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    newborn Jesus lying in a manger

    He Knows Our Need

    Deep in the baby blues last Christmas, I realized that God chose to be a defenseless baby, taking this world’s sorrows and cruelties for his own.

    By Regina Munch

    December 14, 2023
    • Jeanne Evers

      Regina, I'm over 70 and have never been a mother, but I thank you for your vulnerability and your openness in sharing it so beautifully. And I thank you for being a mother!! There's no greater privilege that carries with it so much emotion. God bless you and may He give you a beautiful Christmas with your husband ... and precious Benny!!

    • Bonnie

      Regina, what a beautiful reflection. I felt so much of what you're describing after my daughter was born in April. The overwhelming pouring out of emotion and then the extreme anxiety. It seems as if so many mothers feel like they need to hold themselves together and don't often talk about the depth of these feelings. Especially with the war between Israel and Hamas, I have been so deeply affected by the feeling that everyone is someone's baby. I can't turn on the news anymore and feel awestruck that I was ever able to listen to these everyday tragedies without really feeling them. Thank you for expressing your experiences so movingly.

    My son entered the world a week before Christmas. It was the fourth Sunday of Advent, and that year, I felt the waiting and expectation in my bones, in every kick and roll made by the little life in me.

    The baby arrived three days late, but when it was time, he came all in a hurry. We named him Benedict. Some people say that upon meeting their child for the first time, they feel a depth of love they never thought possible. I can’t say that’s what happened in my case, and at first, I worried something was wrong with me. But in the following days, I realized that the love I felt for my child was strong and steady, not a lightning strike but a gentle dawn.

    painting of Mary and Joseph looking at their son Jesus lying in a manger

    Gari Melchers, The Nativity, 1891

    Thirty-six hours later, a nurse helped us pack up to take our child home. She wore Santa earrings and a necklace that said “Merry Christmas!” but something in her eyes looked sad. She showed us how to tuck Benny’s tiny arms through the straps of the car seat and arranged a blanket around him. As we stepped back and admired the little boy in front of us, she blurted out what she was carrying around with her. “My son doesn’t want to see me this Christmas,” she said. I turned to look at her, and she was crying. “I remember when he was this age. I gave him all of my love. Now he won’t speak to me.”

    Of course, I don’t know the particulars of this family’s situation. But as I watched this woman remember her once-tiny son, my heart lurched with grief for her. I also mourned for myself, realizing I had opened myself up to the same heartbreak. One day, my son will have his own will, and he could reject me, too.

    Christmas morning came, and I was in the throes of baby blues. No one warned me about this shedding of birth hormones that can leave you weeping and weak. I knew it was temporary, but I felt rubbed raw, emotionally defenseless. I cried whenever someone did something kind for me, which was often. I felt wrapped in love as people dropped off warm meals, did our laundry, brought clothes and blankets for the baby. I cried because I was so grateful for my child, my eight-pound wonder, who was healthy and happy.

    I cried for other reasons, too. Benny was so dependent and vulnerable. My brain resurrected every horrible story I had ever heard about something bad happening to a child – accidental or otherwise – and I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone harming a being that depended so much on another’s love. The world suddenly seemed so violent, or at least callous. Tragedies near and far in the news – people dying in a winter storm, another mass shooting, rampant starvation in Afghanistan – dragged me into darkness. Even watching the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings was too much. These had all been someone’s babies once.

    Love means vulnerability, laying yourself open to all kinds of pain that you are no longer allowed to fight off.

    Christians believe that God chose to enter the world as a defenseless baby boy. In doing so, God showed his great love for all people, embraced us in all our smallness and vulnerability. He was born to a poor, disgraced mother who “pondered all of these mysteries in her heart.” (More than once I wondered: Did Mary have the baby blues?) God knows better than I do the griefs and cruelties of the world. Despite them, he chose to be with us, to take it all on anyway in boundless love. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. As I pondered my own bizarre, visceral sorrow, it was this belief that carried me through those first few weeks.

    The baby blues ended, but something else replaced it. Postpartum anxiety isn’t discussed as much as postpartum depression, but by some measures, it’s more common. It can involve lots of different symptoms and behaviors, but for me, it manifested in recurring, intrusive thoughts about horrible things happening to Benny: dying in a car accident, drowning in the bathtub, suffocating in his crib. I knew rationally that these were unlikely and that I was taking the necessary safety precautions. But these thoughts weren’t coming from the rational part of my brain. One night, I asked my husband through sobs, “Why does this feel so much like grief?”

    My therapist recommended focusing on the fact that the things I was envisioning aren’t real, and that because of that I can let those thoughts go. That’s one therapeutic approach, but one that I haven’t found entirely satisfying. What if the worst does happen? How will I be ready? “Steel your sensibilities, so that life shall hurt you as little as possible,” advises the Stoic Zeno of Citium. “The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have,” writes Marcus Aurelius. “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose,” exhorts Yoda. Shouldn’t I be meditating on loss, so that I can be ready for it in whatever form it comes?

    And it will come, even if everything goes well. It already has. Friends have told me to try to see this hyper-empathy as a kind of superpower, and I can see how that’s true. Parenthood has brought me an extra dose of love, some bonus reserves of strength and compassion that have drawn me into greater love for my family as well as for strangers and the world around me. But love also means vulnerability, laying yourself open to all kinds of pain that you are no longer allowed to fight off. Zadie Smith captured this well when she wrote that her children make her feel not happiness but joy – “that strange admixture of terror, pain and delight” that “[I] now must find some way to live with daily.” I’m trying to figure that out too.

    Often, in our home, that means turning to books. Sometime in the dead of winter, I picked up Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy. The narrator speaks with Lady Philosophy about wisdom, love, suffering, and fortune, and she guides him through the pain and loss he experiences. “One’s virtue is all that one truly has, because it is not imperiled by the vicissitudes of fortune,” she advises him. In other words, you may lose everything, but this is a reason to store up more of what matters – love, wisdom, and kindness – and that can never be taken away. The universe is awash in love, like a mother gazing at her child. “How happy is mankind, if the love that orders the stars above rules, too, in your hearts.”

    This Christmas, Benedict will be a year old. The anxiety still intrudes, but it has decreased over time. Carrying out small acts of love and creativity – singing a song to Benny, cooking for friends, knitting myself a shawl – has helped me to emerge from darkness. We all fortify each other with these small deeds of kindness and joy, and come what may, they will carry us through.

    Contributed By ReginaMunch Regina Munch

    Regina Munch is an associate editor at Commonweal.

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