Pregnancy as a Spiritual Practice
I’ve been surprised by how little I have written about being pregnant and my experience being pregnant. I’ve tried to process that a little and I think there are a lot of reasons for it, one reason is probably that honestly overall I haven’t enjoyed pregnancy as much as I thought I would and to write about it too much would probably mean to complain about all the aches and pains and discomforts as well as the fears and insecurities that it stirs up – no one wants to read about that right? Anyway, today though I want to write about pregnancy and share a few thoughts about pregnancy as a spiritual practice and spiritual discipline.
Let me begin by saying that though I do feel like pregnancy is a spiritual practice of sorts I don’t by any means think that pregnancy is an essential or even really an important spiritual practice. Half of the population (men) will never experience it and many women both by heart ache as well as by choice will also never experience it. For those who want to experience pregnancy but are not able to my heart truly breaks and I do not want this post in any way to rub salt in an open wound. So, please if that is your experience don’t read on if you don’t want to, and don’t hold it against me that I wrote this post.
There is so much I could say about pregnancy being a spiritual practice and experience I’m not really sure where to begin now… well, I guess I’ll just jump in…
To me pregnancy feels like a spiritual practice because it is an act which joins us with the creative life-giving God. In pregnancy we partner with God to bring forth life. I really believe that it is a profound and sacred act, an act which is both entirely temporal and physical and yet also entirely spiritual and non-temporal. I can’t really explain that, I more just feel it, so I’m going to move on to another point.
When I first learned that I was pregnant one of the first things that I felt was an overwhelming sense of being out of control. This was so different from anything I had ever experienced before that it sort of shocked me in its severity. I realized very quickly in my pregnancy that I really had no control over whether this baby lived or died, whether he developed healthily or not, whether my body would do all that it was suppose to or not. I was intimately involved in the process of daily creating and sustaining this life, but I had no conscious control over how it progressed. To me it was (and is) a strange feeling to feel so deeply connected with creating life and yet to feel so removed from it. I have never felt as completely vulnerable as I have felt since being pregnant. Vulnerable to physical pain, to heart ache, loss, and even to death (in fact I have been a little shocked by how the act of bringing forth life can be such a vivid reminder of life’s fragility and end).
This feeling of vulnerability and lack of control have brought me to look at all of life with much more awareness of my own smallness. I have realized through this experience that I am out of control and vulnerable in more areas of my life than just my pregnancy and it has called me to a deeper trust in God and his sovereignty. Through pregnancy I realize anew that there is more to life than meets the eye, there is Other and I am called into a trust relationship with that Other. Through pregnancy I realize that I can’t go at it alone and that I do ultimately control very little in my life and world. Through pregnancy I realize that it is when pain and heart ache are close to us or threaten to be close to us that we most learn to trust the ultimate love and goodness of God. Through pregnancy I learn again to let go and surrender to that which is and will be.
Pregnancy feels like a spiritual practice to me also because it is a time that forces you into waiting. You can’t rush it, you have 40 weeks of waiting and anticipating and wondering and praying. Even though there’s a lot to do to prepare, pregnancy seems like it sort of forces you to slow down and be patient. As I wait for this baby to grow, I wonder what he’s going to be like, I wonder what kind of mom I’m going to be, and in many ways every day I have to let go and wait on God. Trusting him.
Pregnancy also feels like a bit of a spiritual practice to me because it is uncomfortable. It’s not easy being pregnant. Sure it’s beautiful and fulfilling and feminine, but it’s also terribly uncomfortable and awkward. You get nauseous, your back hurts, your skin itches, you get big and your balance changes - just to mention a few. In all honesty your whole body changes. I feel like dealing with the change and discomfort can be a sort of spiritual discipline. How I handle the physical pain and discomfort of pregnancy can teach me how to handle the pain and discomfort of life in general. Can I let go of the discomfort and pain and work through it? Can I continue to live lovingly towards those around me even in the midst of discomfort? Can I let go of my selfishness enough to notice and care for another’s discomfort even amidst my own? But will I also take care of myself when needed and recognize when I am pushing myself too hard and my discomfort is a sign that I need to slow down and rest? Can I listen to what my body is trying to communicate to me? Pregnancy forces me into all these questions and these questions force me to face my own inadequacy and that inadequacy forces me back on my knees before God’s throne of grace.
There is more I could write about pregnancy and the spirituality of it, and how it has drawn me and called me to a deeper relationship with God, but honestly I’m not sure how to put the rest in words yet and I’m not even sure if what I’ve put into words so far will make sense to anyone but me. So maybe I’ll stop here.
I want to close this post by sharing with you a poem that my friend Joanna wrote and gave me at my baby shower. I think it paints a beautiful picture of pregnancy and the spiritual mystery that is present in the act of bringing forth life into the world. I think it also portrays this awe-inspiring dichotomy of it being my body and yet not only my body which brings forth this new creation.
Blessed are you, womb that heals and holds Grows and tends Stretches and shares The life of mine own Blessed are you, skin that glows Ripe and ready for the harvest fruit Ready for the great harvest of the one within Blessed are you, bringer of life Passage of light Harbinger of all things good and pure Blessed are you, blood that nurtures, protects and provides Blood of my blood Flesh of my flesh Bone of my bone Blessed are you, one within The indwelling indwells with you The spirit that knows you Knits you Loves you Blessed are you, my sweet gift Honor and privilege to call you my own And show you the great love that is mine to give away To you
Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany