It’s 2018, and we find ourselves at a crossroads when it comes to perceptions of women and pregnancy. For most of human history, the story of being “with child” was not one authored by mothers. Authored instead by a sex that never experienced pregnancy, this story held that pregnant women were in delicate and weakened conditions and therefore inferior to the strength of men. Emotionally unstable and at risk of losing the baby or her own life in the process, women were hid away during a time of confinement, only to reemerge after the birth and any required ritualistic cleansing.
In bold and empowering ways, many modern women have come forward to squelch that image and replace it with the strong and capable pregnant woman. She is fit, she is productive, she is confident. She is sporting a bump and toned biceps, or a maternity suit and briefcase. If there are some physical or emotional elements to contend with, they are not real hindrances to her lifestyle. She showcases her bump on social media for all to see. She is in love with her baby, loves being pregnant and is justified by our society because she remains healthy, happy and productive.
This bold and revolutionary narrative is a critical component to reversing many harmful notions that have impeded women from achieving equality in society. And for women for whom this story is their experience, this reversal is a breath of fresh air and a welcomed opportunity.
For anyone who finds this women-led narrative to be their experience, let me say that your story needs to be broadcasted and celebrated again and again. You should be supported, encouraged and celebrated. Pregnancy should never be a barrier to equality or the achievements of dreams.
I also believe that anyone taking a glance at our society can feel the momentum moving in your favor. So long as humans can prove their productivity and strength, society will see them as an asset and of value.
But can we finally talk about another experience, a story that is also authored by mothers?
What if, as much as you want to exemplify a strong and happy pregnancy, your pregnancy story leaves you physically or emotionally compromised? What if it brings difficult complications or even loss? What if pregnancy is just plain hard for you and you struggle to find peace amidst a storm?
You are grateful to be growing a baby, you are willing to endure whatever the cost, but the cost is a steep one without a place in this world for you to discuss it with any real honesty. You may have gone into your pregnancy expecting to look and feel like a pregnant Gal Gadot or Serena Williams, but ended up with a personal narrative that doesn’t fit into any pre-existing story. You know you are not an inferior being, but you are also not feeling fit, happy or confident.
This has always been my experience with pregnancy.
It’s very tempting to stifle these experiences. They make society uncomfortable. To be physically weakened or emotionally vulnerable puts a person at risk. To be weakened or exposed goes against everything our individualistic, achievement-oriented culture sees as permissible. No wonder we don’t broadcast our experiences to the world.
But before we dismiss our stories or hide them out of embarrassment, let’s be brave, revisit this other side of pregnancy and see if there is not boldness and strength in its telling.
As paradoxical as it always seems, I believe we can find profound strength and love by acknowledging that pregnancy is often as much a struggle as a joy filled journey. We are God-made warriors and we fight a hard fought battle. Let’s be bold in proclaiming it.
Finding Courage In Honesty
Maybe your pregnancy has brought with it anxiety or depression. Maybe you’ve experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage. Maybe pregnancy has only left you with loss. You may be dealing with debilitating nausea and constant vomiting. It could be that you find yourself on bedrest due to preeclampsia. Perhaps you are just plain uncomfortable, exhausted and feel you have a permanent ticket on the struggle bus.
Acknowledging these realities in no way diminishes your strength or the love you feel for your unborn child.
It’s okay to be honest! One is not being weak or hysterical by being transparent. It’s okay to not love being pregnant all the time, because you know what? Great love often requires great sacrifice.
If we give women the space to be honest with their struggles, then we also give women the space to recognize and actualize their strength, regardless of the journey. If we stop the belittlement, condescension or accusations that women are not being grateful for their unborn babies we can see the deeper lessons at play. A society that truly wishes to promote love must do so knowing that love is not the absence of imperfections or struggles; rather it’s endurance in the face of imperfections and struggles.
Remembering the Martyrs Who Came Before Us
A martyr is a person who lays down her life for her beliefs. There are mother martyrs. They offer a radical history of love, which required the greatest sacrifice. And a harrowing mental exercise is acknowledging that any of us here today are probably only in existence because some woman in our ancestry died to bring forth life.
This is not a likely fate for the modern woman. What is our fate and destiny the moment we find out we are pregnant is that we are mothers and part of the same sisterhood. This fundamental shift in identify and purpose invokes reverence for the past as much as hope in the future.
Regardless of our pregnancy experience, we do little to the credit of those who came before us if we pretend that everything about pregnancy must be rainbows and unicorns. Should we hold then that when something is difficult is should be silenced or avoided? If pregnancy, the deliverance of a child and its raising should be nothing but easy, what are we saying about the legacy of those who came before us?
Choosing a Radical Love that Changes the World
I have found in my own pregnancies, whether they involved babies in my arms or loss, my own bold and radical story. It’s not one that makes me look like Wonder Woman or a professional athlete, but it does involve a heart that has been strengthened by God for radical love.
And it’s one that defies both the weakened female inferiority of the patriarchy, and the idolization of productivity and ease which the new world worships.
I have voluntarily endured much to bring new life into this world. It is not easy and I struggle. Many times it does not provide temporal happiness or physical comfort.
Motherhood, even life itself, is not always easy and involves struggle. But the struggle is never a worthless experience.
Because amidst all the niceties and clichés that have a power to silence us, we see instead a stronger power.
Look at how we are made to endure! Look at how God has given us hearts with the capacity to accept life as well as sacrifice. Look at how our souls can be transformed into ones that birth empathy and compassion.
Perhaps in reflecting on these truths, we realize that in giving and receiving our pregnancy stories, we are teaching our children the true strength of their loving mommies.