For the last eight months, I’ve had a new boss running my life. Because we don’t know the gender, my husband and I refer to this boss as Bud. Aside from a few ultrasound photos, I’ve never actually seen Bud; that won’t happen for another month or so. In fact, other than the kicks and rumbles in my uterus, I know almost nothing about him or her, which is ironic considering that this little five-pounder is destined to go down in history as the most demanding boss I’ve ever had.
Before Bud, I always knew that pregnancy would be an intensely physical experience, but I had no idea how physical. I didn’t know that I’d be chronically congested, or that I’d have acid reflux so bad that the term heartburn seems like an understatement. I didn’t expect that my skin would become nearly translucent, showing an entire network of blue-green veins; you could teach the circulatory system off of my naked torso. Nothing prepared me for the aching joints that make me feel like a thirty-three year old geriatric, and I never knew that if I lay flat on my back, I’d be like a helpless turtle, laughably unable to get up without help.
This body of mine, in other words, has taken on a life and purpose of its own. And that’s a shock. See, for practically all of my thirty-three years, my body has existed for one reason: to serve me. That’s it. I’ve decided how many blocks it should jog and when it should rest, and it has obeyed. I’ve filled it with certain foods and withheld others, based on nothing more than what would be pleasing to my mood, my energy level, or my general attractiveness. Aside from the rare moments when my body has exerted its own will I’ve been the one driving this car. I’ve decided when to wash it, wax it, how to fuel it; I’ve told it how fast and far to go, and it has always obliged.
But these days, my body is no longer directed by my own whims and desires. Every decision I make is geared toward the safety of this unknown passenger, my little boss, Bud. Where normally I’d get the French fries, I order a green salad instead. I replaced my jogging routine with gentler treadmill walking. Early in my pregnancy, the disconcerting sight of blood after sex put the freeze on that part of my marriage. In other words, my physical routine has been completely, unceremoniously overhauled.
In spite of all of these physical changes—and, in some ways, because of them—there is a profoundly spiritual dimension to this entire experience. For one thing, it’s taught me the importance of faith. Though this will be my first baby, it’s my third pregnancy; the first two ended in early losses. Both were devastating experiences, but they taught me the skill of hanging onto a slender thread of faith, even when that thread seemed barely strong enough to suspend the weight of my despair. It was tempting, in the face of those losses, to give up on God. Bud makes me grateful that I kept hoping and trying.
I’ve also found that I have a new connection to the image of Christ as the Bread of Life. In her book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd makes the observation that women who breastfeed have a unique understanding of the Eucharist. As she says, they have the intimate knowledge of what it means to nourish another from their own bodies: this is my body, which will be given up for you. For me, this understanding has started in pregnancy. I marvel at the fact that the very cells of my body created the systems that fed and sustained that tiny fertilized egg. It’s amazing to think that my physical being has nurtured that egg into a curled fetus, then an alien-looking creature, then a fully-formed baby. Nourished by my body and blood, Bud rests inside me, limbs folded, waiting to be born.
Over the past eight months the list of my sacrifices has steadily increased: I’ve given up alcohol, normal caffeine consumption, my exercise routine, sex, sleep, gracefulness, energy, mental alertness. Through it all, I’m learning that my body is not just here to serve me. It’s here for a higher purpose, painful though the process may sometimes be. In moments where the discomfort seems too much to bear, I can understand Christ’s words in Gethsemane: Father, not my will, but yours be done. Right after praying that, of course, he goes through a physical surrender that is almost unthinkable, or was until this pregnancy.
I don’t mean to imply that crucifixion and childbirth are on the same level (though my friends who have already gone through labor might disagree) but I do believe I now have a more intimate, visceral understanding of what it means to surrender one’s own physical self so that another can live. My body is no longer a servant of my will; instead, my will is surrendering to a higher force, the force that is bringing this new little life into being.
As I write this, there’s a steady drumming inside me. It’s my little boss, making his or her presence known. I’m both excited for and terrified of the birthing process, when this little kicker will come squalling out of me into the light of day. I know that the comforts I’ve sacrificed so far will seem like child’s play compared to the exertions of labor. But I have a hunch that when I’m face to face with Bud, I won’t be thinking about the discomfort of surrendering my body and my will. I’ll be marveling at the tiny body that came out of that surrender, thanking the Will that made it all possible.