I woke up on the Feast of All Soul’s keenly aware that four out of five children had migrated into my room in the middle of the night. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if I weren’t weeks away from giving birth and already experiencing severe sleep disruptions. With each of their noisy entrances, it took me an additional twenty minutes to go back to sleep, only to be interrupted again by another diminutive nighttime visitor.
The continual nocturnal disturbances left me wasted and as the sun was peaking through my bedroom window, I issued a loud, sleep-deprived declaration entitled: The Importance Of Mama’s Sleep or Everyone Must Get Out of My Room NOW! My four children all scattered like jacks tossed on the pavement and I grumpily fluffed my pillow and grumbled to my husband about my suspicion that no one cares if I ever sleep again. He grabbed my hand to comfort me and then I heard snoring.
I have approximately 14 days until I am due to give birth and almost every task I face requires a physical stamina I’m not sure I have. My 3-year old is cognizant a Big Change in our family is coming so she needs even more physical attention right now than usual. On All Soul’s Day, after an impressive two-day sugar binge known as All Hollow’s Eve and All Saint’s Day, she followed me around all day with her arms up in the air repeating, “Hold me, Mama! Hold me!” just like she was Mel Carter. I have trouble moving as it is due to the extra forty pounds I’m lugging, so indulging her need to ride sidesaddle next to my bulging belly is impossible.
And then there’s the new baby.
At night, when the house gets quiet and Mama gets calm, this beloved child of mine starts dancing in utero—stretching and hiccupping and poking and prodding–in an almost violent manner.
“If it’s not an upwardly mobile child pulling on my and begging for a piece of me to carry around with them, it’s the child in utero!” I may have complained to my husband once or twice over the last couple of months.
Motherhood is a full contact sport and requires a physical stamina I never anticipated. The toll pregnancy takes on a woman’s body, the physical upheaval after she’s had the baby, and the years of physical demands that follow (feeding the baby 8-12 times in one day, waking at all hours of the, chasing after the baby once he or she is mobile, etc.) require an energy I didn’t know I needed.
The truth is, everywhere I turn someone needs me and it’s exhausting.
One Sunday morning not to long ago, I hoisted my almost 5-year old onto my non-existent lap to keep him from ramming his smuggled matchbox cars against the church pew. Just as I got him settled, an intense game of “silent” thumb wars between my two girls erupted. While I balanced my preschooler on my lap, I used my hand and mama bear grimace to break up an escalating wrestling match. Mass wasn’t half way over and I was already sweating and praying for a nap.
“See, Lord?” I began to silently complain. “The touching! It’s constant! Everyone touches all the time—each other and me! It’s too much! I can’t take it anymore!”
Just as my internal litany of complaints crescendoed, I heard the bells signaling the Consecration. I looked to the altar and heard the priest utter the familiar liturgical refrain, “This is my body, this is my blood, it has been given up for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
My draw dropped because in that moment God allowed me an insight to snap me out of my excessive focus on my physical discomfort.
As Catholics we know the Holy Mass contains a commemoration of the Birth, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the priest pronounces the words of Jesus at the Last Supper “This is my body, this is my blood” we are reminded of his entire life of service—much of which required a great deal of bodily endurance. We are reminded of the throngs of needy people who pressed in on his person because they wanted to be near him or even just touch him. We are reminded of the times he went off to pray but was interrupted by the spiritually bankrupt who followed him. We are reminded of the countless times he touched and healed the sick–the lepers, the blind, the deaf, the diseased, and the emotionally wounded. We are reminded of Jesus’ agony in the Garden when he was so ravaged by what was to come he cried tears of blood. We are reminded of his scourging at the pillar, his carrying of the cross, and his bloody death.
And just as I’m invited to the table to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, in my vocation to motherhood, I too am being invited to participate in a type of physical self-sacrifice reminiscent of his. I’m being invited to physically die to myself—to my desire for rest and comfort. I’m being invited to embrace the physical difficulties that come from bringing forth new life so that others may live. And I’m given the grace to bear these physical burdens through reception of the Eucharist.
Yes, the physical demands of motherhood are difficult and painful and taxing but I can survive these burdens because Jesus literally gives himself to me in the Eucharist. Motherhood is a full contact sport and Jesus is my spiritual PowerAde.
Colleen Duggan is a popular writer for Catholic media and holds a Master in Education from the University of Notre Dame. She has spent the last 12 years teaching religious education classes, running Bible studies, and giving talks on Catholic spirituality at the parish level.
Visit Colleen’s website: http://www.colleenduggan.net/
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