So far, pregnancy has not been one of those life experiences that feels exactly like I thought it would. I’m not luminously wondering over the mystery of what’s going on inside my body, or joyfully anticipating the birth of our first child. Instead, I’m vacillating between completely shutting down and going on autopilot (proof of this: I’ve barely researched anything since getting pregnant…not that interested in registries or birthing classes or nursery décor. And I’m a researcher!) or being filled with anxiety and restlessness over what’s to come.
What’s weird is, in our culture there’s not a lot of room for a range of emotion regarding pregnancy. Just like when I first got married and people asked me, “How’s married life?” expecting some kind of blissful answer, pregnancy is an assumed state of joy. We greatly celebrate it with elaborate social media announcements and beautiful themed baby showers. People were way more excited when we told them we were having a baby than when we told them we were getting married. I’ve reacted the same way when friends have shared their pregnancy news—I’ve laughed and cried and hugged them and wondered what their baby would look like and proclaimed what great parents they’d make. There’s just something about new life that makes everyone giddy. Everyone except the mother-to-be. It seems that only accidental or “surprise” pregnancies are allowed a period of shock and maybe even grief, but our pregnancy was planned and hoped for, yet joy is near the bottom of the list of emotions right now.
I wish there were a ritual to mark the other side of this rite of passage, not the baby shower, squealing-over-tiny-clothes side, but the more solemn aspect of it all. It’s possibly the most significant rite of passage a woman makes in her life, if she does become a mother. It is shedding off the old and putting on the new, just like when one marries, but so much deeper even from the start, because it’s happening in your own body; you are not made one flesh with your child, as you are with your spouse, your baby is already your flesh and your bones, your heart and your future. The weight of what a pregnant woman carries, even when the baby is only 5 ounces, like mine is at this writing, is enormous. It is the weight of a new life; not just the baby to be born, but the woman’s new self to be born out of the ashes of her old, childless self. And the worst part is, you have no idea what that new self will look like. I’ve had anxious, controlling friends become natural, laidback mothers and I’ve watched the most easygoing women turn into fussy worrywarts once their babies arrive. I’ve known people who couldn’t wait to go back to work before giving birth, but afterward couldn’t imagine leaving their baby, and vice versa. We just don’t know what our new identity will be in this strange country called motherhood. We must wonder and wait in discomfort for months, watching the tsunami of change build up pressure and force until the day it tears apart everything we once knew.
“Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?” (Ps. 127:3) Scripture makes it clear that children are a blessing, and throughout the Bible, God seemed to take special pleasure in making the barren woman a mother. Knowing this, and knowing how many women (including some closest to me) have struggled or are struggling to get pregnant makes it feel cruel to air the feelings of remorse, uncertainty, even dread we have as we await the birth of our babies. But those feelings are real, and I really think it’s OK to feel them, although maybe important to share them with sensitivity and discretion. I once read that having a newborn thrusts a woman into a “new world order,” and that is not something to be taken lightly. But how does one prepare for a new world order? How does one grieve the old world order; the only one she’s ever known, that she now must leave behind?
What about you? What was the transition through pregnancy to motherhood like for you? Or what do you think it will be like, if you aren’t there yet?
P.S. I wrote years ago about pregnancy/birth as a kind of death in my essay “To Be Born Over and Over Again”, if you’d like to read; also here on the blog last year I wrote about the scary side of entering new seasons in life.