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The Gritty Spiritual Work of Pregnancy: 40 weeks of transformation

“If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure, I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”-Dorothy Day

What a miracle it is that we are able to grow and birth a completely new person.  To produce a child is the supreme act of creation that, sadly, in our times, tech scientists are working to counterfeit with humanoid AI robots.  Of course, that cannot compare to the miracle of conception and gestation that takes no intellectual effort on our part at all, and yet produces a tiny human being with a body, mind, and spirit, made in God’s image.  

It is easy to take for granted the wonder of how a pregnant mother’s body knows exactly what to do to nurture and support this new life.  The mother does not need to think about growing a placenta, it just happens.  

This doesn’t mean that the work of pregnancy and ultimately labor, birth, and postpartum is easy or passive.    

In pregnancy, the sharp rise in hormones often produces the unwelcome pregnancy challenges of nausea, vomiting, food aversions, and heightened sensitivities.  Much of the hardest symptoms of pregnancy happen early on, when the pregnancy itself is imperceptible.  The struggle of it, can lead one to feel like a passive victim of pregnancy’s woes, but knowing that struggle is always a part of growth, can help reframe this process as the gritty spiritual work of transformation.  

The work of this new creation is unseen, deep within.  Referring to Dorthy Day’s quote, you are the creator, chosen by your Creator for this work to come forth.  

So awesome. Awe is a necessity for a rich spiritual life.  The definition of awe is a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear and wonder. This is a natural emotional reaction to the mystery of childbirth.  Yet in the midst of this wonder we are met with such annoying physical discomforts that often cloud are thinking and reflection. In response we may look for ways to quickly fix the problem, shut it down, and try to get back to feeling normal, when maybe we have something to seek out and learn from these challenges.

How can we maintain awe at the life we are creating by God’s gift in the midst of these challenges on this sacred journey into motherhood?

Well, I'd like to try to help with a little reflection. In the bible, 40 days carries spiritual significance as a period of struggle before entering into the promise.  It is a liminal space between what was and what will be.  We see this is the flood story–how it rained and poured for 40 days before the rainbow was hung in the sky. We see it in the 40 years the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt, before entering into the promise, and we see it again in Jesus' 40 day fast before beginning His ministry. 

Can we look at pregnancy as a time sharing this deep spiritual significance? In pregnancy you are in the liminal space of no longer being a (relatively) carefree maiden, but not yet a mother.  You can no longer eat or drink whatever you choose. It is a time of struggle as your body changes like never before.  The bible stories mentioned above all deal with physical discomfort as well.  A cold, wet storm keeps you cooped up with a bunch of animals with no ventilation for 40 days-it’s enough to make you sick to your stomach! 40 years in the wilderness with nothing to eat but the same manna every single day–you have to force yourself to eat!  Sound familiar?  But also remember that at the end is the fulfilled promise, the rainbow, the land flowing with milk and honey, the kingdom of heaven made manifest--life will come through you and you will hold you long awaited miracle.

Pregnancy is a hard season for most people.  But, as much as I would like for no mom to ever have morning sickness again, maybe some of these struggles have a purpose.  There is a spiritual invitation to surrender to the process and the grit of having to deal with a difficult physical experience. I often tell mom's struggling with sleep later in pregnancy, having to get up and pee at all hours, that this happens for a reason--you are getting trained for life with a newborn--you're going to be up a lot.

With our eyes looking for the significance of this season with awe at the mystery of God’s gift of life, what might we learn?  What might we see? How might we become more prepared for the journeys of birth and motherhood ahead?  Those are no easy tasks and this is no easy journey, but it is so so meaningful.

You are on this journey of new life with the Author of life. A new part of the story is taking shape in you. May awe abound at the wonder and mystery of it all. And may you be blessed, even in the challenges.

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