A few months ago, I was e-commiserating with a friend about the physical challenges of having children. We were neighbors in the hospital as she delivered her seventh on the same day my fifth was born. Obviously, neither of us were surprised with the toll childbirth, sleepless nights, and nursing took on us. With the hot, humid weather, we both had breastfeeding-related infections and pushed through the pain so our little ones would get the full benefit of mother’s milk.
My friend has the gift of seeing life in a saintly way, the result of prayer and devotion. As I complained, she emailed back to me a beautiful sentiment, “Nursing is a labor of love, just like pregnancy. ‘This is my body, I give it up for you.’ Sound familiar? Just like marital love. We are so connected to Jesus I just wish I recognized all that I should.”
Once again, I see the incredible economy of God’s creation, how His plan of salvation compliments our very essence. At the Villa Walsh Chapel in Morristown, NJ, there is a lovely mosaic of a pelican on the altar. Why? A legend states that when food is scarce, this noble bird will tear its own flesh in order to feed her young. In nature, we sometimes see the amazing instincts of motherhood, including unlimited self-sacrifice. The beauty of being human is that we are a part of this physical creation.
Consider God’s choice to create us as mammals. Our children require an intimate relationship to be created, unlike most fish. They prepare for birth within us, unlike a bird. We feed them with the power of our own bodies, unlike a reptile. What a gift to women to help them better understand the power and depth of God’s love! A truly intimate experience of “This is my body, given for you.”
Childbirth and nursing are natural ways to give of ourselves to our children. We know of many women who have gone above and beyond in this way. True story: I have two aunts, unrelated to each other, who each gave birth to eight children, including a set of twins. Both of them needed a hip replacement in their 60s. St. Gianna Molla chose the life of her unborn child over her own when faced with medical decisions for treatment of a painful fibroid tumor which threatened her baby. Even conceiving her fourth child was a sacrifice for St. Gianna, who always suffered through difficult pregnancies and deliveries. My favorite example of sacrifice is a beautiful friend of mine, who was able to donate part of her own liver to save her adopted son. She was a perfect match for him in more ways than one.
By God’s design, we learn of God’s love through our experiences as son, daughter, sister, brother, wife, husband, father and mother. In His wisdom, He has allowed me to experience four of these roles, and the role of mother is one of the most humbling for me. As mothers, we come to understand a true physical sacrifice for our children. To know my Lord offered his body for me on the Cross, and continues to offer Himself to me in the Eucharist is more profound as I watch my small sacrifices contribute to the growth and well-being of my children.