Sunday, June 12, 2011

Don't Forget Your Moan

She was angry. Or hurting. Or tired. Or tense. Or all of the three at once-- after all, an almost-two woman is still a woman. I was tired, heavy with the baby in my belly and the weariness of the day, and out of ideas. The bedroom was dark but for the low light of the night lamp. This was supposed to be a peaceful time. We had nursed. We had snuggled. We'd sung Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Hush Little Baby. We'd nursed some more. I'd rubbed feet, kissed her forehead, smoothed her hair. Still she fretted. “Mama, mama, I'm crying. I'm crying.”

After forty-five minutes I felt we'd established that point already but she insisted on saying it over and over again. Her face scrunched and flushed, her movements restless and petulant.At last I sat up at the edge of her mattress and pulled her into my lap, her head resting over my heart.

“Mama, I'm crying. Crying. Mama. Mama.”

For five years I'd soothed little ones. Why wasn't it working this night? I'd done everything and yet nothing changed.

I listened to her whimper, to her moan, and my mouth opened. I moaned with her, a soft low rumble in my throat and chest. She stopped, but only for a moment before returning to her troubles. I moaned again, following her. And again. For a few minutes, all I did was hold her and share in whatever troubles she was trying to voice. I didn't try to comfort her, or get her to stop, or convince her she was okay. I just moaned with her. After only a few minutes, she quieted. Another few more and she was asleep on my chest.


In preparation for labor, I was taught how to “moan, groan, and sigh.” That the raw and fierce energy of birthing could not be ignored, or diminished by outside distractions-- at some point you had to wade out into it and surrender. You opened your mouth and you moaned. You let it wash over you.

Mothers need to remember how to do that. So much of the advice given new parents seems to focus on how to manage babies-- how to make sure they are pooping and sleeping enough and not crying or clinging too much. And yes, we need to know how to care for our little ones in the best and most kind manner possible. In my five years of mothering, my breasts and my baby sling and my bed had proven powerful tools for nurturing and soothing. But sometimes they aren't enough. Sometimes nothing is enough. Sometimes you simply have to enter into your child's tears and stand with them. Moan with them.

When my oldest entered the world, to a chaotic delivery and a rookie mama, she cried. A lot.

I remember one night, after my first few days of sleep deprivation, when after a particularly painful-- and unproductive-- nursing attempt, I ran from my baby. I set her down by her father and fled to the bathroom corner in tears. She wouldn't sleep. She couldn't eat because the induction had delayed my milk supply. She wailed no matter what I did. My husband followed me into the bathroom, holding my newborn girl, and held her out to me. Take your baby, he said, quietly.

I remember looking at her and thinking distinctly that new babies rather resemble some alien life form, foreign and potentially hostile.

Take your baby.

I took my baby.

I started to learn how to mama moan. How to stay present, even when all the right things have been done and all the right things have failed and the sheer force of a baby's wailing seems strong enough to rip sheet metal. I learned how to look at my baby's cry not as an adversary to be conquered but an experience to be entered. Like labor, you have to wade out and hold on.

I am pregnant again, with my third child, and I expect to moan and groan and sigh plenty during the birthing. I expect joy, and ecstasy, and pain, and surrender, and strength. I also by now expect those emotions to last long past the delivery; in fact I am convinced they are bound around every mother's heart. The anguish and triumph and just plain hard work of birthing a baby is just a preparation for the years of mothering that baby.

Love your little one. Do all you can to comfort them and soothe away the thorny places in life. And when that comfort seems thin, when the thorny places poke through anyway, don't forget your moan.