Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which has got me thinking about pregnancy and birth and what women go through in order to conceive, carry and birth their children. I’m a childbirth educator and doula, so it’s not as if this theme is new to me. But, lately, it seems like the Lord has opened it up to such a greater revelation for me. A big part of that is probably that the Eucharist has been my undoing and remaking lately.
I remember a mom whose baby was breech and she could find no one willing to deliver her, yet she insisted on giving her baby the gift of labor. Gazing at a picture of Mother Teresa, she labored with joy for about 12 hours, then walked into the operating room, so powerfully, and delivered her baby via c-section. She knew.
I remember another mom laboring for nearly two days, holding on with steadfast hope, for the passage of birth. When she finally held that precious baby in her arms she wept tears of joy, mingled with sheer exhaustion. She knew, too.
I remember a mother, traumatized by her care-giver through a series of painful and largely unnecessary interventions, who kissed her son delivered vaginally and held him tightly as her body was put back together with twenty-something sutures. She absolutely knew.
I’ve been there when those precious mothers who wanted to deliver naturally consented to a c-section for the sake of their children. They wept, knowing. In my own body or the bodies of the sisterhood of all women, I’ve seen the desire to carry life–hope deferring making hearts sick, the joy of two lines on a pee-stick, of the morning sickness, the cravings and swelling. The diagnosis you didn’t want to hear and the tear-stained pillows as prayers go up at midnight. The bedrooms, birth centers, birth tubs, delivery rooms and operating rooms. I’ve held mommies hands and cradled their heads as they’ve said good-bye to their babies, wrapped in little bits of tissue. I’ve been through the post-partum haze and sometimes depression, the breast infections and sleep deprivation. All women know this path.
We know, that in some way, our bodies are being sacrificed because an eternal soul needs to enter this natural world, to break into new life. We say, like Mary Mother of the Lord, fiat. Let it be. We consent to be the bearers of life, willing to let the Divine touch us in the empty space, causing our love-making to become life-giving. And in the process, our bodies, broken.
Gone might be the days of trim and taut. The days of stretch marks dawning. My body now knows sensations that I didn’t think were possible. The muscle memory tells stories of contractions and movements in the secret places. For many women, discovering their new bodies is a disappointment. Did no one tell them that this would happen? Would it have made them less willing?
The things we do for our children. Women know.
Jesus knows, too. He knows what it takes for eternal souls to break free into new life. He knows the contractions of body and soul. And knowing full-well, he said, “This is My body. Broken, for you.” God allowed His own body to be broken on behalf of His children. Women know this truth in a way that men cannot. We literally make a gift of our very selves so that new life can be revealed.
And it’s OK. It’s OK to weep for our children. It’s OK to feel the pain of our broken bodies. It’s OK to admit that we no longer recognize what we see in the mirror. It’s OK to let the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus heal our brokenness and transform our vision of life, motherhood and self. It’s OK to look at our children and say, “My child, you were worth it all.” Because Jesus says that to us. Even as He hung there on the cross, body racked with pain, His arms ached to hold us and to comfort us and to assure us that we are accepted in the family. He says, “Child, you were worth it all.”
Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Gabriel said to Mary, “You’re going to carry a child, conceived of the Holy Spirit.” Before Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my body…” Mary said to the angel, “I am willing.”
Every mother knows that moment.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28