She climbs onto me, her hot little fever-racked body on my warm feverish self. "Hold me, mommy!" She situates herself right on top of me, sleeping on me as if I am her bed. "I am going to fall off, mommy!" she says, as if there is anything I can do to fix this. But I situate a little this and that, my eyes aching and lungs burning. I am sick, sicker than I have been in years. But I am a mom, which means that even in sickness, my body is not my own, and my little one, sick as well, needs her mommy. So we lay there, mommy holding baby, and we fitfully sleep, whispering for mercy. I whisper that I love her too, that she is my sweet girl, and that she is beautiful. Because, you can never hear that enough.
I learned years ago that as a mom, my body is not my own. After four children and five pregnancies, my body has been stretched and is marked from the months I held these children on the inside, and now on the outside, I hold them.
As a baby, my first daughter needed me so much. It was something I had to learn as a new mom, and was not very good at doing. I had gone from working full time, to being home full time. We had moved over a thirty hours drive from all those I loved, and this little person needed me to live. She needed me to feed her. Nursing became the bane to my existence. I hated every minute of it. For three months I suffered through, feeling anger growing each time my daughter cried - needing me, needing me to hold her, to feed her. I could not do it. I was resenting her. I was failing at my job and her cries only reminded me. For her sake and mine, we quit nursing, went to formula, and got on a schedule. It worked for us.
Motherhood takes learning.
My second came along, and she wreaked havoc on me. She would only nurse, never would stop, and at 9 months, weighing a mere 24 pounds, and not sleeping more than two hours at a time, my doctor and hers said it was time she learned to wait. She had, in the process of growing inside of me, somehow moved an artery over my kidney, and my kidney was no longer functioning properly. The doctors say otherwise, that is was genetic, but I know she had something to do with it. I had major surgery, and my body was marked again and weakened for months.
Motherhood takes sacrifice.
My third pregnancy came, and my body was used to it. Within weeks I could feel it changing in the way a mother's body does when it is ready to grow and carry a child. Within a couple of weeks, we learned that child was in heaven. My body ached for this child.
Motherhood takes heartbreak.
My fourth pregnancy and fifth brought healthy strong babies, full of life and joy. And with each, somehow I found the way to love them. With all their needs for hugs and kisses on boo boos, I found a way to make myself grow. My body is not my own. My lap is needed for holding; my hands are needed for praying; my face is needed for squeezing the way two-year-olds do to make you look "oh so pretty."
Motherhood takes everything.
It takes a lot, but it gives so much more. It gives joy and growth and patience and laughter. I have learned and loved more than I ever thought my heart would hold.
And this little girl, lying on top of me, making me her bed so she knows I will not leave her, makes me think of children who do not have someone to hold them. It makes me ask, How are they okay? I do not think they are. I am pretty certain that my children's well-being depends on this, that they actually do NEED me to hold them. And there are so many children who do not have that simple thing. Forget food; forget money or shelter. There are children that just need someone to hold them; someone to kiss their cheeks and tickle their toes; someone to whisper in their ear that they are treasured and loved. OH, it is what breaks my heart! And it is what makes me lie completely still, even in sickness, as my little sick girl adjusts herself on top of me. I hold her and whisper those words. And my heart breaks over and over again.