At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Pregnancy is just kind of a demoralizing experience. There is so much about it to love. I love feeling my baby move inside of me. I love the way it has opened my eyes to the realities of being a woman. I love the way pregnancy puts so much into perspective, not quite drowning out my goals and interests in life, but providing a reprimand to the ways I can obsess over them. I love the way I am being forced to consider my body and accept its power and limitations. But despite all of these things, there is still so much about pregnancy that I find to be humiliating and demoralizing.
To start, there is the persistent physical discomfort. Even my second trimester was marked by it. My body aches and groans and at times it rears up against me in violent protest as it simultaneously stretches and squashes. Every night I go to bed with a whimpering body trying to digest what it needs but is unable to take in and process. I wake up in the middle of the night and my hips are sobbing as they try to slowly unhinge and loosen to make room. The walls of my belly exist in shocked protest as an ever bigger and bigger foot or elbow thrusts newfound weight against them. My body often can’t seem to decide if this is the best thing ever – because it is what it was made to do – or the most embarrassing, as it struggles to figure out how to make it all work. It doesn’t feel like failure – not at all. But it does feel like a slow, nine month long study in confusion and mayhem.
And I feel this all the most when it comes to sex. My body seems to be so distracted by everything else it’s trying to figure out that sex is pretty much the last thing it wants. I often grieve over this reality for my husband, but in truth, it’s just as sorrowful for myself. I love sex, but I do not love it with a bowling ball strapped to my midsection and hips that scream when twisted. I don’t feel like myself. I don’t not feel beautiful; in fact I love my belly and the shape it’s given me. I just feel like my body doesn’t know what to do with itself.
I remember thinking before we got pregnant that the whole experience would be so romantic. Sex to try to conceive would be so hot and we would have nine months of googly eyes before the baby came. Trey and I have had many wonderful moments throughout these months. We have had some beautifully intimate and special times, and I have never felt more protection, concern, and affection from my husband than during these months. He has served me sacrificially the whole way through. But it hasn’t necessarily been romantic – getting pregnant was more funny than anything else and my body has generally not been well disposed to food and late night activities. The idea of a babymoon sounds more exhausting than rewarding. Survival has been the goal more than anything else.
I don’t want to complain. I really, really, really don’t want to complain. All of this is worth it and more than anything else in the world I can’t wait to meet my daughter. But I also just wish I could have better understood how much the sacrifices of motherhood would start with pregnancy, not birth. My expectations weren’t right. The challenge parenting presents to your sense of self starts at the very beginning, at conception. From that first moment, the call to give of yourself begins, and though the physical reality of my life will soon start to improve once again, the need to die to self has only just begun.
(Image by Wolfgang Sterneck, "A Reality called Boom."
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I am feeling so anxious about my baby these days. We hit twelve weeks yesterday, which is great, and of course there are no signs whatsoever of miscarriage, but I still worry that something has gone wrong and we'll find out at our next appointment. Thankfully, we have a sonogram on Friday, so we will find out if everything is ok then. But it's still so scary, not knowing anything about how your baby is forming. Is he or she ok? Does she have all of her or his pieces? Is he healthy? I have to keep myself from thinking about these questions too much because they can totally drive me crazy. I just have to trust the Lord and pray.
Thankfully, Trey and I finally had sex last night. I've been so sick that it had been about three weeks since we last had sex. I still didn't feel great last night, but wow, did it feel good to have sex.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Today is a big day for Nation family reproductive history. This is my first day off of the pill.
I've been trying to write about the end of using the pill for a few days now, but I just haven't been able to do so until now. It honestly just didn't really register until last night when I went to set my alarm for this morning. I didn't set my 9:00am alarm for the pill and though I haven't set it for a week every month for the last four years, this was what caused the reality to really hit home. I don't intend to really ever set that alarm again. An era of my reproductive life has concluded.
Birth control is a funny thing and I've been thinking about it a lot recently. I am deeply thankful for its invention and thankful that I live in a time and age in which I have the option of easily separating sex from procreation for a time. Granted, it does mean that I have been constantly tempted to view those things as fundamentally separated and fundamentally in my control, but I also have had the opportunity to learn the lesson of surrendering my will to God. I get to choose to step into a new role, following the Lord as I do so.
