FORTY DAYS IN THE DESERT OF A NEW CHILD

Laura Zambrana is Director of Content for Endow Groups, a Catholic women’s organization, and works from home 25 hours a week. Her husband James is account manager at the media company Deluxe Entertainment Services Group.

They live in San Gabriel. Their parish is St. Andrew in Pasadena.  They have three children: Peter was born in 2016, Helen in 2018, and Jane in June of 2020. Their fourth child, a girl, is expected in May of this year. 

Says Laura: “Your heart has to break each time you give birth.”

“There’s a book called The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother that’s not Catholic but is common in crunchy Catholic mom circles.” The author, Heng Ou, emphasizes that in ancient Chinese culture the recommended length of time for post-partum solitude is 40 days.

“Just like Lent.”

The idea is to open up a space for the new child. It’s an emptiness that’s also a fullness. A Fillmore, California, mom with a bunch of kids has a blog called “The Fike Place.”

“She posted a piece called “How to Post-Partum Like a Boss” that also really helped.

“You stay in your room for a whole week and you do nothing but drink wine, eat chocolate, and watch Netflix. People bring you soup. The impulse is to go back to what you were before. But spending a week in bed eye-to-eye with this new baby, you see the reality you’re no longer who you were before. You may look the same, act the same, talk the same, but your heart has fundamentally changed.”

So the 40 days is a space, a desert. The desert’s very lonely and motherhood’s very lonely. “You can ask for advice and consult with friends, family, your husband. But you’re the mother.”

“Part of the reckoning consists in the fact that here’s this adorable new human and I’m not enough for them. I’m in charge. I’m their comfort, their food. But I’m not their savior.”

“You wrestle deeply with your selfishness. Motherhood has taught me how very attached to my quiet time, and having two hands free to hold my coffee.”

The hormones around labor and postpartum mirror the spiritual reality. Everything is running on full as the mother is about to give birth—more blood; she’s glowing!

“And right after you have the baby your hormones crash. The tears, the fatigue, the sense of emptiness are the sign of your heart breaking. Another cool book is called The Postnatal Depletion Cure.”

What are some of the other parallels with Christ’s 40 days in the desert?

“One is the hiddenness of maternity, both physically and spiritually. You can see the pregnancy but you can’t see the baby. After the birth the spiritual hiddenness comes into effect.”

The temptation to turn stones into bread translates to wanting to shirk the work involved. Where’s the fairy magic wand?

“The real bread is the sacrifice. Am I going to choose to help this child grow into who he or she is called to be? Am I open to growing into who I’m called to be because of them? That’s a hidden potency. The seeds are there. But the temptation is to take the shortcut, to give less than your full self.”

The second temptation was Satan telling Christ: This can all be yours if you only bow down and worship me.

“I think the temptation there for mothers is to think, ‘I can do it all. I can have things all ways, and with no help.’ Which really leads to self-worship.”

To that end, for two years Laura’s attended the Christ the King Homeschool Support Group that meets every Friday in Pasadena. “It’s been the greatest gift in the world. Moms, kids. Having these friends for support and guidance helps to mitigate the Instagrammy compare-and-despair.”

Finally, Satan invited Christ to jump off the parapet, but Christ replied, “I will not test the Lord, my God.”

“In other words, motherhood is an adventure but you’re not foolhardy; you take it seriously.”

This time Laura will take off twelve full weeks from work. The first 40 days are for physical, mental, emotional, spiritual healing. The next portion the baby and Laura will both need to reintegrate into the family—and vice versa.

“James will be a new kind of husband and father. And it’s amazing this time to witness Peter and Helen truly opening their hearts to the idea of a new person. We hear, ‘The family is a school of love.’ I have a better idea now what that means.”

“If you’re able in some way to be vulnerable and open, pregnancy is an invitation, an attraction, a curiosity and a sharing. An invitation to humility and an acceptance of roles, which is really hard for the post-modern woman (laughing).”

What will this Lent, 2022, be like? Each Lent, Laura points out, should be as unique as each child. “What’s really comforting is that the angels came to Christ’s aid. Ever since I discovered I was pregnant again, I’ve been praying like crazy to the kid’s guardian angel.”

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