Last week, during an intermission at a choral concert, my friend and I were comparing notes about our rapidly changing bodies. Her third baby is due on November 24 and my first is due on November 30.
“Do these pews seem shallow to you?” she asked me. “I can’t get comfortable.”
“Is it really hot in here?” I asked her, taking off my scarf.
She’s experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel in her right hand due to swelling. We’re tired and waddling. We’re both having fairly uncomfortable contractions, accompanied by back pain, shortness of breath, sweating, and headaches. I refilled my water bottle once and used the bathroom three times during the concert. “I’m a hot mess,” I whispered to her, and she giggled, feeling the same way. I looked around at the men in the audience with real amazement laced with both jealousy and pity, deeply realizing that none of them would or could know what my friend and I were enduring. I thought of both the trial and the gift I was living and reflected on how brokenness builds compassion.
I love the idea of being pregnant of my ability to bear another person’s body in my body. My ability to feed it and nurture it and grow with it. For me, there are serious theological ties here to communion (here is my body, broken for you) and the cross (Jesus taking our humanity, sin and death into his body and bearing it on the cross in order to offer us divinity and life). But the idea of being pregnant and actually being pregnant are two different things.
People, women with children in particular, keep looking at my gigantic belly and tell me, “It’s a miracle.”
It doesn’t always feel like a miracle. I really thought I would be one of those women who loved every moment of being pregnant, like I loved the idea of it, but I don’t. Even though I am excited to be a mother and honored to carry my child in my body, although I am curious about what my body is capable of and know without a doubt it will be worth it, I don’t think that requires me to love being uncomfortable and experiencing (although temporary) serious limitations. The idea of being pregnant is so romantic to me. Actually being pregnant is painful, consuming, humbling, and most days it is just plain exhausting. It surprises me that I don’t love every minute of being pregnant. I guess I just thought being part of a miracle would be more fun.
The idea of a miracle and actually being part of a miracle are two different things. Maybe it is how the miracle stories were written in the gospels. At times, Jesus seems to snap his fingers and the person benefits immediately. No nine month incubation period there. Maybe it is how Paul talks about life in the spirit in a way we can think it is separate with life in the body– that spiritual transformation can happen by rising above the matter of the body. Maybe it is how miracles are culturally perceived and presented in the media, with glowing light and slow music and tears of joy. Or maybe it is our constant misperception that good things are devoid of pain. But it actually came as a surprise to me how messy, draining, embodied and rough around the edges this whole miracle thing is. And I know, with the 30th approaching, it is about to get a whole lot messier.
This is a lesson I have to keep learning over and over again in life. There are real physical consequences for love. Miracles do not transcend, but work in and through the body. Love is not easy, but messy. Bodies were really healed. Jesus really suffered and really died before he really rose. And soon, through gritted teeth and pain and blood, the little creation inside of me will join us as a messy miracle.