The summer between my 7th and 8th grade years our golden retriever had puppies. On the last day of school we woke up to eight black lab/golden retriever mix puppies, making that summer one of the most memorable I’ve ever had. We watched Montana go from playful family dog to protective mother literally overnight. She birthed those puppies on her own in her doghouse. She nursed those babies whenever they were hungry. She snapped at my youngest brother when he tried to touch one of them. She never left them in those early days.
And then she weaned them.
I’m not exactly sure how the weaning process goes for dogs, but as quickly as she went from jovial family dog to protective momma dog, she went right back to her former life without batting an eye. We gave away most of the puppies, but kept one for my brother (he loved dogs), and her relationship with that dog was filled with contention. He bothered her. He had more energy than her. In many ways the way she acted around him was like any other dog that invaded her personal space. Sure, she birthed him and nursed him. But once that process was over she forgot it even happened. She forgot he was her son.
Not so with humans, right?
Seth turned one last month, which in many ways is hard to imagine. With your first baby (or babies, in my case), you wait for every milestone with bated breath. You just can’t wait for them to turn one, see the world, and grow older. With subsequent kids time seems to move more quickly, even though you desperately want it to slow down so you can drink those moments in a little more deeply, or smell that sweet baby head for a little longer. But babies stop for no one, not even sentimental mommas like me.
I nursed Seth for the last time last night, and unlike my dog who moved on once her babies were weaned, I will remember this year with him for the rest of my life. I always knew this day would come, and in a lot of ways I was dreading it. It’s been such a sweet experience, one I didn’t have with the twins, and I didn’t know how to prepare my heart for it. But as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” and this is one of those good things.
Whenever I have talked to an older mom about nursing, or even other things related to these little years that I am in the midst of, the common refrain is “what I wouldn’t give for just five more minutes with them that little.” Most moms don’t want to go back long term to the days of diapers, middle of the night feedings, or tantrums—but there is something in their words that captures the sweetness of these days, a sweetness I know I will miss when it’s all said and done.
And this is where the beauty of our image bearing comes forth in all its feminine glory. Isaiah asks in Isaiah 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child?” We know the answer, right? All women who have ever nursed a baby shout a resounding “no!” Not only can your body physically not forget that baby that you are nursing, your heart cannot either. Just ask an older mother.
This is one distinguishing marker of our humanness. Animals are not created in the image of God. We are. The fact that I will always remember how I felt when I held the twins for the first time, how my heart broke when they got their first shots, how the sadness came when I nursed Seth for the last time, or how I grieve over their disobedience is not so I can have a memory box when I’m old and gray. It’s so I will look to the God whose image I bear.
God gives us these earthly examples of motherly remembrance so we have tangible examples of an infinitely more perfect kind of memory and love. God doesn’t forget his children, ever. If our visceral reaction to such a question posed to a mother, “can you forget your child?” is “never!” then how much more should our hearts rejoice to know that God is so much better than our finite memories even allow.
Isaiah doesn’t just end with the question posed about nursing mothers, though. Life in a fallen world tells us that even though some of us might not forget our babies, there are plenty who do. He goes on to say in the second part of verse 15, that even if some forget their children, God will never forget his. God’s love is better than even the best mother’s love.
God is not male or female. We know this. And we know that he identifies himself as Father, that Christ came as a male, and that we don’t see him called by a feminine pronoun in scripture. But there is something going on in our image bearing that tells a story about God. The feminine imagery for God is there for a reason. My femaleness tells the world something about who God is, what he is like, how he loves, how he cares, and how he works in the world. That is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated.
I think that is why we marvel at a mother who sacrifices for a baby. We see what she endures through pregnancy, we hear of her pain and agony in labor, we watch her nurture and sacrifice for this little life, and then we see how she looks at that baby and are often brought to tears. There is a point to all of that. It’s not just so we can say “how sweet it is that she loves her baby.” In her tender care for that child, she is imaging the God who created her. It’s all designed to turn our eyes towards the creator, our God, and say “see how much greater is the Father’s love for his children!”
I’m sure it will take some time for me to get used to this new normal with Seth. I know it will for him. We’ve had a good run, him and me. As we move into this new phase of his life I am forever grateful for the memories I will carry from this year nursing him. It was something I prayed for and God graciously answered that prayer in the way I hoped. A nursing mother doesn’t forget her children, it’s true, and I’ll remember mine until the day I die.