Ash Wednesday has been hard for me these past several years now. The first day of Lent, a day of fast and abstinence, and... I'm not fasting. It feels all wrong. I know, in my head, that there's a very good reason that pregnant and nursing women are exempt from the fast: it would be would be irresponsible, even sinful, to deprive little ones of the nutrients they need and can only get from their mothers. That knowledge does little, though, to quell the feeling of but I should be fasting too.
Talking with other moms this year, I've realized that that response can actually be a form of pride, and not-fasting a sacrifice in its own right. Why do I feel that I should be fasting? A large part of it, I think, is because that's what we're supposed to do on Ash Wednesday, and just because I'm pregnant/nursing, I can still do it -- I'll be fine. It might affect my milk production a little bit, but not too much... and it should come right back. And the kid can really wean any time now anyway. So I can do this thing that I want to do, and not worry about it. Right?
When I spell it out like that, it becomes obvious how selfish my desire to fast really is. There is another human person who -- totally regardless of whether I want him to wean or not -- does still receive a substantial amount of his daily nourishment from me. There's no guarantee that my milk supply wouldn't be dramatically impacted by fasting; how could I justify risking depriving him of what he needs, just so that I can feel like I'm "doing Ash Wednesday right"?
Cheerfully accepting the cross, uncommon perhaps except among Catholic and Orthodox mothers, of not fasting is my sacrifice today. Walking back into the kitchen to make a real lunch after the teething child nurses through a nap and my stomach is growling is my denial of self. Pushing aside the image of the fasting regulations and having a small snack when I know that I need it is my obedience and submission to the Lent which God is calling me to right now.