This thing – motherhood – is not my own story. I belong to the bigger story of Eve – the story which involves helping and suffering, adoption and heirs, waiting and promises, the Bride and childbirth. I don't get to choose whether I face a reckoning with this story. I live in a time and place in which the world is constantly trying to trick me into thinking that I can escape this story if I want to, that I can wrest this story into being my own, and mine alone. But all women everywhere will stand face to face with their potential, abandoned, lost, or gained motherhood at some point and decide how to engage this story that has always been bigger than our small individual selves.
Lord, I am small and I am usually pretty afraid of this story that you have spun into motion. And most days I think that by expelling a baby from my womb, I will inevitably expel my brains along with it. But I am trying, really trying to believe that the story you created is not a harmful story for my person. That you did not make me second rate. That by being a mother, I will not be losing everything you have created me to be. That you have created me to be a self and a mother, and that I do not need to be a mother to be a self. And ultimately, that motherhood was not intended to be a destructive force that shuts down a woman's gifts, talents, and strengths, but rather something that can be wondrous.
(Image by Erik Cleves Kristensen, "Mother painting.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
All I can think of is how happy I am that we have had this much time before I give birth to figure out sex. Seriously, we have amazing sex and it's because we've had four years to learn it and learn each other. Thinking about having a child before this point in our sex life is terrifying. I know many couples successfully work through damaged vaginas and postpartum realities just fine and that for the history of humanity, most women haven’t had the luxury of waiting to have children until they first reached this point sexually, but I am so so deeply grateful for these years. I am thankful that without any hesitation, without any uncertainty, without any blushing, I can say that sex has been a rich and luxuriant good in my life before a potential nine pound baby alters my physical reality forever. Thank you, Jesus, for this sweet mercy and kindness.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
Trey and I just had sex and I knew in an instant that I wanted to start trying to get pregnant sooner than we had been planning. We thought through it all and the end of March is the earliest I could get pregnant without risk of giving birth at the end of my fall semester. So we're going for it. After this round of birth control, I'll only have one more round left. Bah. It feels good.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
"'But, Sister, you will follow me soon. You don't think any mortal life seems a long thing to me tonight? And how would it be better if I had lived? I suppose I should have been given to some king in the end - perhaps another as our father. And there you can see again how little difference there is between dying and being married. To leave your home - to lose you, Maia, and the Fox - to lose one's maidenhead - to bear a child - they are all deaths. Indeed, indeed, Orual, I am not sure that this which I go to is not the best.'
'Yes. What had I look for if I lived? Is the world - this palace, this father - so much to lose? We have already had what would have been the best of our time. I must tell you something, Orual, which I never told to anyone, not even you...'
'What is it?' said I, looking down at her lap where our four hands were joined.
'This,' she said, 'I have always - at least, ever since I can remember - had a kind of longing for death.'
'Ah, Psyche,' I said, 'have I made you so little happy as that?'
'No, no, no,' she said. 'You don't understand. Not that kind of longing. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine... Where you couldn't see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn't (not yet) come and I didn't know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home.
'...The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing - to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from...
'- my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. All my life the god of the Mountain has been wooing me... I am going to my lover. Do you not see now-?'"
I am rereading C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces and I've just read the above passage. There are probably no words out there that better describe how I have felt about my life for as long as I can remember. It's not morbid and it's not dark, but I've longed for what Psyche describes for so many years, and it has always been when I am happiest. When I am sad or depressed, I become controlling and feel the need to try to make everything right. But when I am happy, I am ready to be away. Ready to be home. It is the beautiful things in life that often feel the most unbearable.
They are all shadows. Last night Trey and I had the most perfect sex we've yet experienced. It was everything I could have ever imagined sexual intimacy being. But if I was given the opportunity to leave now and enter into eternity, I would take it. The beauty of last night makes me ready because I know last night can't be repeated. It was good and whole and perfect – it was release from desiring something better. Now that I've tasted it, I feel satisfied and satisfaction is the end of things, not the beginning.
In the above passage, Lewis states a truth that he seems afraid to understand, or at least to state in his other writings on the topic. Sehnsucht is in reality a longing for death. It is a desire for what cannot be obtained in this world when we are confronted with what the world has to offer. Lewis is indeed right when he says that our desires are too small. But if we desire aright, how can that desire be contained by this world? To desire what this world cannot offer is to desire that which requires my departure from this world.
