Remember Death by Matthew McCullough, Free for CAPC Members
Matthew McCullough suggests that death awareness allows us to find joy in the problems of this world.
Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
I am in the final weeks of my pregnancy, and I’m looking forward to the birth of my second daughter with relief and anxiety. As I count the days and try to predict when she will arrive, I recognize that I’m impatient for an unpredictable, life-altering event that may actually be harder than my pregnancy. But that seems unlikely.
I recognize how much I have to be thankful for, that I have never experienced difficulty conceiving and I do not know firsthand the pain of infertility, and that every midwife’s report confirms that my baby is healthy and strong. Those are tremendous blessings. Yet at this point in my pregnancy, people mention how quickly my pregnancy has gone, how “fantastic” I look, and then ask how I’m feeling. Nothing about this pregnancy has felt quick or fantastic, and the honest answer is that I’m struggling physically, psychologically, and spiritually—and have been for some time now.
I knew I was pregnant before I could confirm it with a test; the first-trimester nausea and vomiting hit early and lasted well into the second trimester this time. The minor sickness I had with my first daughter intensified this time around. I would vomit at home, drive to work, and teach my classes on an empty, sour stomach. Changing my toddler’s diapers made me vomit some more. In one memorable incident, I knelt over the toilet puking while she lay patiently waiting for me to finish changing her. She kept asking “Are you OK, mama? Mama, are you OK?” Um, sure?
The brief respite I got for a few weeks during the second trimester (often called by well-meaning pregnancy websites an “energy surge,” though I can only label it thus comparatively and in hindsight) didn’t last long. In the third trimester I have been plagued by migraines, 2-3 per week, so that I feel trapped in a constant cycle of pain and nausea followed by an exhausting day of recovery. Each headache begins with classic aura, so I get some warning (though there are few remedies I can take safely while pregnant) and lose my vision for a while during the process. Add to this bouts of severe contractions when I try to do strenuous things like teach my classes or go to the grocery store.
I write about this here because I don’t know how to reconcile the joy of my daughter’s impending arrival with the deep ambivalence I feel about this pregnancy. The last eight months have stripped me of some of the most important markers of my identity. What kind of athlete can’t walk without vomiting and contractions? What kind of teacher can barely focus on her students because she’s so consumed with sickness? What kind of wife piles more chores on her patient and dutiful husband because she, again, needs to rest? Even as a mother, the most basic biological component of my self right now, I feel like a failure; I simply can’t engage with my toddler with the energy and creativity she deserves, and it’s hard not to imagine the child in my womb as a vampire-like creature. And, yes, I feel tremendously guilty saying that, because pregnancy is “supposed” to be filled with joy and hope, but the women who gush about loving being pregnant feel like a foreign species to me.
I see the limits of my suffering, the smallness of my plight, its temporality. In a few weeks, I’ll get to hold that precious parasite in my arms and these months of trials will be but a memory. In the meantime, I keep on struggling through each day—reminding myself to endure when I realize there’s not really another option. And as I wait, I know that of all the identities I’ve lost, I’m still a child of God. And while all of those other identities are finite and dependent on my own strength, as a child of God I am embraced, accepted, and forgiven forever—in spite of all the ways I fall short.
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