Friday, July 13, 2012

'How dreadful it will be'

Matthew 24:15-21 (NIV)

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel — let the reader understand —then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again.”
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says an awful lot of things in the days between what we now observe as Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday: parables, prophesies, literal explanations of the events to come and much more. And while it may be difficult to find a link between most of those lessons and the way I hope to parent, I did something of a double-take when I came across verse 19: “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!”

I find it interesting Jesus didn’t single out anyone else here. It sounds like it will be dreadful for everyone, but somehow Jesus has a little extra sympathy for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Having lived many, many months with a lady in such conditions (nonconsecutive, but quick math shows me Kristie has been pregnant or lactating roughly 42 percent of the 10-plus years of our marriage) there have been many, many times where I have felt it must be dreadful to be pregnant or nursing.

I won’t get into the specific medical details of Kristie’s three pregnancies and the nursing habits of each boy, but a few occasions stick out in my mind. Shortly after Max was born I encouraged Kristie to go out to a movie with some ladies from my office. And while she had a good time, she was unable to join them for dessert following the show because she in physical pain and in dire need of a rendezvous with the breast pump. While she was pregnant with Charlie we drove to Charlotte, N.C., to see my extended family for Thanksgiving. As one prone to motion sickness regardless of being with child, she was extra uncomfortable during our winding drives through what passes for mountains in that part of the country.

I think also of my own mother, pregnant with two late, very heavy twins during the summer of 1985. She was due in late July and didn’t give birth until early August. But several days a week she wedged herself into a bright pink swimsuit (perhaps the only one she could find to fit such a rapidly expanding frame) and took five-year-old me to the local beach. That is, until, she needed to use a restroom. I don’t blame her one bit for eschewing the port-o-let at the lake. She also went to at least one incredibly well attended wedding that summer in the chapel at our church, which does not have air conditioning. I am impressed she survived.

Everyone who has carried a baby to full term has similar stories. Nursing brings its own complications, especially for those who pump (and perhaps even to another degree for working mothers who have to pump at the office). I am all kinds of proud of Kristie for her dedication to providing natural nourishment for Max and Charlie, but goodness, having a formula-fed baby (for very justifiable reasons) the first time around was an entirely different ballgame.

Speaking of ballgames, I remember bringing baby Jack (probably nine months old) to a high school basketball game with my dad, grandfather and some other relatives. When he got hungry, and while holding him with one arm, I dipped into the diaper bag and turned water and powder into a suitable beverage. It was an impressive sight to the kinfolk, especially given the setting, but to me it was just another part of being a dad.

I’m not trying to complain here. If anything, I’m hoping to heap praise on mothers, who sacrifice their bodies and ways of life for their children. It was staggering for me to count up the number of months Kristie has been pregnant or nursing. If you could the time I took off from work when each child was born, I maybe have six or seven weeks altogether, and the bulk of that was for Charlie. Jack and Max got five days each. Then I got right back to normal, at least during daylight hours. Kristie, meanwhile, has sacrificed years of her life to the essential definition of motherhood. I’m not sure our sons will ever fully appreciate this contribution, even if they become fathers themselves one day. So perhaps it falls on me to raise the flag and remind everyone I know what a magnificent woman I married.

She might downplay her scenario. I know she has friends who have had incredible, almost near-death experiences with pregnancy and labor. Outside of the normal husband and wife dialogue, Kristie is not prone to “one-upping” in conversation or presuming her experiences are more difficult than anyone else’s. But that modesty should not take away from the very real contributions she has made toward creating a family. I often say I would not be the person, husband or father I am without such a perfect (for me) partner, and even that statement undersells what she had to bring to the table physically, and the emotions associated with that physical contribution.

Were I the one who had to be pregnant, give birth and nurse, I’m not sure we’d have any children, let alone three wonderful little boys. Were my mother not willing to undergo the same, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to say thank you enough.

A prayer for July 13:

Lord, I stand in awe of the miracle of life. Not just the ability to create children, but the challenge and sacrifice women must endure to give birth and sustain life. Please help me remember the immeasurable contributions of the mothers in my life, and may we all remember the true source of our innermost strength. Amen.

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