There is something quietly earth-moving about the early days of a first pregnancy. It’s winter now; the perfect time to be newly pregnant. Tonight, a foot of snow is expected to fall in Cambridge and the ground is already blanketed. It is dark and freezing, hard to imagine that life is stirring beneath the surface of the soil and months from now will unfurl into a spray of green, into blossoms. For now it’s imagination and quite simply, trust that in time these frozen days will pass to reveal the impossible fruit of unfurling life. As Wendell Berry puts it “The seed is in the ground … and now may we rest in hope while darkness does its work.”
Resting in hope is the work of early pregnancy. These first few weeks are so delicate, so unpredictable. This new thing that is me/not me is unzipping and zipping in processes that are so finely-tuned that they can easily be derailed, a kindness of our wise genetics. Early on, I met my joy with equal amounts of fear that somehow my body is not the right place to fashion another human. Immediately my tendency was to make this work that is in so many ways outside of my control about me, when it is not at all about me. A handful of friends have miscarried in the past year. There are stories within my own family, enough for them to become absorbed in my own story. Other people’s stories are things I teach my students to let go of, and here I am twisting them around my fingers at night. My husband reminded me that the fear of losing something bars us, as humans, from celebrating it while it is in our lives. I’m sure many pregnant women share these fears. I’ve had friends admit their pregnancies to me in the early weeks, wanting to share their secret but not wanting others to know. I understand. It is too complicated, untangling some truths, but it is too lonely to have unspun secrets kept to oneself.
I am evolving in my patience and hope, becoming less afraid not because I sense that this is in my control, but rather in relinquishing my control I can step back with the wonder that is due this moment. Tawakkul is the Arabic word for trust in God, but it is more than trust, it is an absolute reliance. That is, trust not that everything will be fine, or good, but that everything will be. Tawakkul requires cultivation. I teach myself that whatever happens, I will learn and grow and become a more compassionate and understanding woman. That the sweetness of pregnancy can be just that, without having to be anything else. And I can celebrate the passing days, knowing that the future is always shrouded and with that knowledge let myself marvel a bit more (which includes the excitement of anticipation).
Because there’s much to marvel at, much to anticipate. I attended a birth a few weeks ago where she laughed through her contractions. She opened her eyes wide and said “this is amazing! My body is amazing!” A thing to hold with wonder, the miracle of our bodies! In her poem “Nine Months Making” Lisel Mueller writes
Nine months making
the pulse and tissue of love
work knowledge upon us;
the hard squeeze against bone
makes radical trial
of love’s primal claim:
here in the body truth grows palpable.
Long comprehended, never
til now understood, the ancient analogy
of sap in the root as impulse
toward flowering, as drive and push
toward all possibility,
is proven upon us. Mind
tried and failed, it is body
secretes the slow-spun pearl
we say is knowledge, oystered
in our infinitely expanding
one-man and one-woman world.
Knowledge of act, not cause.
Love’s wine has been our blood
for years; we shall not know
what word or weather thickened
the familiar flux, quickened
old essence into separateness of flesh.
Change and astonishment
witnessed upon my body and your eyes
these long fall evenings
unhand the shape, not mystery, of love.
Nor need we know
more than these sweetly growing pains
which are enough to publish
love’s increasing refusal
to lie with the biblical dust of our bones.
Change and astonishment these long winter nights, daily seeing the transformation of me from me to mother, a palpable truth writ larger and larger on my body. We have started telling people, we have told family. Each announcement is an mark of incredible joy in my life. This is something to marvel at. The slow-spun pearl, the child oystering with each rotation of the earth, each passing lunar phase, the descent into winter and insh’Allah our ascent. The knowledge that it is me, he, and not us but something new. That it moves according to its own spontaneous desires, floating in dark, safe space, without my feeling it. That it is spinning on its own axis, this pregnancy, outside of my control.