Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Great With Child

I still don't have much to say these days. While writing is usually a good outlet for me, I feel like it is more of a chore lately. Reading, however, will never feel like a chore (unless it is trying to figure out our sample ballot for the election).

As I look toward the end of this pregnancy, (Can it really only be nine more weeks?), I have pulled out an old friend. Great with Child: Reflections on Faith, Fullness, and Becoming a Mother by Debra Rienstra is my favorite pregnancy book. In fact, it is the only pregnancy book I own or find worth reading. I have read it with each of my pregnancies, and I still find her reflections worth meditating on again and again. Each time I read it, something different strikes me. This time, I was surprised that she, too, was a little disappointed to find out she was having a boy.

Really, I cannot do the book justice in a review. You should just read it. Her weaving of the experience of pregnancy and motherhood with literary allusions, feminist theory, and theology is astounding. I will give you just a few lovely pieces:

On Creating Life
The longing to create life is elemental, on the level of fire, earth, and death. The steadily humming tissues and organs, as they play out their unconscious patterns, long to serve something spiritual, to touch the eternal. Perhaps the mortal body snatches out toward the immortal body. I believe that immortality is not a matter of disembodied spirits floating about in some cloudy afterlife, but of flesh, the carnal, renewed and perfected beyond our imaginings, reborn with all of creation. It does not seem strange to me, then, that our physical bodies lean hard, with our souls, toward the eternal (3).

On Blood
After all, we bleed because the world bleeds. Life is always paid for with suffering and blood. That is the way of the fallen world. Women know this in their flesh...if one must cycle through the sad and dark in order to perceive and receive the light, and if women's bodies are designed to model this same kind of cyclical movement, is that design a pain or a power?...We women don't shed our blood for sins, ours or other people's. But we do shed it, typically, amid some sadness, and we do shed it for the possibility of new life. Does this not give us a kind of connection to Jesus that has been very little discussed or appreciated...Because I see Christ's bleeding at the center of redemptive history, can I also see women's bleeding resonate outward from this, across all ages of history and races of women (16-21)?

On the Desire for Children, Fulfilled or Unfulfilled
Desire is the psychic engine that drives us toward God. It is not wrong to desire something good, to desire it deeply, earnestly, tenaciously. It is not wrong to grieve when this good thing is delayed or when it never comes. I believe God understands and honors desire, even when that desire will finally be answered with a "No."...Even in desire there must be an openness that is not exactly a welcoming of grief, but a sober acknowledgment of the possibilities, a willed acceptance of the risks (31).

On Mary and Surrender
Mary's task was the bearing and raising of a child, which can operate as a symbol of all things that require great effort and bear fruit far beyond the personal rewards involved. But the literal bearing and raising of a child is indeed a calling, a mission, and moments of joyous surprise and expectation have the shadow of a cost. I think this is why the first several weeks of pregnancy typically feature an assortment of discomforts: we need reminding...that if we foolishly imagine for a minute that parenthood is an accomplishment or achievement or right, sooner or later something will smack us with the realization that it is, above all, a surrender (41).

On Women's Work of Waiting
Nothing is so uncomplicatedly wholesome and holy as this. And how rarely in history has it been acknowledged as women's good work. Labor and delivery, obviously work because of the pain and danger, have received sympathy and concern through the ages, but too often, as the cursed analogue to Adam's sweaty toil in the soil, childbirth pain is celebrated in misogynist writing and talk as exactly what those vile women deserve. (How often have women written gleefully about how men deserve every weed they pull?) Nevertheless, the quieter work of pregnancy is part of women's massive and profoundly beautiful contribution to human history, and while its archetypal image is imprinted in human culture, the inner experience of it, the soul-work of it from the woman's point of view, has been passed over mostly in silence. Perhaps this, too, is why I write: to speak from out of that silent place (51).

On Fear and Nightmares
If I had greater faith, would the dreams not come? Would I awaken to stronger feelings of comfort and reassurance...If this is all a matter of hormone levels, then does that mean that hormones influence the state of our souls, tipping the delicate balances of fear and trust? As far as I know, this question represents completely unexplored theological territory. While I am waiting for theology to catch up to women's reality, what should I do with my fears? (65)

The book only gets better from there, exploring a theology of the body, what it means that our days are ordained by God, and so much more. It is such a lovely, honest piece of work that does not gloss over the difficult sacrifices of motherhood or the very real grief and fear that come with trying to conceive. Rienstra only begins to delve into some very interesting theological concepts that apply to the experience of women and have yet to be explored. She offers thoughtful alternatives to our culture's current views of feminism and sexuality. In my opinion, you should throw all your other pregnancy books away and just read this one.


Catherine said...

I'm re-reading this book again too...and I did get rid of all my other pregnancy books. :)

Kate said...

I almost skipped over this post - for reasons you'll understand, I hope. But the quote you gave from 'On the Desire for Children, Fulfilled or Unfulfilled' really struck a chord. It sounds like quite an amazing book and one that I would like to read one day. When the pain of infertility is a little less raw.

A friend of mine leads a 'Motherhood and Theology' group - I'm going to send her a link to this book.

Thank you very much for sharing this.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I totally understand if you skip these posts. It really is an amazing book if you have the desire to read it one day. I hope your friend enjoys it!

I am loving it all over again. We need to talk before these boys come along and make us too sleepy!

Katie W. said...

like kate, I chose first to avoid this post...but I didn't. And I'm glad. Not sure if I'm ready for the book yet, but I appreciated the snippets you shared.