Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Well. Look who’s finally resurfacing and attempting to blog again!
My sweet little baby girl was born seven weeks ago, and I’m just now beginning to dig out from underneath the diapers, itty-bitty onesies, and groggy nighttime feedings to say, Hey! Over here! I’m still alive. I’m still a Catholic blogger. Even though I haven’t written anything in, you know, forever.
But really, who has time to write? This has been, in spite of a few raccoon and snake sightings, a pretty lovely summer around these here parts. Spending time with my dear kids who are out of school, watching them compete and improve in yet another summer of early-morning swim meets, anticipating the birth of a baby, having aforementioned baby (one hour after arriving at the hospital, no less), and hanging out with the husband during the time he took off when baby was born. We even got a bunch of stuff thrown out and organized during his vacation, which may or may not be my love language. So darn much good, amidst the inevitably challenging transition to life with a precious newborn.
All of my babies have been born roughly three years apart—which, and this is a side-note, makes it seem like we must be really intense NFP charters, but in actuality is simply a reflection of a) the fact that my babies tend to nurse for awhile and b) God apparently deems to give us children every three years. For our part we are generally open, and the idea of too much charting stresses me out because I don’t like numbers. But anyway, all of that to say that three years is always plenty of time to forget just how much a new baby turns your life upside down and inside out. Over the past several weeks, I have regularly found myself thinking things like Man, I’d forgotten how exhausting this is! and I wonder when I’ll feel like battling my way through IKEA again, because it sure seemed like a good idea at the time to get rid of all the kids’ old dressers when we were purging everything, but now they have no clothes storage and Where do you buy a t-shirt that says “All I did today was nurse this cute little baby”? In my head I of course know that once a baby arrives, all bets are off for awhile. But still, I always forget a little bit.
I forget that motherhood demands every last bit of yourself.
It’s pretty easy to forget, I think, because when kids start getting older they become more independent. They are capable of fending for themselves in certain ways, which is of course a good and proper thing. My son for example just proudly biked himself to and from soccer practice for the first time ever, arriving home excited to tell us of the things he saw on his short adventure: some grisly roadkill, an elderly couple watching TV in their garage, and a large dog that barked at him. Mothers naturally look forward to reaching this place, where kids can do stuff on their own and mom can be “done” with pregnancies, diapers, and irrational toddler tantrums.
To have a baby like I just did, though, is to start over. To go back to the beginning. I’m thirty-five years old, I have three kids in middle school, and by all accounts I really ain’t got time for this! As a frame of reference, my sweet seven-week-old has already attended seven swim meets this summer. Seven! She nurses in the evenings while I answer hard questions about things like Heaven and salvation. I change a tiny diaper in the afternoon, while on the phone with a doctor about my concerns over another child’s medication. My husband and I discuss the looming and terrifying onset of puberty in one breath, and the sweet little milestones of our infant in another.
It is rather all-encompassing, this parenting thing. Especially when it comes to having a new baby, and REALLY especially when it comes to having a new baby when you already have many other babies.
So, I’ve been reflecting on how easy it is (speaking for myself here!) to fall into a pattern of looking ahead to a time in the future when I don’t have to do this or that thing, how tempting to envision an eventual life of convenience that doesn’t include the need for nursing pads, or fumbling around in the dark for the wayward pacifier at three in the morning when four of my kids have to be warming up in a pool across town by seven-thirty. But. If I’m honest, personal experience has taught me this whole openness to life thing is about so much more than hurrying to achieve and/or limit oneself to a certain number of children (deemed appropriate by other Catholic families), so that they’ll all be out of the house by the time I’m forty-two, and wherein Real Life Can Begin. It is (thankfully) about so much more than numbers, many or few. To live for the future is to miss the beauty and work of the present, and who better to teach that than an ever-dependent infant?
The big assumption of modern times, of course, is that babies hold women back. Which in a sense, they kind of do! They interrupt careers, change college plans (or mine at least), and also poop and cry a lot. The family is plugging along just fine, everyone is out of diapers and able to make his or her own sandwich, and then BOOM. Enter fussy baby. Enter starting all over again at age thirty-five. Enter going to middle school orientation with a baby in tow. Enter lots (and lots) of conversations with other moms at sporting events and school functions, who are curious about why you decided to have a fifth baby when your oldest is twelve-and-a-half, and you also have some adopted children, too. Enter some ensuing serious time spent considering how the family routine seemed so simple before, but now it’s all thrown off because this small-but-mighty little creature is now running the show. Yet God’s design for marriage necessitates an openness to new life. As wild and crazy as it all is to have a kid who can’t make his own sandwich. So how are we Catholics to think about the whole matter?
In Saint Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Families, he writes:
The process from conception and growth in the mother's womb to birth makes it possible to create a space within which the new creature can be revealed as a "gift": indeed this is what it is from the very beginning. Could this frail and helpless being, totally dependent upon its parents and completely entrusted to them, be seen in any other way? The newborn child gives itself to its parents by the very fact of its coming into existence. Its existence is already a gift, the first gift of the Creator to the creature.
In the newborn child is realized the common good of the family. Just as the common good of spouses is fulfilled in conjugal love, ever ready to give and receive new life, so too the common good of the family is fulfilled through that same spousal love, as embodied in the newborn child...The child becomes a gift to its brothers, sisters, parents and entire family. Its life becomes a gift for the very people who were givers of life and who cannot help but feel its presence, its sharing in their life and its contribution to their common good and to that of the community of the family.
Oh how I love that! The common good. The community of the family. A gift to brothers and sisters. Nine months to create a space where the child can be received as such. These deep and timeless truths transcend the voices of our culture, the ones that whisper to women like me that we ought to be done, that it’s foolish to start over, that things like sacrifice are overrated, and that “just being a mom” isn’t enough. And I see it borne out in my own family time and again—I don’t relish changing diapers, but nothing beats seeing my bigger kids showering my new little girl with a million kisses, or the way my three-year-old begs to hold her all throughout the day. My husband and I will likely not be jet-setting off to Paris in our forties, but we’ll be hanging out with some cool people. Love multiplies, expands, softens, and transforms.
Born into an already-large family, my daughter is a gift from God. To me, to my husband, to every single one of my other children. At just seven weeks old, she contributes in hugely significant ways to the common good of our family, just by her very existence. Which brings a lot of joy.
So, yeah. I’m tired and admittedly not getting much done around here. But ask any one of us in this house and we’ll tell you: it’s been a downright incredible summer.