In my work with mothers of newborns, sleep and the lack of it is a critical factor. These women are so tired: bone-weary, lid drooping, mind wandering tired. And yet somehow they go on. Mothers keep doing what needs to be done past what feels like human capacity.
I see it regularly, and I remember it well. The intensity of it never completely leaves you. As they talk to me, as I watch their faces and slower movements, and it all comes back, oh yes. Part of the reason I am with them is to help, to find ways to make this new job of mothering work better, to cope with what seems impossible, at least for a season.
I have come to believe that these early days of constantly pushing past the screaming needs of one’s own body in order to care for another human being may imprint a mother’s heart and soul to continue doing just that her whole life.
This in no way discounts the devotion of a father; I am a great fan of daddies. They fill a role like none other all a child’s life. Their strength, comfort, and pure solidity are essential, and such a draw for their children.
But with the mama, there is deep biology at work. There is the literal physical participation in the making of this child, a divine partnership that changes her for life, both inside and out. Early on in the pregnancy, she must be devoted because she has given over her body to another person. Even as a woman longs for the end of pregnancy to “have her body back” she does not realize that she has entered a permanent condition. Her body, her mind, her heart, they are never hers again in the same way.
Some will say this is not healthy, that there must be separation and that women must do more self-care. And this is undoubtedly true. It is possible, and perhaps even a temptation, to drown oneself in ones’ children, ceasing to be an individual. I argue with mommies to take care of themselves, that their own needs are important. If they are unwell, they cannot mother well.
But it is undeniable that a mother’s needs will frequently take a back seat to her children’s. It is most evident in the early days and weeks when feeding and caring for a newborn takes over her world for a time. This intense period of time prepares her for a lifetime of carefully prioritizing every nuance of need she perceives in her child. This close attentiveness, this oft-times over anxiety, is part of a divine plan to ensure the care of the offspring. We sometimes caricaturize this mother-tendency, but we are all better for it.
I once read a Time magazine article on the plight of single mothers which said the majority of them would move heaven and earth to do what needs to be done for their child. Going to battle on behalf of your children not only in this temporal realm but also beseeching heaven to intervene is a child’s birthright.
Built into the mommy soul by the Creator himself is the ever attentive watchfulness that never fully sleeps, always half-tuned to wake if needed, to deny the body’s sluggish need. It is the feminine reflection of our God image.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.