I recently overheard a fellow pregnant woman comment to her husband words that saddened me. I chalked up my sadness to my hormones (the ones that have me constantly crying at television commercials). I told myself I had taken her too seriously; quite likely, I had. After all, she was very pregnant, too. And achy. And tired. And round. I know. She said so.
As we shopped nearby one another, I couldn’t help but hear her say, “It’s not fair. I’m the one who has to have my body change. I’m the one who has to work it all off. And if I’m punished like this now, it’ll be your turn later.” She didn’t say it with laughter; she said it with bite.
I assume “later” meant after the baby is born. A time when she can force equal “punishments” on her husband in the way of middle-of-the-night feedings and messy diaper changes. And before it seems I’m picking on this poor, soon-to-deliver mother, I realize it’s not just her.
I hear similar words often from friends, acquaintances and strangers. This need to “even the score” when it comes to childbearing or childrearing. I’ve been guilty of it, too. A couple of weeks after my son was born, my husband decided to go for a run. While he was gone, I sat in our house, fuming as I breastfed our infant.
“Sure, he gets to go for a run,” I thought angrily. “I would love to go for a run, but this body won’t let me! I have swollen, aching breasts that are glued to my child, and I’m still recovering from an extremely difficult delivery!” When he returned, I let him have it, telling him at one point that if I couldn’t run, then it wasn’t fair that he could. Yes, I was that childish.
And here I am, five years later, very happily pregnant again. But, I noticed that I, too, have slipped into slight self-pity mode at times during this pregnancy: about my weight gain, about my inability to exercise like I used to, about the completely blocked nose I had for two months, and about the gestational diabetes I’ve been diagnosed with for yet another pregnancy.
But, as often happens when I’m starting down a path to wrong thinking, God sets me right. He did so a few weeks ago as I sat in morning Mass. I knelt down in my pew as usual and listened to the words of Consecration.
This is my body given up for you.
These words, the words I hear at every Mass, struck me differently this time. Because this time, I was pregnant. And this time, instead of staring at the priest or gazing at the bread-turned-body or bowing my head during those words, I was staring at Mary, who was to my left and to whom I suddenly felt an urge to turn to.
As I heard those words, I found new meaning in them. I saw our Blessed Mother as a teenage girl, giving her fiat to God. “Let it be done to me according to your will.” In other words, This is my body given up for You.
I saw Mary as a mother, her son leaving home to dedicate himself to the world. A mother, unlike others who try to keep their children close to home, or who have difficulty giving their sons over to another woman in marriage. Mary, giving her son freely to the world. Talk about letting go!
I saw our Blessed Mother years later, walking her son’s path, watching him be tortured, and then keeping vigil at his cross. I saw a mother giving her needs up for her son’s. Freely and without complaint.
And I saw myself in a new light. As I looked at my bulging belly and felt the tightness of my pants, as I imagined stretch marks and the stack of sweets I can’t eat, I whispered to my unborn child, “This is my body given up for you.”
As I thought ahead to delivery, one that I have been terrified about thanks to the arduous delivery of my son, I changed a prayer I’d been reciting for much of my pregnancy. Instead of pleading with God for a quick, easy birth this time, I began to ask for strength to endure whatever type of delivery I will have. And then, I ended that prayer with, “This is my body given up for you.”
I’ve even begun to find greater peace in the daily grind of raising my son. I recently sat with him in the middle of the night as he whimpered about his belly hurting. Bleary-eyed, exhausted, and desperately wanting sleep, I thought, “This is my body, my sleep, one of my body’s greatest needs right now, given up for you.” I thought it not in a way that patted myself on the back for such little sacrifice, but simply, with gratitude that God would grant me the gift of motherhood so that I could offer such tiny, humble sacrifices.
So that I could, as St. Therese of Lisieux pointed out, follow a small but no less important path to God.