Tomorrow marks 40 days since little Sophia was born. The tradition in the Orthodox Church is for mothers and their new babies to stay home for 40 days to rest, and return to be “churched” and ceremonially welcomed back in to the community after such a huge life event. So tomorrow Sophia and I will meet the priest in the back of the church after Liturgy, he will say prayers over me and Sophia, asking especially that God would grant that Sophia be soon united with Him in baptism, and then he will carry Sophia through the center of the church, saying, “I will go into Your House. I will worship toward Your Holy Temple in fear of You.” As the churching is related to Christ being brought to the temple by His Mother, the priest will bring Sophia up before the altar and say the Prayer of St. Simeon before handing her back to me: Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of Your people of Israel.
This time, after my third child, I am more grateful than ever for this tradition. There has been a lot of internet chatter lately about the state of postpartum care in America. It is an important conversation that I hope continues, as it is a complex social issue with no clear solution. I was taught that, ideally, a mother and child should try to stay at home, resting, for the entire 40 days. I have been blessed to come close to that this time, since my husband works from home, for himself, and has a flexible enough schedule that I lasted several weeks, if not the full six, before even running basic errands or taking my other kids out. But even though it was not practical for me to literally stay home for 40 days, and it is impossible for many of my friends to even come close, it is comforting to me that the Church says that these 40 days after birth are not supposed to be normal. They are a set apart time. You may still need to buy groceries and take your other kids to the pediatrician, but the Church is giving you a break, at least. Every time I would start to get stressed about the state of my house or the projects I wanted to accomplish, I would remind myself that the Church says I don’t have to be back to normal yet. And when the time comes, the Church welcomes back its mothers with the ceremony befitting such a sacred event.