I look down at my right leg, the new addition of blue, plump, thick veins being forced from their home under the skin, pressing heavily on the surface, looking ready to burst right out. They draw a mixed up map around my calf to my shin, and down my ankle to the joint of my foot. They shrink and swell with my standing and sitting, always seeming most noticeable when I don’t want them to be. Sometimes I feel like the weight of my whole body is being balanced there, my right leg bearing the brunt of the tiny one growing inside.
This came after the sickness subsided. Less than two weeks after a pink line appeared in the positive box, nausea flattened me completely. I dreaded waking up the most, with an empty stomach and no desire whatsoever to fill it, but knowing that if I didn’t, not even a hint of relief would find its way in. For almost two months we went very few places, preferring the safety of my couch and its proximity to the bathroom. My two little ones became intimately acquainted with several seasons of Curious George, and I’m certain our grocery bill was cut in half as the three of us lived on crackers and gatorade and the occasional string cheese. Daddy was pretty much on his own in the food area. But slowly, steadily, for a few hours in the day I found myself nausea free. And then, like a miracle, I woke up after one last terrible night to a new person, with a newfound sense of energy and appetite and, praise the Lord, the return of my taste for coffee, amen!
My two amigos and I returned to life a bit. I did laundry and put on makeup again. We walked outside and went swimming and re-introduced ourselves to our friends at the YMCA. I went back to the classroom to teach and opened my computer to write. Feeling well is a gift I have taken completely for granted, that much I know.
And as my belly grew, so did the veins. I’ve mentioned them already. My bras are too small now and very uncomfortable. My days in shorts that still fit around my rear end are numbered. And my Harper girl, who still always wants to be carried upstairs when she wakes up from her nap, I can barely manage her now. Twelve steps up and my heart is pounding, because we are both getting bigger. I’ll spare the public a detailed reading of more evidence, but I will say the body certainly pays a price to carry a baby, and it seems to me that it costs a little bit more with each one.
Grappling with body changes and physical pain is not easy. I had so few of these changes during my first pregnancy that I almost celebrated them when the first evidence of growing a human showed up. But by the third baby, the truth is that it has been much less of a celebration for me. It simply feels like weight, and it plants dreams of exercise and diet and all the changes I can make when I’m not pregnant in my mind.
And yet, even with the heartburn and the shortness of breath, the uncomfortable trips to the bathroom and unflattering bulge of color on my legs, those things are not the burden. Symptoms, yes. Reminders that motherhood means sharing every single part of you, yes. But burdens, no.
For me, the burden—the weight, responsibility, and anxiety of carrying a baby—is not the things that make it physically hard. It’s the fact that I don’t know how to do this, and with each new addition God blesses my family with, that realization only grows.
The burden is that we are bringing babies into a world that is a hundred levels of complicated, and these little faces will learn from watching their Dad and me how to love like Jesus in the midst of it. The weight comes with the fact that our hearts break in a hundred pieces at even the thought of hurt, pain, sickness, depression, or anger being a part of our babies’ lives, but we know instinctively that they will be; that our little people will become big people who have to navigate life, faith, truth, justice, and love independently from us, and we are incapable in every single way of modeling those perfectly. The anxiety comes from knowing that life is not fair, that bad things happen to good people, that sickness and pain do not discriminate and we cannot predict either. The responsibility comes with it all, from caring far more deeply about the well-being of a life growing inside you than you ever have about your own, but recognizing that your care can go only as far as it will go.
Surely the burden is not about my body. It’s about my baby.
As I write this, I anxiously await the sweet kicks and jabs and rolls of my third little one. He or she is quiet most of the time, so quiet that I get nervous, and I wait and pray for what I cannot control. Despite what I thought, It does not get easier, this motherhood thing. My body will regain some of its normalcy, eventually I will sleep a full night again, and one day I will be done watching my belly swell and shrink. But the burden, the real burden will never lift, because we will never stop wanting the best for our kids.
The only thing, and I really do think it is the only thing, that makes this burden bearable is to see it not as a burden at all, but as a gift. Yes, from beginning to end, a gift, a miracle from God. The nausea and the varicose veins and the soft muscles are a gift to remind us it is ok to ask for help. The weight and responsibility and anxiety are gifts to remind us that we are not supposed to carry them alone. We are meant for a village, yes, but even more we are meant for a Savior who told us as clearly as possible that he will help carry them.*
Embracing that I can’t mother alone, I can’t even carry a baby alone, that has been the only way I’ve found to survive. But remembering that Christ is most glorified where I am the weakest, that gives me all the encouragement I need for today. It puts my worry far behind my confidence in Him. Our babies are safest with Jesus. We just have to let him help us carry the weight.