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17 weeks | All I want for Christmas is to learn how to pray | no. 0010
Faith is a deeply personal thing. Only you know how much faith you really have at any particular moment. And sometimes, you will not like what you are working with. There are all these judgments about having lack of faith/little faith/no faith. And because I have been taught to be faithful, and that to be faithful is to be strong, and so being less than faithful is inferior, I have at times pretended to be faithful so that I could appear to be in the right position. Much of my mothering so far has been a practice in compliance, the careful reorganization of uncomfortable memories until they conform to the shape of that unfortunate truth: You must accept the things that are seem unfair. Like how multiple, consecutive miscarriages can cause an epidemic of doubt in every cell in your body. And yet it is your body that will have to carry the baby.
Somewhere between girlhood and womanhood, faith became this last ditch attempt to save what was unsaveable. To let the memory stand tall in the fact that you gave it your all. And when the things that were supposed to add up fell short, it should would not be considered your fault. After all the recommended blood work, and monthly doctor’s visits, and six different supplements, and expensive healing sessions. After you meditate and visualize that life will make it this time. After the best of intentions still leaves you suspended once again over the toilet. That cataclysmic moment when you go to wipe yourself clean, and bring back red splotches instead.
This is it, you don’t tell yourself. Instead, this is when faith kicks in. When you call in a lifeline to whichever god or spiritual center or ancestor you think can keep this roof from crashing in on your delicate dream to be a mother. This is when you learn that your prayer is too small. On your back. Legs propped up on three pillows, palms pleading with your uterus to hold it together and stop that damned cramping. Everything stretches thin now. The borrowed prayers from your mothers and your grandmothers, fragile coverings for your own, startling disbelief. Surely, a mother’s prayer lasts forever. But they prayed good prayers for you. To be a good daughter. To wait your turn.
Munchkin waits for nothing. He teaches me daily that patience is more choice than necessity, more nurture than nature. A year ago, when he was a ball of rapidly developing cells newly embedded in my womb, I struggled to trust that a moment would come when I would not be afraid of losing my baby. Now, as he nurses noisily and distractedly in a bright red, reindeer jumper, I am reflecting on where this experiment in faith has taken me since last Christmas. I am surprised, and not so surprised, that I have yet to arrive at a place of no worries. I don’t even know if that’s an honorable destination at this point, but it has inspired a mighty journey into self anyway.
Popping on and off the breast, the munchkin takes time to stare at my water jar in the window sill, babble on top of the music that sings its lyrics in Spanish, clutch and unclutch my shirt with his determined, little fists. His eyes sweep the familiar space of our room until they find mine. A generous smile spreads to reveal a stream of unswallowed milk that wants to trickle down his cheek. I hold his gaze. This makes him laugh and I join him in the celebration of nothing in particular. It always amazes me that he is right here. Breathing his own breaths, his heart beating its own beats.
Last year I was doing my best to act normal at Grandma’s Christmas dinner. I was not ready to announce the good news. I was not ready to believe in the good news. Too many times before I had trusted that all would be well and told someone, only to have to then untell them several months later when there was no sign of an expanding belly. It didn’t matter that I was running the mantra, This time will be different, in my head. There was always that sensation of completion that I wanted to secure myself with at the start of every pregnancy. I couldn’t tell if I was really feeling an intuitive shift. Or if I was just willing my thoughts to cling to any and all threads of success. A fervent prayer that the cervix stayed shut, the placenta fastened, the baby alive.
My grandmother has always known everything worth knowing. Out of all the hubbub that was going on around her dinner table, she managed a glance my way and made mention of how high my plate was stacked with food. No one else heard her, but I suddenly felt exposed by her ability to always see right through to whatever mattered most. I ate my dinner at the table, and then my seconds out of her sight. After desert, I worked hard to stay present with the festive humor that always accompanies the family gift exchange. My thoughts slipped in and out of possibility, wanting, longing to believe that my grandmother’s sixth sense was some indirect wink from the universe that I would get to meet my child this time.
It’s Munchkin’s first Christmas, and I find myself feeling a way that we haven’t prepared for the holiday like my parents always did for me. There is no tree, no lights or decorations, and no proper gifts wrapped and ready to spread cheer to their recipients. Something feels so off that the only representation of Christmas happening in our home is the holiday-themed wardrobe in which I’ve been certain to dress up the munchkin, a new outfit after each diaper change. My mother tells me not to stress because I have a few years before he’s hip to what’s going on and starts actually wanting specific things. I tell Oscar I feel bad that we didn’t get any new things for the munchkin. And he says something so simple and profound that it inspired this week’s post: “Maybe we didn’t get anything because we have everything.”
I think about this idea, that perhaps we do have everything. Last Christmas, my prayer was in two parts: to have a healthy baby come summer, and to have a peaceful pregnancy devoid of the chronic fear of loss. I guess another way to say it would be that I wanted to finally feel happy and bubbly about having a baby, able to embrace this new life with a heart less acquainted with death. I got the first part of that prayer, and every morning when he wakes me up to my new reality I am in awe of my miracle munchkin. How many breaths have we already shared in his young life? Each one of them perfect, whole, extraordinary.
I thought his birth would deliver me from the depths of doubt. But here I am. It’s Christmas again and I am still wanting to be excused from my worries. Only now it’s my mothering that I want protected from what my father tells me no parent is immune to. He says you never stop worrying as a parent. That you have to pray. Have faith. Trust you’ve given your children the best tools and the rest is up to them. I realize, that even after the blessing of my munchkin, I am still at the beginning of this walk through faith. I stumble everyday, the trepidation of the fall such a critical part of this be(come)ing.
Munchkin is stirring in my lap. I want to spend more time in these words, but it’s Christmas morning and we have a long and beautiful day ahead with family. I am grateful though that he’s been able to nurse peacefully for much of the writing in this piece. It’s like he knows when Mommy needs to tell a story. As I’ve been going deeper into this ritual of being naked in my words for Wednesday’s Bloom, I greet the altar of my imperfections with today’s truth, that many of my prayers have room to grow.
Merry blooms to all lovely world.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.