family, science, and community

My daughter was sick. For three days her little body fought temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Caring for my daughter when she is sick is emotionally and physically exhausting. Her body is the one going through hell so, why does it drain me so much?

A three day fever meant four days of just the two of us. Home. Other than attending to work emails and text messages, we have very little contact with the world at large. I go into nesting mode and clean as much as possible. She wants me to read to her, to cuddle with her, to make the pain go away. My physical presence is always a source of comfort for her but it seems especially important when she’s sick. I kiss her forehead regularly to monitor her temperature. When she’s in tears from the pain of her cough, I rub her back and remind her “mommy’s here.” I force her to drink tea and promise it’ll help soothe her raw throat. For days, I stay with her. Her body does all of the hard work of fighting whatever virus she has and I am just present. A witness to her experience. A provider of love and comfort.

On day four, she recovers. Nearly back to full health, I send her off to her dad’s for school vacation week. When I return home, I don’t think about myself — about my physical and emotional needs, I just go into work mode and try to catch up on all the things I didn’t do while Hannah was sick. At 4 AM, I convince myself to go to bed. At 7 AM the sunshine pouring through my widows interrupts my sleep. I close the blinds but cannot return to dreamland. Dragging myself out of bed, I decide to hit the pavement. It was a perfect day for a run — sunny and brisk.

Crossing over the river, it all hit me. The emotional weight of everything I carry — as a mom, as a grad student, as a single person, as the product of a broken world — all comes tumbling out. I try to reward myself for my run by getting a latte but the tears start streaming. I can’t stop them. My whole body is about to succumb to my emotion. I text my friends hurriedly and ask them to pray for me — I don’t know what’s happening, or why, but it’s so heavy. More than ever, in this moment, I need to know I have people that will help me lift my burdens to God. I am too weak to do it myself. I think about texting two others that are important to me too but, it doesn’t seem appropriate. As much as they mean to me, I don’t send them a message. I need prayers. I need God. The friends I texted responded right away that they are praying. No questions. No probing. Just immediate, unfailing, faithfulness to God and love for me. With blurry eyes I hurry home. I avoid the eyes of people pretending not to notice the crying girl on the busy street. As soon as I am safe in my apartment, I crumple into a heap on the cold tile. Deep sobs escape my body and I just let them out. Tears flow. As I cry, the two people I did not message both send me an e-mail. I cry even more. I just let all the emotion out and, in that moment, I know that God sees me. God is near. I don’t understand what that even means but, I know it is true.

As I get ready for the day, I put on a pretty outfit, mascara, and lip gloss — a mask to hide behind. I head off to work. I meet with strangers that entrust their baby to me. A wife. A husband. A baby girl. I take care of them. I hold the baby as if she were my own. I swaddle her and put her in the scanner. She likes the videos I play for her but she wants to play and engage, she doesn’t want to be laying in the scanner. We take her out and I hand her to her mom. Sitting in the control room, I watch as the mother. Sitting on the scanner bed, she nurses her daughter. A 3 Tesla magnet is the backdrop. She provides her daughter with nourishment and love. A mother loving, soothing, and providing for her daughter in a way that only moms can. As I watch the mother, another researcher and the dad are chatting about guitars and resonance. In that moment, everything feels right. I am where I am meant to be. I am doing what I love. New moms, new dads, new babies come to me and participate in my research because they believe in the work I do. For two hours, everyone works hard and makes sacrifices to help me collect data for my research. The visit ends. The family leaves.

We clean up the scanner room, removing any signs that the room had just been occupied by a family. I return to my desk in the lab. It’s tucked away in a corner. It feels safe. In that space, I find more community. More people that love and accept me just as I am. No striving. No hiding. Just me. It’s a fun day in lab. I’m too exhausted to fully engage but I thoroughly enjoy being surrounded by so many wonderful people.

The day goes on. As I head home to an empty apartment, I don’t feel alone. I feel loved. I feel held. I feel known.

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