My husband and I are expecting a fourth child and when that dreaded time of telling everyone came around I realized it never gets easier to do. We waited as long as possible to break the news, and it is hard to receive questions, criticism and unwanted advice when you are in such a vulnerable place.
There is an obvious physical vulnerability when you are expecting a baby. I knew I was pregnant right away because I got the flu. I have only been sick in the past years during pregnancies (your immune system is affected when you are pregnant). I had the usual symptoms of nausea and sleepiness. I tried to be extra careful because I had experienced blood loss during first trimester in previous pregnancies. I tried not to pick up my other children as much. During and after birth I will be physically even more vulnerable and we will all rely on outside help, especially with the older siblings.
There is a less than obvious emotional vulnerability for both spouses when you are expecting a baby. Our pregnancy was not planned and right away I felt I would be viewed as irresponsible. The “responsible” thing in our society is to be self-sufficient and not rely on outside help. I felt fear of others’ judgment, how they would view us and the things they would say. I wished I could keep it secret, at least for a while, but it was like a train that had already set off and could never be reversed. My belly would grow and everyone would find out. The baby would be born. The baby would have to be taken care of. The toddler would have to be taken care of. The adult would be a person in the world, independent of me but in constant relation to me. This was definitely a train set in motion that for now only I knew about.
Lack of Control
I describe pregnancy as stepping onto a roller coaster. You have no idea what will happen. Everything could go perfectly, according to your ideal wishes, you or the baby could die, and everything possible in between. I found out pregnancy and childbirth is like a roller coaster with my first pregnancy. We experienced blood loss in the first trimester which scared us a lot, she only had one umbilical artery, she was in breech position, we had an external cephalic version (turned her the right way), but still ended up having a caesarean, which was the one thing we absolutely didn’t want to have.
I also like to say no one has a few thousand in their account, don’t know what to do with their money, and say, oh let’s have another baby. People don’t usually feel like they have money just lying around. There are studies that show people on average feel like they need to have 20% more than they already have. Our pregnancy coincided with finding out we were in a financial challenge and needed to curb spending substantially. Not exactly two pieces of news you like to get at the same time. I am sure this is something that worries every couple. There is a saying that a baby is born with a loaf of bread under his arm. And Bethlehem means “house of bread”. Having a baby will surely make you lose a little of your control over your finances, but can also be a great opportunity to experience Providence.
Pregnancy and childbirth will undoubtedly also affect your emotions and psychological health. Maria Montessori said that the birth of a child is the rebirth of a family. It shakes you up and shakes up the entire family dynamic.
Openness to Grace
Openness to life is a good analogy for openness to grace. Our main model for both of these is Mary, in which getting pregnant and receiving Christ was literally the same thing. Getting pregnant was also a vulnerable experience, out of her control. Getting pregnant was not apparently or humanly convenient for her at the time. At worse, she risked being stoned to death. At best, she risked losing her betrothal to Saint Joseph. It was not apparently or humanly convenient for Jesus to be born in a stable, among animals, on the road. It wouldn’t have naturally been Mary and Joseph’s first birth plan. However, it was in fulfillment of the Scriptures and completely in accordance with God’s birth plan.
“Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words ‘Thus you will know them by their fruits’ – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2005)
Even if your pregnancy and birth do go according to your plans and go well, it is always a dramatic experience that will shake up your life if you let it. Grace also will shake up your life if you let it in. It will unsettle you, strip you of your defenses, take you on an unexpected adventure. It will also heal you and make you grow.