When I first got pregnant, I was inspired by the pregnant women who embraced their growing, changing bodies. I wanted to be one of those women. I wanted to be Maya Rudolph, just like this. (Isn’t she the greatest?) But the thing is, I’ve never been a person who is truly comfortable in her body, so why would pregnancy suddenly make me so? Instead, it’s given me feelings of being simultaneously trapped in my body and having no control over my body. Lovely. It’s also quite horrifying to have the one part of my body about which I’ve always been most self-conscious, my belly, to be growing rapidly and also, apparently, a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation for friends, acquaintances, and I’m guessing soon, strangers.
Like it or not, pregnancy makes you think about your body, a lot. In those first few months when I was sick all the time, I had to constantly monitor my body, my appetites, my level of nausea, which foods I could possibly stand eating. I imagine once this (wonderful) second trimester is over, the discomforts and general hugeness of the third trimester will have me once again very consciously inhabiting my body. But I’ve never been very connected to my body, despite my discipline with fitness. I’ve always cultivated a life of the mind, instead. I’m not musical, I have very little rhythm, I don’t play sports. When I was a young teen hanging out at my best friends’ house, we ended up jumping in a pile of leaves. I barely remember this, except perhaps asking them what exactly I was supposed to do? But my friends’ mom, Gayle, probably brings up that memory once a year–it was just so funny to her to see my awkward joy in being a body, jumping in fall leaves. It was much more natural at the time to find me curled up with a book, or talking to a friend on our cordless phone with my feet in the pool. School and studying and books are comfortable worlds for me; athletics and new physical environments are not.
It’s terrifying, then, to think of being plunged headlong into a life of the body, and not nearly so much of the mind, for the next year-plus: from pregnancy, to labor and birth, to postpartum recovery and breastfeeding, not to mention taking care of our baby’s every single bodily need. It’s a very human life, though–and I can’t deny that I have longed to be more connected to my body, to my “creatureliness,” as Walter Brueggemann puts it. Frederick Buechner says “the biblical understanding of man is not that he has a body but that he is a body.”
Several years ago during an immersion course in Italy, I learned so much simply by viewing and studying Signorelli’s fresco The Resurrection of the Flesh in the little chapel in Orvieto, where he depicts the resurrection of the body (see below). His painting was truly controversial at the time, because people believed our spirits were good, our bodies were bad, and in the final resurrection we would be free from our evil bodies. But if you read Scripture like 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul talks about the resurrection of the body, you can’t help but think that we will have bodies–albeit new and different–in the world to come. Signorelli paints these new resurrection bodies, people enjoying them, trying them out. That fresco, plus the pure sensual experience that is Italy, made me feel more alive in my body than perhaps ever before–I remember treading water in the navy blue Mediterranean, exhilarated after a long, hot hike, gazing at the colorful town of Vernazza, and feeling one in body and spirit.
Could that be the beautiful possibility behind the bodily discomforts and sensations that come with early motherhood? I hope so. Today as I pondered these thoughts I came across the passage in Hebrews about how God disciplines those he loves. My life of the mind is lopsided, and the hardships and discomforts of pregnancy and childbearing could be seen as discipline, as a way of gently shaping me into the best version of myself, lovingly refusing to let me stay the way I’ve always been.