There’s a line in Jhumpa Lahiri’s (quite good) newest novel, The Lowland, that resonates with me lately.
“The child was beginning to overwhelm her.”
Lahiri writes about Gauri, a pregnant Indian woman newly arrived in America who struggles with the bodily nature of carrying a baby. The way her unborn daughter takes ownership of her womb-space, the way exhaustion and heartburn become her constant companions, the way her growing shape necessitates new clothes, the way her daughter’s jabs and kicks and unexpected turns keep her up all night long.
I get it. Oh, I get it.
I consider myself a fairly strong person. When I’m not pregnant I run a lot. I stay up late when I feel like it. I spent my high school years playing ice hockey and my college ones rock climbing. I once walked on a broken ankle for three months because I thought it was probably just a sprain.
One of the most difficult parts of pregnancy for me is that, physically at least, I’m not really calling the shots anymore. Mind over matter just doesn’t matter. It’s not about being strong. This baby, small as he or she is, is calling the shots.
For example: Born and raised in Wisconsin, I am a meat-and-potatoes girl. During this pregnancy, I have had a complete distaste for beef. I can’t stand it. I go to In n’ Out Burger with the fam and I order fries. Just. Fries. I literally haven’t had a hamburger in nearly eight months. I scarcely recognize myself.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Between bathroom runs, night waking, and the fact that the only position I’ve found comfortable since my 30th week of pregnancy is on my hands and knees, I am in a constant state of being reminded that my body is no longer fully my own.
But was it ever, really?
When I’m not feeling slightly crazy about the Invasion-of-the-Tiny-Body-Snatcher situation, I find it to be a beautiful theological picture of what, for Christians at least, our bodies should always be. Scripture is full of reminders that our bodies are more than just our own vehicles, given to us by God to cruise through life and use however we choose. For example, in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes:
19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
For those of us who are or have been pregnant, carrying a baby is a constant reminder that our bodies are not our own. It’s also a reminder that even when that baby is born, we are still not our own. We were purchased–body and soul–by the precious blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit dwells in me today just as surely, in just as real a way, as this tiny human dwells in me.
We are also not our own because we belong to each other. My body is given to me by God to share with the body of Christ and with the world God loves. When my arms rock my crying son or comfort a grieving friend, when my hands cook a meal for a new mom or open in friendship to a stranger, when my feet take me into the sanctuary to preach or over to the preschool to tell a children’s story, my body is not my own. I choose faithfulness to my husband because my body is not my own. I fought for chastity before marriage for the same reason.
I want to remember the kicks and jabs this little one gives my belly because they are sweet and special and fleeting. (Except the ones in the lungs that cause me to make occasional bizarre grunting noises at the most awkward moments, because those I could do without…)
Yet I also want to remember them because they are a physical reminder of what God calls us all to do – to carry the Holy Spirit with us into the world that God loves. To use our bodies not just for our own satisfaction and pleasure (and, in pregnancy, constant cupcake-eating…), or even for our own families and friends, but to give them continually over to God for his honor and glory. To use them to do hard things – to deny ourselves, to pick up our crosses, and to follow Jesus wherever he leads.
This baby will be born in a matter of weeks, and my body will become my own once again.
Or will it?