Sunday, May 10, 2015

Imagio Dei

The God of my childhood was never pictured. He was decidedly male, probably bearded, and definitely professorial. I imagined him wearing mismatched flannel, snuggled in by a fireplace with several cups of tea and books and notes scattered all around. My God had thick glasses and smelled of an earthy aftershave. His floor was strewn with commandments that somehow didn't get across, like Thou Shalt Not Pull Thy Sister's Hair, Try Not To Eat All The Chocolate Every Day, and Floss, DAMN IT! Commandments that seemed too nit-picky. The Phased Release Plan for new species and the crumpled drafts for The Cure for Cancer and time travel.

My religion of origin did a remarkably piss-poor job of providing female role models in general. A touch of whorishness, but nothing worth filming. Just one, giant image of The Perfect Woman, the saint who said either "I'm on board!" or possibly, "Do I even have a choice?" when asked if she'd like to be the image of motherhood, the archetype of saintliness, or the matron saint of inopportune births.

I think about her on Mother's Day. She's always depicted in a calm, serene, loving way, gently cradling her baby (possibly to keep it from being licked by an ox and an ass). She's wearing blue robes and a new mama glow. All of the artists dream of her with child, or with infant. None of them depicts her with sleep deprivation or mastitis or a toddler. I used to dress up like her, blanket on my head, baby doll tucked under my arm, maternal enthusiasm radiating like one of those imaginary seventh-chakra halos in the Renaissance paintings. In my earliest memories, I remember idolizing her, prior to finding more meaningful role models like Pippi Longstocking and The Thundercats.

I am the Princess of Power.

It wasn't until later in life that I realized that she buried her only child. Her marginal role as an observer at his crucifixion is pretty well downplayed until she has to clean up the mess and mourn. There was an embalming process. A giant rock. The Caper of the Missing Body. And then in a rousing plot twist, echoed by more than one soap opera and possibly the X-Men, the resurrection and sublimation.

The more involved I become in birth work, the more I wonder about her experiences, and more importantly, how the lack of these experiences in our cultural mythos leaves us hanging. Sure, we're sorely underrepresented in general, but what a gift to women to have somewhere to turn for emotional and spiritual guidance in the cases when our dreams don't pan out, when our children precede us in death.

I for one would have loved to read The Gospel According to Mary, nearly as much as I'd like to read my life's story from the perspective of my mother (but that's for my therapist and I to discuss). How did she cope with becoming a mother? Raising a rambunctious child? How did she mourn? What did her grief look like?

This is the ugly side of the motherhood role: it is inherently on the sidelines. A spectator as fate (and in this case, cranky Romans) dole out the strange doses of whatever shreds of God's Plan make it down through the grate. I see (and feel) the hopes and expectations of mothers. The anguish when it doesn't go neatly according to plan. The wonder when it goes better, and the unthinkably glorious moments when bliss transpires.

I'm slowly coming to terms with the images of motherhood I bit into as a child. I'm becoming more discerning as I try to see which morsels come with a shiny sharp thing that you didn't realize was there until you're flying through the breeze on some other idiot's line, drowning in the air. For one, I didn't realize that motherhood was a cultural expectation, nor did I realize it was a personal expectation. Never had I entertained that it was something fail-able. In the past three years I've degenerated from expectation to hope to the realization that nothing I feel or do will affect it.

No one showed me how to cope, nor did they show my friends who have lost infants and children. No one showed me what to do when I lost hope.

There is no silver lining to infertility or loss.

It's also hard to hide away from that THING with wings that sometimes whispers, “maybe.”

I know I have to write it for myself. Dig through the dirt and figure it out. I try a lot. Then I try to forget about it. Then I cry at the Honda dealership. Then I wander away during brunch, or bite my cheeks when someone asks the innocent, “and how many children do you have?”

My image of motherhood is as limited as my image of God, and that's the thing I've got the ability to change. I don't know how, precisely, to escape the biological imperative, to make my body not ache. My soul and spirit are attached to this body in this life, and it's up to my mind to carry us through this monthly defeat.

Salve Regina, imagio materna.

You've brought me this far, and for that I'm grateful. Perhaps you will serve me in another life, but for now, goodnight.

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