I am crying as I write this, but I am not sad. I simply am longing. And that longing aches so greatly. God, I know that, I, as a child of the promise, have you now, here. But I do not have the redeemed world yet. I do not have heaven – complete unity with you. I am still tied down by all of these things around me and when they are good, when they are everything I could ever want them to be, they only make the ache worse, because they only refresh the longing for everything else to be as right as they are in that moment.
When Lewis says that marriage, and the loss of virginity, and the bearing of children are all a certain kind of death, I wonder how much he knew he was right on the subject. Did he accidentally stumble upon a truth all women known within their souls? Or did he understand the depths of this statement? Death involves the taking away of life, and for a woman much about the experience of creating life comes through ending some part of her own life. She does not become a wife without giving up independence. She does not become sexually active without being invaded. She does not become a mother without physical destruction in her body. But these all offer life, living, being alive as a result.
I have now experienced two of these three things, and I hope soon to enter into the final and third. Might I see in these the same longing for death that Lewis describes with sehnsucht? In each of these experiences, am I not entering into a greater good, a better reality through that which is a kind of death? God, have you created woman so that what she longs for now requires in some parts her negation? Is the pattern of this fallen world so much replicated in my lived reality?
When I receive the most good, I long the most for heaven. When I receive the most good, I am the most ready to bear children. But ultimately, to attain both requires a death within me.
(Image by Surian Soosay, "Alternate Mother Nature, Internatal Internet.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I just read the most horrifying web post about a woman's vagina being ruined in childbirth. Why. Just... why? And not just why did she write it, or why did I read it, but why does this even happen? No wonder men have had multiple wives or lived outside the confines of the marriage bed for the entirety of history. It's difficult for me to even fathom the depths of sexual suffering that must happen when something like this occurs. For the woman, for her husband, it just seems so nasty.
Ultimately it leads me to questions about God and his creation of the world. Is this something natural, something that would have happened in a pre-fallen world? And if so... why? Why would God give women bodies that seem so ready to turn on them at some point in their lives? Maybe if humanity was not fallen, we would be able to properly think about sex and it's place in our lives and we would be able to live contentedly with destroyed vaginas. But then again, everything in the Bible points to sex as a really good thing and one of the central experiences of humanity.
Is female suffering fundamental to sex? Apart from modern medical and technological advances, suffering is intimately and intrinsically bound up in the physical experience of sex for a woman. It is not this way for a man. Sure, men deal with sexual frustration and have their own challenges, but those challenges tend to be of a spiritual or emotional nature. A man's physical reality is not consistently trying to kill him or destroy his ability to enjoy sexual activity.
I see two alternatives - either this reality for women is the result of sin entering the world, or it is not and therefore has something to tell us about ourselves and about God. I think most people would jump in to say that the suffering intimately wrapped up in female sexuality is a result of sin entering the world. I don't doubt this is partially true. After all, the curse Eve receives seems to pretty explicitly describe a certain kind of suffering that will enter the fabric and reality of womanhood. But unless we think that things somehow altered genetically for women, it's hard for me to accept that the entirety of female physicality altered when Eve stole the apple. Were vaginas somehow larger pre-fall and then shrunk after Eve was cursed? I'm just not so sure about that.
It seems to me that God created women and female physicality, female sexuality, with these risks always possible. Yes, something absolutely changed after Eve sinned and as our mother, she has passed the curse on to the eons of her daughters. But I also feel inclined to say that sex always has been, even from the very start, a very different experience for women than for men, and that this is quite possibly how God intended it. Even with all of our advances, women enter into their full sexual identities only at great risk to themselves. This is terrifying and it terrifies me trying to understand the mind of the Lord behind such a design.
About the Project
This is a very personal project. It tracks my growth and development as I journeyed toward motherhood over the recent years. It doesn't document every experience I had, and probably neglects my more joyful and peaceful moments in the frenzy of trying to communicate my fears, anxieties, and doubts. If you are a friend or loved one, please do not let anything you read here overshadow what you know of me personally. If you are a stranger, please remember that a living and flawed person stands behind these words. To all my guests here, please understand these are not political statements and try to extend me grace, even as I share my failures and foibles - I have repented of much of what I share. I don't share this journal as an exemplar, but rather out of the desire to share my hope that entrance to motherhood does not need to be a fearful thing - despite the very real fears I have fought against. Motherhood is simply a part of life and one through which I am discovering more of myself and my God.