Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The expression “to post-partum like a boss” is used a lot in the Catholic mom blogging sphere, and is used to emphasize the importance of a mother giving herself time to rest and recover from delivering a baby. The physical recovery after birthing a baby is long, lasting many weeks and, for some women, months. When a mom is able to post-partum like a boss, she can take time to recover while caring for her baby. She spends her days and nights sleeping, eating, feeding, changing diapers, and soaking that newborn in. This time does not suddenly come to an end, but she eases slowly from her life of complete devotion to that baby back into the daily routine required of her full vocation. But the initial couple of weeks ideally give her time to recover and fall in love with her new baby.
One of the things I love about the old, traditional liturgical calendar is the season after Epiphany. Instead of jumping back into Ordinary Time two weeks after Christmas, it gives one a longer time to linger with the Mother and Child. A new mother does not go immediately back to ordinary life after a two-week respite, but the reality is that she can never go back to the time before she was the mother of this child. The fact of this new person in her life is one that will not end. Caring for a baby is a never-ending task with the many feedings, the diaper changes, the short stretches of sleep, and any fussiness due to a baby’s personal temperament or physical ailments. The breathing, eating baby in a mother’s arms changes her life forever. It becomes her new ordinary, and ideally, this new ordinary is one in which she learns to give of herself for the good of another.
If Advent is a time of penance and preparation for Christmas, this time after the hum and celebration of Christmas has passed is time to really get to know that Infant King. The parties are over, the shepherds are back in the fields, the magi have departed, and Our Lady waits for her Purification, a feast the Church celebrates on February 2. She waits with her child in her arms. Her knowledge of and love for her God-child, whom she carried inside her for nine months, depends with each passing hour. She studies his little face. She feeds him at her breasts. She cleans him. She savors every moment, drinking in that newborn smell. And this time is one I like to join in, for the Infant King was also born for me to know and love. I spent Advent praying with Our Lady in her expectancy, and I like to spend these comparatively quiet weeks after Christmas with the Blessed Mother still.
Our tree is still up, even after the decorations have been taken down in church. Our crèche is still on display, and I meditate on the new Mother and her Child before me. They are waiting quietly, knowing and loving each other. Progress in the spiritual life is a continual deepening process, and with each passing year and liturgical season. I cannot go back to the life I have before I began to develop this relationship with Christ. So, like Our Lady, I spend this time getting to know this Infant King, and seeing the things I do as things that serve him. Instead of rushing onto the next season, I can pause and look at how he has changed my life and how he wants me to further change it. This love that came into the world is one that changes our lives from the moment it enters in. If we let him change us, we, like a new mother, will find a life with him to be our new ordinary.
After the births of each of my children, it has taken about 6 weeks for me to feel physically more normal, to be recovered from the initial physical trauma of it all. The doctor always wants the mother to come in and have an exam at this point. In the Jewish Law, 40 days after the birth of a son an Israelite woman was to go to Jerusalem and make the offering of Purification. St. Joseph brought the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus to Jerusalem to make the required offering of the poor, “a pair of two turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” This feast is celebrated on February 2 as the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, traditionally known as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin and Candlemas. It occurs about six weeks after Christmas, the natural time of a mother’s post-childbirth recovery.
After six weeks of savoring the Christ Child, then we take down our Christmas decorations at Candlemas. I put away my Christmas music. I remember the peace of my post-Christmas rest in Christ, after the business of Advent and the travel of Christmas to all of the family. And then, I am ready to take on the coming Lent and persevere through the rest of this Minnesota winter.