Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion
on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands. –Isa. 49:15-16
My iPhone alarm triggers a surge of cortisol through my weary body. The blue light flashes 2:30AM. I feel empty and anxious as I reach for the polypropylene breast shield on my nightstand.
You are asleep in a plexiglass bassinet on the 11th floor of Winnie Palmer hospital. The cords protruding from the top of your swaddle are tethered to an apparatus meticulously tracking your heart rate and pulse oximetry. A narrow nasal cannula provides you with a steady stream of air.
If you only knew how I long to be with you.
Your daddy is catching a few hours of sleep at the Ronald McDonald house, a difficult but necessary decision. Our bodies are barely staying afloat. We need to maintain our stamina for your upcoming open heart surgery. I feel the tug between being here at home with your sisters and sleeping on the metal fold out cot in your NICU room. This all feels so unnatural.
I long to be held.
The loneliness of this hour haunts me as I position the shield against my engorged breasts. Like a daily sacrament, I take a deep breath and try to relax for my letdown. I imagine your tiny body snuggled up next to me so that your breath, temperature, and heartbeat can regulate in perfect rhythm with my own.
I consider calling the night shift nurse for the results of your 9PM weigh in. We fight together for every hundredth of an ounce. I remember your nurse’s instructions: “Her body has to work for every calorie, so never feed her for longer than 15 minutes or she will burn off more than she takes in. Her heart is double pumping so it’s like running a marathon for her to eat.”
I feel pressure.
My milk finally lets down. I notice the warm fluid leave my body as I watch it pass through the plastic membranes of my Medela hospital grade breast pump. I imagine a day when the muscles of your mouth will be strong enough to drink from the skin of my breasts, a day when your heart can endure the simplicity of your daily bread.
Hours later, you lie on my bare chest. One breath at a time, your ribs rise. You were once a microscopic blastocyst in a deep freeze. The milk flows through a narrow feeding tube into your stomach. You are up to 23 milliliters today.
Here is my body, broken for you. Take and eat.
I feed on these words.
Your life is delicate yet robust, formed from dust. Your five-pound body has endured the impossible, marked and resuscitated.
Today, you are a toddling miracle, almost two years old. As the dawn rises, I quietly peer into your room. Your golden-brown curls are tousled against the heat and moistness of your head. You offer a squeal and a spontaneous smile of carefully earned baby teeth. You reach for my pajama shirt.
“Milk,” you say.
You guzzle. You are my last baby. Every time I feed you feels like a practice of remembrance, taking back those quiet newborn nursing sessions that we lost. Each treasured time, we reclaim the sweet communion we have labored for. You are wild, precocious, and joyful.
All mothers are engraved with wounds from the children they bear, whether biological, adopted, or spiritual.
My body is marked by visible and invisible scars from Charlotte—an incision on my lower abdomen and traumatic memories that I will hold until glory. As His beloved children, we have also left wounds on Christ.
The communion table draws us back to the sensual and scandalous invitation to eat of His very body and feed the world through sacrificial love. Come all who are empty and be made full. For one to be nourished requires that another be poured out. To be filled requires another be emptied. The tension of death and resurrection are held together in a mother’s love for her child.
My dear Charlotte, may you know the mothering love of God. Some days you may feel you are resting on His chest with a full belly, in perfect attunement and synchronicity. Other days you may feel like you are alone in the NICU, gasping for breath. Whatever this life brings, may you know in your bones that He has not forgotten you. He can’t forget you. He has engraved your name on His hands.
Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her three little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty and redemption.