The hours and days immediately after birth, I felt spilled out like the hidden contents of a purse. I didn’t know I had anything to hide until I felt so poignantly exposed.
It wasn’t the physical nakedness so much as the nakedness of writhing in pain before an audience, the rawness of screaming and pushing, the humility of losing control of my bodily functions, the shear humanness that I had no idea about…the things that I had no concern for in the moment, but afterwards made me feel like a wild animal who could not regain her dignity as a “lady.”
I treasured and cherished the days that followed my first birth. But the tidy, middle class American life I had known floated up into the stale hospital air, as I was birthed into the fleshier side of things. My everything ached, and my body felt strange and foreign, my belly suddenly a bowl of Jell-O, and nursing this little stranger with parts of my body that had never served this purpose. I felt bizarrely empty missing the life that had dwelled within for so many months, and abundantly full holding this member of my family, with whom I suddenly couldn’t imagine life without.
In the subsequent weeks, hormones flared, emotions spilled, joy and sadness, elation and terror, blessing and loss of what was known, giddiness and despair all collided in a messy heap in the walls of a physical body I did not recognize. And the normalness of the experience – that most women have been through it – did not make it feel an ounce more normal.
This…is motherhood? I would never trade it, but this feeling that I would never be able to climb back into the skin and spirit I used to walk in – it created a flurry in me that I couldn’t ignore.
The world began to spin with a new depth and beauty and heaviness and fear – life with a new fleshiness.
If your mama’s story is one of adoption, I imagine your first days felt similarly messy. Showered with congratulations, while wrestling with feeling raw and exposed with all the feelings and fears, questions and invisibility of the experience that feels so much the same and so much different from other birth experiences.
Birth, new life, growing a family – it’s divinely beautiful, transcendent…
but not tidy.
For me, the experience has become a bit of a metaphor for life. There are these moments when we are faced with a loss of innocence, learning that life this side of heaven can be painful and grueling, that our bodies are fragile and temporary, that God’s intention cannot be for us to keep it all together and do our best to avoid the hard parts.
There are these moments when we realize the ones we love can hurt us and can be hurt, and that we actually cannot make guarantees for tomorrow.
We come to learn that our life and interactions with one another here on earth look less like painting a slow and well-designed landscape and more like splattering our mess of vibrant and contrasting color at the canvas of God, and letting him make it beautiful.
In the untidy days after birth, and the days like them, there is a freedom in the spilling out of our humanness – physically, emotionally, spiritually, as our pain and faith and questions and joy and discomfort collide.
Life is messy. Joy is lost when we fight against it, and struggle to squeeze ourselves back into the metaphorical skinny jeans of being tidy and dignified. In moments like this, perhaps freedom is found in letting ourselves be birthed into a more human way of living.
Perhaps freedom is found in admitting that we have never had it all together, even when we pretended to, and we cherish the sacredness of these fully alive moments.
Perhaps joy flows when we let it, rather than creating a buffer so that we feel more in control.
Perhaps there is a love that now bubbles over the rim of a heart that has not fully grown to the new size required of it, and we don’t have to try to fit it all in. We can just let that love spill all over the floor. Perhaps we let the tears flow, and snuggle all night if we need to, and get on our faces before the Lord with the overwhelming rush of it.
Perhaps we hand our heart over to allow God to hold it and change it’s shape, rather than trying to put it back together in it’s old way.
All of this language, even as I write it, feels a bit lofty and ethereal, even vague, but I believe in the most concrete of ways that there is an intentional “letting go” required, in order to experience the joy and blessing of these messy days.
And maybe all the days are messy – more like birth – if we let them be.
We have to choose to submit our spirits to a God who created us in this unbecoming way – from dust-to-dust. To take any other way is to miss an opportunity to live some of the most alive days we will ever have a chance to. I’ve not lived a lot of years, and I know I’ll look back in another 34 and laugh about how much I thought I knew. But with each year of living, I see a bit more that real life happens in the untidy places. It happens in the deep soul grief, in the moments of uncontrollable happiness, in the spaces where love for someone makes you vulnerable enough to be squashed, and in the moments when you can’t “keep it together.”
I think of King David dancing before the Lord, much to the chagrin of his embarrassed wife (2 Samuel 6: 14).
I think of an undignified father – heart bursting – running and kissing his prodigal son returning home (Luke 15: 20).
I think of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair in the most unbecoming fashion (Luke 7: 36-38).
I think of a group of friends shamelessly lowering their loved one through a neighbor’s roof in order to reach Jesus (Mark 2: 4).
I think of sitting in a puddle of tears with a friend in grief.
I think of jumping with joy after God has performed a great miracle or answered a desperate prayer.
Real living happens in these untidy, undignified, spilled-out moments.
So, my sweet sister, my heart for you in the days after birth, and all the days that feel like them, is for you to be gracious with yourself, and let the enormity of the Lord wash over your smallness. Lean into the sloppiness of it.
Whether or not you have ever given birth in the physical, or ever will, let yourself soak in the moments of your heart not being large enough to hold your love for your people… the moments when you feel your humanness and the mess of life spilling out all over the place, and invite the big-enough God to hold you. Climb into His lap like a toddler after a nightmare.
Let Him minister to your quaking heart.