And so it came to pass – in my 41st year, an angel appeared and said, ‘Yes, you are pregnant’
And so it came to pass – in my 41st year, an angel appeared and said, “Yes, you are pregnant.”
It wasn’t an angel in the conventional sense of the word; rather, it was a home pregnancy test kit from Shoppers Drug Mart, whose positive indicator shocked me almost as much as would have an angel appearing with the same news.
It wasn’t in my plan. Shock, coupled with hormonal upheaval, round-the-clock nausea and fatigue, left me a little less gracious than the young Mary, or the barren Sarai of the Old Testament, whose womb was opened in old age. My “How can it be?” was uttered more with a sob than a laugh, and blessing the Lord wasn’t the first thing on my mind.
Nevertheless, I dare to call my story an Advent story, filling in some of the blanks left by the sketchy scriptural accounts of women’s experiences in the holy work of producing and nurturing life within the continuing unfolding of the universe.
For me, this is a third pregnancy. Our first two children have now reached school age: past diapers, teething, interrupted nights’ sleep and Cheerios ground into living room carpets.
I thought the early stage of parenting had passed. Maternity clothes and baby items have been given away. My husband and I have become reacquainted with conversations comprised of complete sentences, with canoeing and camping trips – and even the occasional getaway on our own to renew our relationship.
I have felt deeply satisfied by my husband’s and my choice to have a parent at home for the preschool years. Ordinary domestic tasks that took my time, day after day, although unpaid and culturally not valued, were knit into a lovely fabric of family life. In retrospect, I know that these tasks, for me, were full of reward and value. The prospect of repeating the same pattern in my fabric, however, brings a visceral reaction to the redundant, mundane and lonely quality of many of these now overly familiar tasks and leaves me afraid of the years to come. My imagination simply hasn’t caught up to what is being asked of me.
A paradox of this third pregnancy is that my awareness of the likely hurdles ahead is equally as vivid as my memories of the wonders of childbirth – the sweet, sweet moment of holding a newborn to the breast for the first time, and my heart bursting with love and hope for the tiny precious new life placed in my care. Strangely, both are real.
I am over 40. Even though there are many assurances that this is a fine time biologically to reproduce, my first visit to the doctor included education about all the risks.
Testing for chromosomal irregularities is encouraged, now that “pregnancy termination” is an option. When one opts out of the tests because of an intention to carry the child no matter what, the medical establishment seems to shake its collective head at the naïveté of dwelling in mystery. The sober truth is that I really don’t know what’s in store for us.
Pregnancy plunges me into a feeling of dependency. I am acutely aware of, and alarmed by, the way the economic climate of our society defines dependency as despicable. I honour, with awe, the fact that my body has become an entry point to human history for the next generation. I believe that my choice to nurture full-time is a “public good,” with positive benefits (or, in the ruling language of economics, “externalities”) that spin into the community.
When you get right down to it, however, it is impossible to track my contribution to the gross national product – the supreme measure of national worth. It is a constant fight not to internalize society’s message.
I had left the paid labour force in order to be at home with our first two children. Our family weathered this financial sacrifice – up until now – by supplementing my husband’s modest income with the savings that I had managed to put away before leaving my pre-parenting career.
This past year, however, we found ourselves stretched financially beyond the comfort zone – our savings exhausted and my husband’s salary increments as a relatively new teacher not quite edging us up into a range that covers our expenses. There are many reasons why I had begun to look forward to working outside of the home, and one of them was to reduce our family deficit.
For me to choose another period of time outside the paid work force means a new stretch of austerity for our family. It is easy to feel isolated by the consequences of this commitment. Government taxation policies seem punitive to families who choose to have a parent at home. Advertising put out by the money industry asserts that the most important things that parents can do for their children is to make long-term investments on their behalf. With this kind of pressure, it is easy for me to become discouraged, even to feel irresponsible, for using my income-earning years to stay at home.
And so, my initial reaction to this visit from the angel to announce the stirrings of new life was not to laugh or to bless the Lord, but to feel overwhelming distress that I just did not know if I could cope.
Even from the vantage point of having conceived within a loving relationship and with a home ready-made for welcoming new life, I questioned how feeling so lousy could be life-giving or “of God.” Options to take charge of the situation, which had never crossed my mind before, now entered my consciousness. My own soul’s fear and distress, coupled with the dominant cultural voices, led me to the inn where there was no room for new life.
But I was not alone in that dark place. I met a Child. My child, yes, but also a universal child, one who sent my heart pulsing out to the other mothers in this world, the ones in darker places yet.
The child reminded me of many women: those who cannot hope to adequately feed a baby even in the womb; mothers facing the psychological ravages of generations of war trying to figure out how to keep their children human; young teenagers alone and afraid; homeless women whose addictions can overwhelm their mothering instincts; women working in factories, exposed to toxic chemicals while earning the sole family income; and mothers riding subways to corporate towers, living with constant fatigue from breathing recycled air on the 50th floor of “sick buildings.”
I found a new compassion growing in me, not only for myself, but extending to all women and men who are weighted down with feelings of isolation and not being able to cope. In that new place I felt for those for whom, in the face of a world that does not support the production and nurturing of life, free choice seems impossible.
My dark place has led me to understand the profound interconnectedness of my story with every life story as the place of incarnation. With the company of a Joseph at my side, I choose to say yes to the journey towards the Christmas stable. I am travelling through my own fears and the cultural shackles and chains that imprison me in the illusion that I am separate from others into a universal truth deeper than the limited vision of the dominant culture.
Deep within, I find the hope of the many others who, connected to the sacred mystery of life, choose to carry the new life into places and situations that seem overwhelming and untenable, birthing hope into human history, individual after individual, generation after generation.
For me, this Advent “yes” leads me outside of the boundaries of planning, ideal age and financial security. It births me into a place where the boundaries of my imagination would not consciously have carried me, where mystery seizes me unto its own purpose. Within that mystery I am connected to a generative love that is beyond my understanding, and it is here that I have chosen to dwell.