Many years ago, when I was a very sick, very young mother, I was lamenting about being thrust into a role that I thought didn't suit me at all. A very independent person all my life, I suddenly found myself quite dependent. Illness does that to you. My priest insisted I learn to embrace the role. He explained how it was an occasion of blessing for other people and he told me that sometimes God wants us to be Mary, but other times, He wants us to be Elizabeth. I don't think I learned those lessons to Our Lord's satisfaction.
We revisited the the lesson of the Visitation in 2006–for all of 2006. As a matter of fact, the lesson began on the very first day of the new year. Coincidentally, that was the day Karoline began as well. It is also, fittingly, the Feast of Mary Mther of God, my favorite Marian feast.
From the first few hours of this pregnancy, I was incredibly sick. We're not just talking waves of nausea, we're talking can't lift my head, can't hold a conversation, can't move sick. For some reason, I thought I could muddle through on my own. I thought I could pull up those independent bootstraps and muscle my way through. And at seven weeks, as I was staggering from the bathroom, I cried to my husband, "We have to call Megan TODAY."
Megan is a dear friend who, together with my friend Barbara, would teach me what it is to be Mary. Megan swept in with brisk, cheerful efficiency. She organized meals, organized child care relief, organized cleaning. Honestly, I was so sick at the time that even today, I can't remember everything she did. I just remember she was there–asssuring me that it was all going to be just wonderful and then doing everything she could to make it so. Oh, and I do believe there was bubble bath involved–lots of it.
Four years earlier, after learning I'd have a c-section, I placed a tearful call to Barbara, who is my fifth child's godmother. I was terrified–of the surgery, but also of the chaos I was certain would ensue in my house afterwards. Ever since my second child, I'd always muddled along on my own during the postpartum period. Barbara is one of six children and she has six children of her own. Whenever she had a baby, her mother came down from New York and made everything warm and wonderful. Barbara resolved to do that for me. She taught me so much that time. As a childbirth teacher, I'd always encouraged new moms to find someone who would come and "mother the mother" while she recovered, but I never really knew what that meant. Barbara, who had learned it so well from her mother, began to teach me when Katie was born. She cooked and cleaned and insisted I just stay in bed with my baby. She was an angel. No, she was Mary. Still, I ended up with a pretty good case of postpartum depression.
In the years between Katie and Karoline, I got to know Megan. She shared with me her own experieince with depression. She also had another baby and she was very honest as depression consumed her. I tried to apply the lessons Barbara had taught me. Mostly, I just tried to live up to the promise that Megan's mom had asked me to make before Megan's delivery: I just stuck close to her. I believed and I prayed that depression would eventually loosen its grip and Megan would emerge again. It was a long time and she worked really hard, but she emerged. And because she'd been so forthright and honest about her struggle, I learned a great deal about Megan, but also about myself.
This time, when I truly was an aged Elizabeth, Megan and Barbara worked together to ensure that I would have a happy recovery. They began before delivery. The freezer was inventoried and then filled with some meals. A plan was drawn up for more meals. The house was tidied and tidied again. Megan came over two or three times a week in the last few weeks to clean my kitchen and just to talk. Barbara kept reminding me to be specific in asking for help. Over and over again, we rehearsed how this time would be different. And both of them told me again and again to learn to articulate what I needed. The key here was to be Elizabeth and not some silently suffering martyr. They'd both given me good examples of how to do that.
On the day I was to come home, Megan came over to work with Michael and Patrick to make homecoming truly amazing. The house was shined from top to bottom. A fire was lit and the candles gleamed. They hung posters that Megan had helped all the children make the day before. There were so many little loving details. And I noticed them all. When I walked into that house–my house–on that glorious day, I understood something very new and very dear about friendship.
Over the next several weeks, they both "stayed close." They worked in tandem and did everything they could to mother the mother. And, as their visits grew further apart, the packages started arriving. Apparently, there are women all over the world who understand Mary, the Mother of God, at the Visitation. These women couldn't be here in person, but they sent little parts of themselves. It started with a quilt, and then a home companion book (which Megan and Barbara both found useful), there were roses in the hospital (you can see them above), and then a steady stream of care packages which, every time I opened one, renewed again that feeling I had the first day home. A distinct feeling that I'd been mothered by the Blessed Mother herself.
I feel as if I've been given a great gift by these beautiful women who truly live a Marian loveliness. Even more, I feel like my daughters and daughters-in-law have been given a gift. I look forward to the day when I can visit a new mother and I can do for her what has been done so beautifully for me.
Visit Elizabeth's blog: www.ebeth.typepad.com