Maria Lactans

Maria Lactans
Maria Lactans (wikimedia commons)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Heart of the Home by Andrea Nease

Several years ago, I read something (somewhere!) on how breastfeeding moms tend to favor their left side when nursing and how the heart of the body is tilted toward the left. It seems like God designed our hearts to be turned toward our nurslings. I thought that was interesting and it always stuck with me.

Most married Catholic women have heard the phrase that women are supposed to be the “heart” of the home. My tenth wedding anniversary is coming up this week and I have to say I only truly started to discover some mysteries of what being the “heart” of the home truly meant this past year. I have read some books on marriage and whenever this concept of being the “heart” is mentioned I’m always left wanting more and dissatisfied. I always come away thinking I’m not to supposed to think or help make decisions and leave that all up to my husband. That instead, I should focus on my emotions and being sentimental. While I certainly don’t discount compassion, empathy, intuition, or other attributes that are traditionally considered feminine, it never sat right with me I wasn’t supposed to be logical and utilize the cardinal virtue of prudence.

Sometime within the last year I listened to a Catholic talk that very briefly touched on the wife being the heart of the home and in the talk the speaker asked: “What does the heart do?” I think I stopped listening to the talk at that point because it was like a light bulb went off and I finally understood-with my head- more of what I should be doing with my heart. 

Rather than lumping “heart” in with emotions and feelings, I started to ponder what the heart actually does in the body. First, yes, the head (my husband) is placed over the heart. But the heart is at the center of the body. It is life-giving. If the heart doesn’t do its job, such as pumping blood to certain parts of the body, that part of the body can be damaged or even die. Without the heart functioning, the whole body will die. Even the brain can’t function properly without blood. In fact, the brain can only survive about six minutes without the heart. I often do feel like I am at the center of my home. I’m often behind the scenes but keeping everything together. And, the children are constantly coming and going from me as blood does to the heart.

On the flip side, many doctors will say medically if the brain is dead, even if there is a heartbeat or the body is kept alive, there is no life. I’m not sure what the Church’s position is on that scenario, but the point is both the brain and heart are important and they truly depend on each other to function maximumly, just as a husband and wife do. And together, they keep the whole body- the children, the community, the one Body of Christ-alive and kicking. Marriage is the foundation of our society after all. And while we’ve all heard the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body, I recently read another article that said if we think in terms of total work done, the heart is the strongest muscle since it is constantly working with no real break.

Moving beyond the obvious life giving and vital aspects of the heart, this line of thinking led me to focus more on the specific functions of the heart and compare them to my life as a (nursing) mother. There are four main chambers: the left atrium, the left ventricle, the right atrium, and the right ventricle. The atria receive the blood from the veins. The ventricles pump blood out into the body through your arteries. 

How does this translate to nursing and mothering? When we nourish our children, especially at the breast, we are being the “heart” by pumping life into our nurslings with all the love and care we give them. Physically, spiritually, emotionally. When we do this, we “receive” our “blood” (love) back. Sometimes this is simply just God’s design of a release of “love” horomones while nursing. Sometimes it’s the hug from a nursing toddler, the way they gaze in our eyes with happiness as they nurse, or when our toddler picks us a dandelion from the yard as a gift to mom or shares a toy with their sibling. It is hard work, but rewarding work. The children learn to be gentle and compassionate both at the breast and beyond. They first learn love in our arms and at the breast.

We see the symbolism in the Blessed Trinity. God is love, and for there to be love there must be a lover and a beloved. God the Father is the lover, and Jesus Christ is the beloved. The love they share for each other brings forth the Holy Spirit. (This concept is really the essence of the Theology of the Body according to Catholic author Katrina Zeno.) The nursing mother is the lover, the baby is the beloved, and we can be confident there will be good fruit produced from it- not only with our child but society and the church at large. This is a reminder that everything we do shouldn’t be for our own pleasure but has a greater purpose to move beyond ourselves and out to others (the body).

Another way to look at the heart is how it interacts with the lungs. When oxygen-poor blood comes back into the heart from the body, it is then taken to the lungs. The lungs take carbon dioxide out of the lungs and puts oxygen back into it. Here, the lungs can represent God. After all, we read in Genesis how God breathed life into man, and in other parts of the Bible God is referred to as the breath of life. The heart (mothers) propel their children and families back to themselves and ultimately toward the lungs (God) who then takes away our sin (carbon dioxide), converts us, and adds grace (oxygen) which had become poor and weak during our journey through the body.

The heart is working constantly. Mothers can relate to this. We often say it is a 24/7 job with no breaks. We are constantly working behind the scenes to send our family members out into the “body” (the domestic church or community) and always available for when they come back to us and need us, just as the blood constantly flows. After they come to us, with God’s grace we send them back off stronger than they were before. Ponder that in your heart the next time you comfort a crying (probably tantruming) toddler at the breast and how their demeanor has changed so drastically when they hop off your lap and run off to play again.
By Andrea Nease