When I was in college years ago, I once rhapsodized to a fellow member of the student pro-life group about the fantastic role human beings play in God’s miraculous creation of new life.
“Wouldn’t it be just amazing,” I gushed, “to nurture a new life growing inside of you?”
My friend was a good pro-life Catholic, but he was a young man. In my experience, young men don’t readily rhapsodize, especially about babies.
“No,” he answered plainly. “Having something alive inside your body sounds more like a horror movie than a miracle to me.”
I didn’t let his masculine misgivings dissuade me, however, and I remained a dreamy-eyed romantic about the miracle of new life, pregnancy and childbirth until a few years later — when I became pregnant.
When I experienced an actual pregnancy instead of just imagining it, I started to see my college friend’s point of view. Real-life pregnancy might not be a horror movie, I discovered, but there most definitely was more to this whole nurturing-new-life thing than I had anticipated as a young idealist.
Take me nowadays, for example.
“Slow doooooown,” I groaned to my husband one recent evening as I gasped for air and dragged my eight-months-along pregnant body up the stairs behind him. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so pregnant.”
My husband is a smart man. He knew better than to point out that of course I have been this pregnant before — six times, in fact. He knew that this was not the time to remind me of the miracle of new life growing inside me. He merely smiled, gave my belly a pat, and said, “I don’t think so, either.” The kids have been accommodating as well.
Still, despite my family’s patience and understanding, I spent one recent Sunday morning feeling particularly put out by my pregnant circumstances. Even the spacious interior of our full-size van felt cramped to me as I maneuvered my oversized belly between the seats and buckled in the kids before leaving for church. Once at Mass, my emotions alternated between pathetic self-pity and resentment of 25-pound Gabrielle’s insistence that I hold her.
When I heard the familiar words of the eucharistic prayer, however, they seemed to fall upon my ears with new meaning: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.”
In the Eucharist, Our Lord gives us an incredible gift of himself — his physical body. Mothers have a unique opportunity to imitate Christ’s self-giving love through the acceptance of the physical impositions of pregnancy and of childbearing, I realized. How can I accept Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist — given freely and totally with no strings attached — and yet gripe about my own child’s “use” of my body for nine short months?
After receiving Communion that day, I perched on the edge of the pew and balanced Gabrielle on one knee. The baby inside twisted and turned. When little Stephen scooted closer and snuggled against my side, I put my arm around him and he rested his head against me.
Just as many of the pains of motherhood are physical ones, so too are many of its pleasures. One of the nicest things about embracing motherhood, I thought to myself, is that it hugs you back.
Danielle Bean writes from
Belknap, New Hampshire.