? It is in giving that we receive. (Can you hear the Song of St. Francis playing in the back of my mind?)
But it can be painful to establish nursing. It can be difficult. Our souls sometimes struggle in learning to love selflessly too. After all, we began as the baby, in a fallen world, focused solely on our own needs and our own self. There are growing pains when gaining spiritual maturity.
Consider too, that nature doesn’t always cooperate. Many times low milk supply, infection, improper latching and other complications can make nursing painful, impossible, or ineffective. But, when it does work, it is beautiful, comfortable, and rewarding for both mother and child with long-term health benefits for both. And the mothers who often have to battle through painful and exhausting obstacles to breastfeed often appreciate and enjoy this the most, in the end.
Likewise, sin, both original and actual can cause our souls to be weakened, sick, or impaired and prevent us from loving as God intended. But through the Grace of God, love does amazing things in this world, especially the love between a mother and child, one of the most powerful examples of human love. My analogy falls short here, because for some mothers breastfeeding is not possible, but for all of us, God’s healing can overcome any sin or scar that may impede our ability to love selflessly.
As my mind ponders these things, I hold my baby close and enjoy the bond, the intimacy of motherhood, and the purity of the mother/child relationship at this early stage. I have older kids. I know it won’t always be this simple. Then I think of the infamous Time Magazine cover of this month and I get why it disturbs me. I believe that mothers should be able to choose attachment parenting without judgment, though I do not. I am obviously pro-breastfeeding and agree that mothers should be able to nurse their children until three or more as is more common historically and in the rest of the world even though my children have weaned at younger ages. The image disturbs me because it has sensationalized, politicized, and cheapened something sacred, special and intimate in a way that is as disrespectful as asking a mother to nurse in a bathroom or pump in a closet. It is the other end of the extreme. I think of what the media, feminism, and the sexual “revolution” did to marital love. Is breastfeeding next?
We all understand that the cover was designed to get publicity, good or bad, and to sell magazines. But at what cost? In our media, “edgy” is now just a code word for lewd or offensive. Dr. Gregory Popcak, noted pastoral counselor, marriage and parenting expert, and attachment parenting advocate, addressed this quite eloquently on his More 2 Life facebook page:
“(T)here isn’t anything psychologically inappropriate about nursing this long as long as (a) it is actually a response to the child’s need for comfort and closeness and not being forced on the child and (b) it is done privately and discretely so as to respect the intimacy communicated by this kind of relationship. The person is not a cup. Mom is not a cow. Nursing is not sipping from a water fountain, its a loving connection between mother and baby.”
And I thank God that I had the opportunity to experience this loving connection, to experience the fullness of emptying for my children.
Copyright 2012 Kate Daneluk