Every Time I Hold Her

She looks so peaceful, so still. I don’t even remember what it was like to sleep like that. I just sneaked into her room to empty out her clothes hamper for the next load of laundry, and I stopped for a minute to hear her breathe. She’s exactly where she was when I left her—on her tummy, with her knees tucked up under her and her rear end in the air.

 She was restless in my arms when I started to feed her earlier, and we just weren’t in sync for some reason. She was latched on, but we weren’t connected. She was squirming and grunting and expending so much energy—she has grown accustomed to the faster flow of bottles she gets at daycare, and she seemed to be demanding the same rate of delivery from me. At not even a year old, she has already bought into the idea of instant gratification. Tonight she cared about the end goal, not the process through which I offered her intimacy and rest.

 She seemed indifferent toward me today. My husband assured me that she’s fine and just going through a phase–but I couldn’t make her smile tonight. I’m used to being greeted by a gummy grin every time our gazes meet, but tonight I was met with an empty stare. She was fussy and not at all “herself.” Yesterday she came home from daycare with bruises on her belly. I wish I could blame it on some transient coagulopathy, but a quick internet search told me I can’t. Maternal instinct whispers that these marks most likely came from either abuse or neglect–more likely the latter. Either one breaks my heart. Was she pinched? Bitten by an older child while her care providers weren’t watching? Does she lie on the floor all day exposed to teething, unsteady new walkers? I’ve seen her propped on a pillow on the floor a few times when I’ve picked her up—at four months she was there, holding her own bottle. She was the youngest baby in her class until recently, and I have often wondered how she survives the chaos of the nursery room. I think these bruises are her first battle scars. Every time I drop her off, I whisper reassurance in her ear—reassurance she doesn’t even understand yet. Soon I’ll bring you home, and I’ll hold you. She’s not old enough to have the confidence that I’ll return after I leave her there. She cannot recognize that I think of her and provide for her even in my absence. She does not know how much it hurts me to imagine how she got bruises at daycare or to wonder if she doesn’t smile today because I take her to a place where she can’t find reasons to smile.

 My tears spilled on her face tonight as I held her. I’m sorry you got hurt, baby girl. I’m sorry you’re left alone sometimes, and I’m sorry you couldn’t see me today. I thought about you all day long, and I couldn’t wait to get you home. I’m here now. I didn’t forget you. Rest.

 She finally did calm down and let me feed her. Her body got tired of working so hard, and she succumbed to the warmth of my skin against hers and nursed until her mouth became lax with sleep. She didn’t get what she wanted the fast way, but she got it the better way.

 If I ever return to faith in God, it will be because of the way that being a mother shapes my heart. Every time I rock that little girl to sleep and feel her heart beating right on top of mine, I can’t stop wondering if there’s a God who loves me like this. I cannot logically believe in him, so I don’t—but I don’t know if I’ll ever stop asking the question, because I can’t stop wondering how my child thinks of me. I leave her at daycare every day, and she doesn’t know when I’ll return or even if I’ll return. Throughout the day she has no proof that I even exist. I work really hard day and night to pump enough milk to provide her meals, but she doesn’t give me credit for that—she sees someone else pour it into a bottle, so why would she attribute that to me? Sometimes her care providers fail, and she gets hurt. I hurt for her and even cry for her when that happens—daycare is not a perfect place. She can’t be protected from all harms until she’s in my arms. I think of her throughout the day, and she has no idea. Perhaps she doesn’t think of me at all, even though I long for her to feel my love in my absence. But I have a plan. At the end of the day, I’ll surprise her. I’ll come back to get her, and I’ll bring her home. She’ll get her milk from me—the better way. She’ll be safe in my arms—no more lying on the floor, no more bruises, no more tears.

 Is there a God who loves me like this? Is there a God with a plan? Maybe there’s a God who says to me, Soon I’ll bring you home, and I’ll hold you. I’ve left you here on earth for a season, and you haven’t developed object permanence to realize that I exist when you can’t see me. I provide for you, and you too quickly attribute my provision to sources that are more readily visible. I think of you, even though you do not acknowledge me. You’ve been indifferent toward me lately, and I miss the connection we once shared. Now you struggle against intimacy with me, and you demand fast answers—the world has taught you that. I have a different way, a better way. Get your fill of me slowly and digest it. Come to know me little by little as I reveal myself to you. Rest—there’s no hurry. I’m sorry you got hurt. I’m sorry other people left you alone sometimes, even in harm’s way. The world you’re in isn’t perfect. But I have a plan. I’m coming back to get you, and I’ll bring you home. I’ll wipe away your tears, and there will be no more crying or pain. Now be still. I have not forgotten you.

 I know—it’s not likely. But every time I hold her, I wonder.

 “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!” Isaiah 49:15

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2 thoughts on “Every Time I Hold Her

  1. You can logically believe in him if your own link to your daughter can be fathomed and trusted. I call that an echo — a trace of deeper reality. Beautiful post. Thank you for your thinking and writing.

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    • Thank you for reading, Pascal.

      Regarding logical belief–I think I had decided that the relationships of Christianity are based on human relationships, not the other way around. We are wired to love and be loved, and our religions reflect that. It’s not that we love because he first loved us; rather, he loves because we first loved each other. When we created a God, we created him in our image. So he is love, because that’s what we wanted.

      But my resolve waxes and wanes, and it’s waning right now (obviously). Faith is seductive. My head gets foggy and I have a hard time responding to your love trump card. Why do I love my husband and kids the way that I do? My love goes beyond what survival of our species demands. I could protect and provide for my children and be loyal to my husband and even grow my family without this kind of love being necessary. So where does it come from? Is it a reflection of something greater? Do we really love because he first loved us? In light of this question, Russell’s line-by-line challenges of scripture (which I do relate to) grow dim for a time.

      When my head stops spinning (I’m assuming it will) and I regain control over my own emotions and desires, my resolve will strengthen, my words will change, and your trump card will annoy me again instead of challenging me. Until that day comes, I will dread it. Until it comes, I will let myself wonder if friends’ prayers for me are being answered and if a loving God is sounding off echoes and ordering my thoughts to draw me to the source.

      I feel foolish for letting myself have thoughts like those, but I’ve never really regretted letting myself be human. I’ve learned greater lessons in the wilderness of my own weakness than in fortresses of resolve. It’s hard as an atheist writer, though, because I seek the approval of my non-believing audience–most of whom likely want to grab me by the shoulders and shake me. I’ve noticed that my number of followers has actually dropped this week.

      So again–thanks for reading.

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