“Can a woman forget her baby or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
I have repeated this verse over and over again, arguing for inclusive language, expansive imagery for God beyond “Heavenly Father,” the primary image to which many in my Christian tradition still cling. I took comfort, during my college years in a God my campus minister called “Fat-Her.” I imagined God as a large, black mother who comforted her hurting children in the fat of her bosom, not unlike the figure in the children’s book, “Big Momma Makes the World.” Mother God is a source of strength for me, but until I, too, learned the role of mother, I never saw this image as one fraught with pain.
Six months ago, I welcomed little Olive Grace into the world in a most joyful way. We’d planned an unmedicated, hippy-dippy birth that by the grace of God and a midwife who can truly work miracles, came to pass. I planned to breastfeed, having attended La Leche League meetings while pregnant, and read every quality book on nursing ever circulated. I had a top of the line Medela breast pump (thank you Board of Pensions!), with bottles and parts washed and ready for my return to the workforce.
Everything went splendidly. I realize how fortunate I am that all the variables in establishing a positive breastfeeding experience were present: baby had a great latch, I was in good shape, and I had great postpartum support and nutrition following O’s birth. The lactation consultant commented on how “great” my nipples were (what a thing to say!). We were set. I was a natural. Nursing came very easily to me; I report with a bit of “survivor’s guilt,” as many of my peers have not had as positive an experience.
In the months since all of my reading, research and parental theorizing has been put into practice, Mother God has become a visceral truth, and I have known myself in no deeper way than to be made in her image. Yet, this discovery has not come with as much joy as I expected. In anguish, nursing through growth spurts, I have cried out to the Holy Mother asking, begging, pleading, “Why did you make women in this way? To do this thing?” Each day I pumped at work, I felt resentment towards my body and unfair anger towards Olive’s daycare providers (how dare they ask me to send more milk! Am I not enough?). My husband was often the recipient of the day’s frustration, and the angst that came with the fact that I never felt like I was enough.
In my misery, another verse from Isaiah came to mind, causing me to feel some need to repent for how I was behaving. Like a holy mirror, scripture revealed this truth to me: I could not, no matter how fully and totally I loved my child, share a love as perfect as that of the creator’s love for humanity. “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13). In the face of my imperfection, in my anger and feelings of inadequacy, the image of Mother God was such a graceful comfort. I’m never going to “win” at this whole mothering thing. Whether I nurse exclusively, pump (which I’m convinced is the work of Satan), or formula feed, my love for Olive will never be as complete and wholesome as God’s love for us both.
Last week, Olive turned 6 months old. I’m still nursing her, with a promise of no judgment for when I decide I’ve had enough. In the shadow of Mother God, accepting the brokenness of human relationships has been a liberating experience for me. In a culture run amok with mommy-blogging and judgment spewing, I cling to the foundational grace poured out every morning, noon, night and middle-of-the-night by the Heavenly Mother.
As I journey in discipleship and continue to learn from the work of mothering, I am reminded of another scripture, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” (1 Cor. 3:2-3). The Apostle Paul makes me wonder if God is working on weaning me too. Perhaps this experience of claiming grace for myself, a grace I know I would have offered to one of my congregants, is one small step toward learning to eat the “solid food” of faith.