Labor and Redemption: Reclaimed

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24 NRSV).

I take on my closet in a Marie Kondo fashion. I’m piling all my clothes up then tossing out the clothes that belonged to pre-baby Hannah. Post-baby Hannah technically weighs less than pre-baby Hannah. However, pre-baby Hannah’s jeans somehow do not fit on post-baby Hannah’s hips nor do the buttons on pre-baby Hannah’s shirts quite reach across post-baby Hannah’s torso. Pre-baby Hannah’s bras are now, quite frankly, inappropriate. During my pregnancies I would occasionally pause in astonishment, and not a little resistance, as I examined the evidence that my baby was well on her way. Each of my daughters left me changed in ways I cognitively expected but was existentially unwilling to accept. In carrying our children, mothers gain weight, girth, and the accompanying stretch marks. Our feet swell, our breasts make milk, our hair falls out, our skin breaks out, our hips shift, our organs rearrange, we struggle to climb stairs, and, in a fitting conclusion to all this bodily destruction, our vaginas stretch and tear or our abdomens are sliced. Our encore is sore nipples, dark eye circles, and an open wound in our uteruses.

Childbearing captures us for a singular purpose. This singular journey will change us, whether we are willing or not. I stare in the mirror at the evidence that my love for my child has taken, not my body, but me. Love has claimed me, body and soul. It transforms me, just as it transforms anyone who entrust themselves to its work. I emerge from childbearing never new, but certainly, and constantly, different. Gestating. When my baby was born so was I.  

But now, my clothes, like the rest of me, feel itchy and out of place. Whoever I am now, who I was no longer fits. These clothes must go. I am growing into a different shape. I must accept change if I am to walk into who I am becoming.

History has viewed Mary the Mother of Jesus as Eve’s foil in almost every way. If Eve was opportunistic, manipulative, shrewish then Mary was virginal, submissive, silent. Like most of the Christian Scripture’s women, they have each suffered from the male fantastical gaze that has silenced their voices and power by objectifying their sexuality. History, however, has not heard their stories for if a woman’s story is heard she is not so easily objectified. Their journeys as mothers diverted on opposite trajectories in nearly every way except for the central commonality of motherhood itself. Eve carried, birthed, and nursed the hoped Redeemer child. Mary carried, birthed, and nursed the promised Redeemer child. Eve birthed a son that would take a life. Mary birthed a son that would sacrifice his life. As Eve was the means by which death claimed this world then Mary was the means by which life would reclaim it. They would both find their souls pierced. Their birth cries ended where their mourning wails began.

They are linked, as every mother is, by the pain, grace, joy, and hope of a child. History’s male gaze is enamored with parsing women into the opposing camps of Madonna and whore, but these women shared faith, hope, and love. They are linked, as every childbearer is, by the gestation that changes them. They are linked by gestations that changed the world.

Childbearing demands sacrifice of our life and body, but rarely, if ever, have I simply acquiesced. I combat the transformative work of my child’s claim upon me as I exercise away the remnants of pregnancy, slather on the stretch mark cream, meditate upon patience, repent and ask my children to forgive me. I am longsuffering until I am pushed, I am gentle until I am angry. I am not a saint nor am I a machine. I both treasure the simple beauty of life of life with my children and rebel against the unending demands of life with children. My baby’s need for, but stoic refusal to, sleep., my toddler’s invasive curiosity that leaves my skin screaming to be left alone, and the sisters’ disruptive dynamic. Love claimed me. Love now grows me. My motherhood grows into maturity, but it cannot grow into perfection.

Mary’s motherhood tension, surely, was greater than mine. Her love for her child, like my love for mine, took claim of her, gestating her motherhood. She lived into her different, like I live into mine. How strange it must have been to birth and raise the Redeemer child. Her motherhood would demand she release him to be claimed by him. Strangely enough, surely it was motherhood itself, like mine, that revealed just how much she needed redemption. It was not her son she needed. She needed Him, the Redeemer.  

If the serpent captured us unto death, then God would recapture us unto life. Created in the very image of God, we were marked by his image as his own. God must reclaim us to his love. Our Redeemer was born to accomplish just that.

Childbearers. We who are blessed to live in that itchy place between maturity and perfection. Our Redeemer’s promise lives within that itchiness. We mature, but we are not perfect. Not yet.

[1] Genesis 3:15-16; Luke 1:26-38

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