a decade of waiting: Advent in the body

Advent is a season of strange stories and wonder-full waiting. Angels. Dreams. Miraculous pregnancies. Surprising visitors.

But in a season of powerful Scripture and symbols – light, darkness, watching, waiting – we can forget that the first Advent was embodied, too.

Without pregnancy and birth – messy, physical experiences – Christmas could not have happened.

What can bearing, birthing, and caring for babies teach us about the Incarnation? How might pregnancy, labor, and nursing shape our understanding of God becoming human?

A few of my favorite questions. Turns out I can’t stop thinking about them this time of year.

. . .

For ten years now, I’ve been pregnant or nursing during December. (That realization alone was enough to startle me.)

A decade of Advents spent in changed relationship to my body as it expanded and contracted, filled and emptied, nourished and nurtured new life into being.

Becoming a mother through these biological experiences changed my spiritual journey, too. Eucharist became embodied. Mary went from stranger to companion. Sacrifice and surrender were written into the cells of my body.

Journeying through Advent as a mother has taught me about the brilliant light and the devastating darkness that this season of the church holds in pregnant, potent tension.

Gathering ten years’ worth of writing, I can see how this season invites us to carry the sacred and the mundane, the holy and the ordinary, the divine and the earthly. Incarnation shining through all of it.

. . .

2008. We learned we were expecting our first child in the deep dark of cold December. A moment that transformed Advent from the physical yearning of empty waiting to the shocking wonder of powerful promise. “Advent came alive…In the span of one season, one calendar month, my world was transformed from infertility to fertility.”

2009. Our first baby was a newborn; so was I. Sleep-deprived, struggling with nursing, still in awe that motherhood was mine. Learning to accept the daily reality of what I had been given. “My Advent challenge today is to be an acceptant parent, spouse, friend. To allow God and other people to surprise me, upend my expectations.”

2010. Pregnancy announced itself for the second time in the midst of an epic snowstorm. Advent took flesh again. I meditated on Mary’s yes in clearer light: everything she agreed to carry and let go. “I wonder if she knew the time was coming. Could she feel the readying, both the baby’s body and her own preparing for the passage ahead?”

2011. Baby in the house again meant little sleep, extra love, gift of self. Nursing was easier but tending two children was harder. Stretch, sacrifice, surrender. “Even when the child is hoped for, longed for, prayed for, we still find ourselves overwhelmed by emotions. Joy. Fear. Love. Anxiety. Wonder. Despair. Hope. Is this Advent’s reminder to us, year after year?”

2012. Still nursing our second, surprisingly. Learning to let go of expectations, live in the moment, focus on the child. All Advent truths taught by a toddler and a preschooler. “I remember holding a child close to my chest, his tears darkening my shirt as he sobbed. And I realized that what matters most about Christmas is not that Jesus didn’t cry, but that he did.”

2013. Miscarriage came and went that bittersweet summer. I was pregnant again, once-easy hope now edged with fear after loss. But when I first felt the baby kick on the Feast of Guadalupe, I fell in love. “Maybe this is why we need feasts of signs and wonders. Because we are human. Faltering. Forgetting. Maybe today’s Guadalupe celebrates the same truth as a kick I can feel from the outside.”

2014. Our baby was a bouncing boy by Advent. Up late and up early, nursing him at all hours, I learned that December to embrace darkness and light together. Warmth of mother and child in the midst of cold. “Some parents call a child after miscarriage their ‘rainbow baby.’ But for me, this baby has been a full moon. Pulling my eyes back to its light whenever they stray. Casting its glowing shine onto a cold world waiting below.”

2015. Pregnant with twins. Everything turned upside down. “I’m learning about the darker side. The vulnerability and uncertainty and mystery of what that first Advent must have meant.”

2016. Our daughters were born and died in February. Grief carved into scars on my body. After loss, we waited nine months to try again. A hard Advent all its own. November’s end brought light: new hope and baby on the way. I wrote these words while pregnant but no one else knew. Stay tuned, whispers every story of resurrection. Wait to see what comes next. Right when everything looks like the end, everything is only beginning.”

2017. He was here, this baby of promise. Safe in our arms after months of fear. Siblings and parents alike delighted in him every day. Advent crept in with quiet joy, the promise of still-good days ahead. “Once upon a time I did not believe I would feel the pure shine of happiness again. What grace of a second chance. What gift from grief.”

2018. As I enter into Advent this year, now my eleventh since that first pregnancy test blurred positive, I lean back each night into the worn rocker. The baby settles to nurse, his legs curling round my side, his hand patting my face. We are quiet, together. For how much longer, I don’t know. This season at least, at last.

We rest in the dark. He drifts to sleep while I dream of writing. More on this someday, bearing and birthing and becoming a mother. For now this is enough. Advent is always enough.

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3 Comments

  1. Diana C Giard on 6 December 2018 at 8:08 am

    For some reason, your reflections always bring tears to my eyes.

  2. Jayne on 6 December 2018 at 8:32 pm

    This is so beautiful

  3. Emily on 12 January 2019 at 7:05 am

    I have never read a blog so perfectly descriptive of the intertwined joys and self sacrifice of pregnancy and motherhood, but you have such a gift. I have also never experienced these deep losses of yours, but I feel the deep wounds on your heart. Know of my prayers for you and your God-gifted souls! I’m excited to follow more of your posts!

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