Just yesterday, my sister-in-law, who is also pregnant and due about three weeks before me, confessed that she couldn't believe she was about to have another baby. She said compared to all of the preparation she did the first time, she hadn't hardly done anything to prepare this time, and she was starting to think about it a lot. I joked to her, "I did that on Tuesday." She laughed, but it's true. I did it on Tuesday. Here's what I meant:
Oh, dear. It probably looks bad to begin a post comparing myself to Jesus. Please understand, it's not how it looks.
This week, I was pondering my situation. I'm two months from my due date of June 15, and this baby still probably won't be born for a few days after that. My husband is spending long days and nights at school, trying to finish his last semester of classes. My children want to be picked up and coddled, continually lose their favorite toys underneath furniture where I can't reach, and they want to slam things down into and climb all over my ever-widening abdomen. It hurts. I can barely put on my shoes in the morning. I can barely get my children into their car seats without having a hernia. I'm already down to the last 5 maternity outfits that actually keep me covered up. Every time my blood sugar goes slightly low or high, I torture myself, thinking, "maybe I shouldn't have skipped my last three visits to the endocrinologist."
So, whether it was owing to the fact of the time of night (11:30p), the events of the day, failure of self-control, collapse into self-pity, all of the above, or something else entirely, I found myself sobbing before the Blessed Sacrament late on Tuesday evening. It's a good thing I was by myself in the adoration chapel. And thank God I was praying the rosary, for the insight and blessing I describe here.
It was Tuesday, so the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary were on tap. Since I can't seem to keep myself from being distracted during prayer, I tend to bring all the things that would ordinarily draw my attention away from the task at hand, and I do my best to conform my thoughts about them to Christ and occasionally think about the eternal things to which the mysteries are intended to lift me. This constant struggle against distraction results in fruitful but strange combinations sometimes, such as: meditation on the Baptism of the Lord and how long it will be before Braveheart can actually pay attention at mass (because isn't his baptism supposed to confer graces on him to make him behave or something?), contemplation of the Visitation mingled with a really irritating Facebook interaction I had recently (did Elizabeth resent having a house guest when she was eight months pregnant?), thinking about the Crucifixion and my twitchy need to get a casserole into the oven but you really need to just. finish. first. "...pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
I brought all my pregnancy anxiety and pain to this moment of prayer on Tuesday, over which Our Lord presided, and I quickly became overwhelmed by it. Not only the present pain of that moment, but the anticipation of all the pain that I would experience over the next two months: blood sugar swings, putting the ex utero children to bed by myself for several more nights in a row, lifting said (heavy) ex utero children into and out of the car, will I have to go through another crazy migraine episode?, doctor's appointments with a woman whose approach to this pregnancy I just can't wrap my mind around, a probable pitocin induction like I had last time which was not horrible but not my favorite thing either, the pains of labor, that dreadful third stage that always seems to last too long, making everyone anxious, and the days, weeks and months of weakness and fatigue following childbirth.
As the tears streamed down my face, I thought to myself, "I'm not sure how I can do this again. I'm not strong enough for this. It's going to hurt so bad, and I'm already so tired and in so much pain. I don't think I can handle it."
Being in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament is a sure trigger for strong emotions, because otherwise I numb it up, move on, and
eventually dinner makes its way to the table. It's not a bad coping mechanism, actually, because constant emotional navelgazing will get you into trouble. But being in the presence of Our Lord is also a great place to be when you are wrestling through strong emotions. So because I was there, and no one else but Our Lord was, I cried and cried some more. As I prayed through the sorrowful mysteries, I began to think, not just about my bodily pain, but about where his sacred body, upon which I gazed, went first. Thinking about my pain lifted me to his pain (not such a strange combination I struck upon this time!). During this season of Easter, he is the risen Christ, but the body of the risen Christ still bears the scars of his suffering. The same body which rose from the dead on Easter morning also suffered, died, and was buried on Good Friday. It will always be just one body which suffered, died, was buried, and rose again.
In this process of conforming my thoughts to Christ, I related my pain to his. I realized that I was now at a moment like one that Christ also experienced. I was staring my impending pain in the face just as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. And agony is a good word for it. Futility, helplessness, self-doubting, no-way-out-now-except-a-miracle. I tasted a little of what it was like to sweat blood, and he was there, with me, having gone there first.
Not only in the Garden of Gethsemane, but in my own small, pregnant way, I will follow where Christ went on that night and all the next day. I will go alone, be mocked by doctors and "friends" (you know, the Facebook variety) who think the solution to my problem is as simple as popping a pill, I will receive scars, grit my teeth against the pain to keep walking, probably fall down with fatigue a few times, and eventually it will be finished. I will almost certainly not die physically, and for that I am thankful to the same doctors that may in another moment despise me. But whatever ill comes, it will be in service to the fruit of new life, just as Christ's suffering gave life to the whole world. It is a unique pain (oh, Eve, how it still stings!), but a privilege and a responsibility to participate in bringing forth the new life of a brand new child.
So with this, I affirm: "no" is still beautiful, even when it means saying "yes" more often than you thought you would, pregnancy is hard but babies are good for a host of serious reasons, and a few frivolous ones to boot, I really did see this coming, and although it may be a perfectly good way for some women to have babies, an epidural is not a sufficient answer to the pain of childbearing, not least of all because it will never be the necessary balm to the crucible that is the whole of parenthood from conception forward. Life is not a process of running from pain, but rather choosing what is good. Sometimes that means following Christ into pain, to and beyond the cross. But I know he went first, and I meekly, humbly, dutifully, and trustingly follow him now.