The thought has crossed my mind lately that while I love the idea of pregnancy, the practical aspects feel nightmarish right now.
At 36 weeks pregnant with my fourth baby, all the pregnancy discomforts are here in full force: the aches, extreme fatigue, pressure, acid reflux, feeling that I can’t take a real breath because baby is pushing up against my lungs, lightheadedness in the July Texas heat index of 105+, and a return of the nausea that was so severe during the first half of the pregnancy that I barely left my bed for months.
I know that I’m participating in something sacred and incredible: the creation of a new human being. That this body of mine is where my tiny daughter is being knit together, nourished, and protected until she’s ready to take her first breath. I know that this experience, unique to womankind, is a reflection of God’s power as Creator and a reflection of Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross: this is my Body, given up for you.
But in my mind, I often separate these abstract truths from my physical experience. “I like the IDEA of pregnancy,” I tell myself. “But the reality is rough.” I think this is an understandable reaction to months of suffering due to hyperemesis gravidarum and then 3rd trimester discomforts. But I also think it’s missing something.
I’ve been reading Southern novelist Flannery O’Connor’s collection of essays Mystery and Manners. It’s pure gold, all of it. But what has jumped out at me most has been O’Connor’s insights into fiction writing for Catholic authors. She claims that the novelist’s job is to communicate the mystery of the universe, but not through abstractions or preaching or commitment to some belief floating around. The novelist must clearly and effectively communicate mystery to the reader using all she has to work with: the material. The senses, the physical world, a particular place, specific characters. The supernatural can only be expressed through the material.
This has me thinking about our human experience of the supernatural with God as the “novelist” of our story. How does he communicate the mystery of his Love to us? Through what we can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste.
He became incarnate, infleshed, a baby born from a specific human woman in a particular town on one day in history. He comes to us again in the Eucharist using bread and wine so that we can taste him and receive him into our physical bodies. This is no disembodied, abstracted faith. It is heaven touching earth, the supernatural touching the material and making it holy, even among the mess.
What is the creation of a new human life apart from months of growing a child within a woman’s womb? Her aching back, the growing child’s pressure against her pelvic bones, the nausea, exhaustion, pain, and the holy mess of a birth: tears, sweat, and blood? Is this not where love dwells? Here in the agony and mess?
What is marriage separated from the daily sacrifices and sufferings of giving your life for another person? It does not exist in the abstractions, in the mere idea of loving, which will always fall short. It is nourished only in the life of love lived out: getting up at dawn with the kids so your pregnant wife can sleep just a few more minutes, making two cups of coffee instead of one, folding the towels, staying up when you’re tired so you can talk and reconnect, climbing into the same bed committed to doing it all over again tomorrow together. Is this not where love dwells? In the faithful sacrifice and the mess?
It’s easy for me to make motherhood abstract, “I’m building cathedrals! Helping these little souls to heaven!” while ignoring the fact that this task happens here, not just in the world of romantic ideals. It is nursing a newborn through the night when all you want to do is sleep. It is fetching snacks for toddlers, giving baths, and trying to teach children to pray while they wiggle, wander, bicker, and interrupt. It is getting tangles out of hair and washing dirty dishes. This is where love dwells. Here in the exhaustion and the mess.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation happens not just on a spiritual plane but by walking my body into the confessional, opening my mouth to tell my sins to a priest standing in persona Christi, hearing the words of absolution wash over me. This is where love dwells, how the mercy of God reaches in. Here in our mess.
There is no other way. We are body and soul. The mystery of God’s love touches both. As I groan through the final days of this pregnancy I must remember that the miracle isn’t happening somewhere else. It’s happening right here. In the suffering and the mess.
In my swollen feet. In the pressure of my growing child on my bladder. In the 3rd trimester insomnia. Right here. This is where love dwells and the grace of God reaches out for me. Behold the mystery.