The Sunday before Christmas, we were treated to one of the most moving passages in the Gospels:
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled." (Luke 1:39-45)
At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was already in her sixth month; so, by the time of the Visitation, Elizabeth must have been almost ready to give birth. We mothers can attest that, by the end of the third trimester, the baby can't so much as yawn or wiggle a toe without getting our attention. That baby moves and we feel it! As newborns, some of my babies had the habit of rhythmically turning their heads from side to side, or of putting one arm up over their heads -- and, seeing it for the first time, I thought: Oh, so that's what you were doing in there, you little one! Odd sensation, to be so familiar with a phenomenon without actually knowing what it is.
I was thinking about the movement of babies far away on the other end of pregnancy -- in those first few months, when things are so tentative. Those first several weeks can be very odd: you know, intellectually, that there is a tiny life inside you -- but feeling like it's real is another thing altogether. I remember taking a book out of the library and reading over and over, "Your baby is now the size of a grain of rice."
"My baby" -- words that meant everything and nothing to me. I believed with all my heart that this little person was present -- was actually a human being who existed in the world, with an immortal soul and specific, unique DNA. I knew that my life had changed forever. I knew precisely (at least in an academic way) what was going on inside me -- and yet I didn't actually have any experience of it, beyond being tired. My belly was flat. My life was the same. And yet I was no longer alone, and never would be again.
In that first part of pregnancy, the weeks go by, and the weeks go by, and the books say that you might start to feel movement. They say that new mothers may not be able to identify the sensation of fetal movement as early as experienced mothers do; but I've found that it has less to do with experience, and more to do with how I'm carrying the baby. I remember very clearly how it was when I felt my first baby move: like a drop of water dropping into a bucket. Plip! Just like that. And nothing else feels that way.
But with other babies, it was a fizz, or a flutter, or a twitch. Some babies, I felt it early, and some, not until nail-bitingly late. Some babies, I couldn't tell apart from gas until I was well into the second trimester. It depended on how I was carrying them.
But here's the thing: when I couldn't feel the baby move -- or couldn't be sure that what I was feeling was actually the baby -- I was still pregnant. I still had to act as if I were pregnant: taking my vitamins, taking it easy, not smoking, not drinking more than a glass here and there. Making plans. Changing my plans. Taking this new life into account. I knew what I carried, even if I couldn't feel any movement yet. I knew that, God willing, the baby would grow.
And that is where we all are, at one time or another. It's not just pregnant moms who are faced with this odd disparity of knowledge and sensation. Dear fetal John the Baptist leaped for joy because he was made for the specific purpose of telling people that his dear fetal savior was near. And his mother Elizabeth, whether through the intuition of pregnancy, or through a gift of knowledge from the Holy Spirit, knew why her little son jumped: she knew that it was the Lord, the little blessed one, the tiny Messiah, hiding inside His mother.
He was still so young, so small. Had Mary felt Him move yet? We don't know. But we do know that she believed He was there. She believed.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. Blessed are we, men, women, and children who hold the Lord within us. We cannot always feel Him move. We do not always know what that sensation is: is it the Lord, moving, stirring, making Himself known? Or is it something else? Blessed are we who are not sure. We cannot see any signs that He is with us. We read the manuals and we try to believe. Even when His presence doesn't seem real, we continue to behave as if we are sure.
We speak to the Child, and hope He can hear.