My Daughter Strikes Down My Idols
My daughter emerged from the womb with her fist clenched next to her face, turning what would have been four and a half hours of active labor into seven. She finally arrived at seven pounds ten ounces, but the midwife and nurses at my bedside claimed it was the equivalent of delivering an eleven pound baby. The trauma of her birth sent me straight from bed to stretcher for two hours of procedures to stitch my body back together. From the operating room I returned to my husband, who sat miserably, unable to feed our hungry daughter. Then it began: the weary, sore chest in the first days of feeding, the saggy eyelids from weeks of inconsistent sleep, the body that needed days to learn how to work again, so great was the trauma of her arrival.
We talk in mothers’ groups about martyrdom, and the wounds to my body are all physiological battle scars of the sacrifices we make for our children, scars that go understood in these circles. Yet as the months pass and my husband and I settle into a new normal and the fierce foray into motherhood burrows into the past, I’m beginning to see how much of a role my daughter plays in my death to self.
Over the course of my adolescence, early adulthood, and marriage I began to collect statues that took residence on the mantle and on the bookshelf, hidden behind a collection of catechisms. They are little gods, each of them, and one I first found shattered across the living room when we returned from the hospital. This was the god of ability, the god of I can, who calls its followers to unhealthy independence. From the hospital and then the couch where I spent the first weeks after delivery I discovered that there was no time to worship this god between the pain that kept me bedridden and the revolving door of food-bearing friends.
Gone now is the god of vanity, an Asherah pole, my stretch marks and newly maternal hips evidence of its demise. Crippled is the god of productivity, my very own Baal, who lives in my laptop and my completed task lists. Shattered, above all, is the god of knowing it all, whom my daughter has assailed with cries that bring me daily to my knees as I whimper: peace for the child, wisdom for me. With one blow she can disarm the gods of reason and intellectualism that situated themselves during our university years and the theology, the formation, the years of Christian school choking me in pride and piety.
My daughter is advocating for me without realizing it, her mere presence hastening me along the path to holiness. God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong, the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so it shouldn’t surprise me that the most potent weapon to rip away the idols I’ve held closest has come in the form of an eleven and a half pound baby. Sometimes she strikes with a sharp cry, other times with a sob of desperation, still other times with her tiny frame encapsulating my shoulder in complete trust. Regardless, to make room for her in our home, she has called us away from our self-worship, and so we have found shells of ourselves on our floor that have disintegrated without our attention.
Yet for all it has cost us, physically and otherwise, we have emerged from the rubble with fewer shackles, and the road before me is one of hope: I am not a patient woman or a humble one, but if these bits of brass and stone around me are any indication, I someday might be.
By Carmen Dahlberg
Carmen Dahlberg is a member of Detroit Community Outreach and lives in Detroit with her husband, Kevin, and daughter, Rebekah. She has a degree in honors English from the University of Michigan and is the founder of Belle Detroit L3C, a creative agency that trains and employs low-income Detroit mothers in graphic design, Web design, content writing, and editing. In her spare time, she enjoys sailing, backpacking, French conversation and culture, and great literature.