As my fourth baby has learned to crawl over the past few weeks, I watch her launch out across the living room to grab toys and explore. After scurrying several feet away, she will turn her head back to where I sit cross-legged on the floor and return to me, climbing into my lap to rest her head on my chest or pat my cheek with her chubby palm before going on her next tiny adventure across the room.
My five-year-old, for so many years the baby of the family, still asks to sit in my lap each day. While we eat lunch, while she does schoolwork, while we read books at bedtime, her little girl limbs find a way to curl up into the space where she found comfort for so long.
My seven-year-old wraps her arms around me many times a day for a huge hug. She touches my hair or shoulders as she walks past me. She runs into my embrace when she scrapes her knee.
My ten-year-old still snuggles up as we look over math problems and read together. He still wants a hug to comfort him when he is distressed or needs to resolve a disagreement.
While my children’s need for physical touch can be exhausting, it reminds me of a beautiful truth: my body will always be my children’s first home. My body is the space where they were woven together, where their tiny baby arms and legs kicked and swam, their first cradle that rocked them to sleep.
When I was 23 and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was struck by this truth. Already married and a new mother myself, I was in the process of creating my own home and family. And yet, the prospect of losing my mom made me feel unmoored and lost. Praise God, she has been cancer free for almost 10 years. But no matter how old I am, losing my mother someday will be the loss of home—my first home. In both an emotional and physical reality. The loss of her presence will take away from the comfort of visiting my hometown. It will not feel like home, because my first home, her very body, will not be there.
We know now that some of a baby’s cells to stay in the body of her mother (fetal microchimerism). Part of each of my children will be with me forever and they each have a piece of me. We are physically connected for our whole lives. But a mother’s connection to her child transcends DNA. We will find home in those who have been a mother to us. Our birth mothers, our adoptive mothers, our foster mothers, women who have stepped in to mother us when our own mothers may be separated from us by death, illness, addiction, or abuse.
Our need for a mother, a presence of home, is part of God’s design for human souls. When Jesus’s arms were stretched out on the Cross He offered not only himself, He also gave us his own Mother.
Woman, behold thy son.
With Our Lady as our mother, no one is ever left motherless. And she is a mother who will never fail us or abandon us in our time of need.
Mary models for us what it is to be a mother, to be home. She carried the God of the universe in her womb, some of his cells remaining with her. She was a living tabernacle.
Her body was his refuge as he grew, nursing him in his infancy, embracing him when he skinned his knees or hammered a thumb while helping St. Joseph in his work. She even followed him on his journey to death on the Cross, meeting him with her gaze of love as He carried the Cross to Golgotha. And she stood at the foot of the Cross in agony as He died a torturous death.
She tenderly held his body when it was removed from the Cross and dressed him lovingly for burial. After the Resurrection, when Christ had returned gloriously to Heaven and Mary had lived out her days on earth, Jesus brought his Mother to Heaven in the mystery of the Assumption. He carried her to be with him always in Heaven. While this is surely an honor given to her that points to the divinity of her Son, I wonder if it was also an act born out of the love Jesus had as a child for his mama, that even Heaven is made more perfect by the presence of his Mother’s body as comfort and home.
With Mary as our model of motherhood, making our bodies, our children’s first home, a place of continuous comfort and safety to our children becomes an important sacrifice of love. And it is a sacrifice for us, is it not? To pour out love even when we’re tired or sick of being touched and climbed on? But knowing that our very bodies are home to our babies can give us more grace to be patient, open, loving, present–to be mothers. Our children desire that motherly touch because to be close to us is to be home and that is a beautiful thought.