Math + Poetry During New Motherhood

You probably already know that postpartum is hard. I won’t tell you more about how it takes time to heal from birth and learn the rhymes of a new fertility. Instead, I want to share about the numbers I’ve been dealing with as a new mother, and the freedom I’ve found in the midst of them as I experience firsthand the astonishing elasticity of the feminine heart. 

3 diapers per car: The pace of logistics as a new mother has reminded me of driver’s ed— the overwhelming way that cars blurrily flew by. Like that, the logistics of motherhood at first seemed of a breakneck speed. Efficiently packing a diaper bag for all infant contingencies is hard enough, but nurse, diaper change, outfit switch, and make it to Church on time too? And remember a water bottle, snack, and vitamins? The blur! Learning rules of thumb has slowed the pace. Always have at least three diapers in the car.  

2 ties: A lip tie and a sneaky tongue tie, undiscovered for much too long, leading to months of struggle. How much pain these tiny ties can cause for a new mother and baby! Breastfeeding challenges left me counting feedings for weeks to make sure she was getting enough nourishment. I’ll never forget these calculations, which also gave me the confidence that my little girl was eating enough and the courage that we could keep going.  

1 less hand: Coming from a large family, the change from party of two to party of three hasn’t been shocking; rather, it’s been some of the littlest things that have caught me off guard. Like the complexity of making dinner one-handed while baby-holding a wiggly little one. My mom made it look so easy!  

0 undivided attention: There’s a tiny girl always on my mind now, so dependent on me physically for health and happiness. Time’s current feels different now, somehow both slower and stronger than when it was just me. Learning to meet my body’s demands for food and exercise, and my marriage’s need for quality time, must find a place in these swells.  

Full of small estimations (nine diapers down today, four more days worth remaining), motherhood is anything but calculated. The glory is that motherhood mysteriously imbues the divided time and daily counting with an unspeakable richness. There is no Q.E.D. or proof attached to it, but it’s true. There’s a joy to nurturing new life that only a mother’s heart knows fully. Which, I suspect, is why so many older women stop us young mothers on the sidewalk and in the grocery store, going out of their way to reassure us, “Being a mother is the best,” or “I know it seems so hard now but mine are grown now and I miss that time.”  

We new mothers are the ones who tend to count too much, worrying that our baby met the “right quota” of diapers and feedings per day while seasoned mothers just smile at us. Yet, even as we count, we feel the wonder of it all for the very first time. That’s uniquely, powerfully freeing. This time has a special fullness that I will always remember and hold onto, until in time I become that older woman who stops the young woman in the grocery store because I just want to affirm how good new babies are and how important new mothers are. 

In motherhood, like in a good poem, the lines of daily moments string together into a whole much greater than the sum of their parts. I’ve been thinking about this connection while working my way through the Catholic poet Sally Thomas’ Motherland, which I’ve been meaning to read since it came out in 2020. Maybe I subconsciously knew to hold off until now, because it feels like such an apt time! As the title suggests, the collection explores the theme of motherhood in various forms: physical motherhood, country as motherland, etc.  

In a poem called “For You,” Thomas offers a lighthearted yet touching exploration of a mother’s heart. When one of her children asks her, “Am I your favorite?” she affirms, “Yes,” with the qualification that, if the child is eight, that makes that child her favorite eight-year-old.  

She goes further though, recalling carrying that child in the womb and affirming love not in spite of, but through, the pangs of pregnancy and labor: “You were my favorite … live-weight centered on the cervix / My favorite sight unseen that year.”  It’s a wry expression of the elasticity of love, that expands even during seasons where we feel “weak,” exhausted by the taxing physical demands of supporting new life.  

In lines that can’t help but resonate with a new parent’s heart, she continues, saying that the child before her is indeed her favorite child in that moment because, “You stand before me, asking that my heart / Declare, You first, you always.” 

Lest we worry about the child’s siblings, the poem’s conclusion invites us more deeply into the mystery of how motherly love defies division:  

“Love’s strange, elastic laws 

Grant each child its undiluted part, 

And that, my love, is what I offer you.” 

As a new mother, these lines ring true. When I look at my seven-month-old daughter, it’s almost hard to imagine anything or anyone ever making my heart feel as full again. Yet, just as the mystery of loving her is more awe-inspiring and fulfilling than I could have fully realized beforehand, I know welcoming other lives will break the bounds of math too.  

So ultimately, what’s most striking to me about new motherhood is not the trickiness of washing dishes one-handed. It’s the intricacy of the practical and the lyricism that our fertility orients us to, the intersection of counting and cuddles, the freedom to be found among dirty onesies and mysteriously stretchy love.  

Written by Savanna Duca, CCL Family Foundations contributing writer and new, first-time mother.