What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon
Pregnant Ho! Ho! Ho!
[p.149]In the splendid cathedral at Chartres, France, there is a piece of medieval statuary depicting the Holy Family shortly after the birth of the baby Jesus. Mary, in sensible French fashion, is lying down looking lovingly at the child by her side, while Joseph is gently draping another blanket across the legs of his tired but very pleased wife. A small donkey and an ox look on.
The scene, although shaped in stone, is surprisingly warm.
Philip, who was four years old that spring we lived in Europe, viewed it with great interest.
“Who’s this!” I quizzed, pointing to the tightly swaddled infant.
“Baby Jesus,” he answered.
“Who’s the woman!” I continued.
“Mary,” he replied.
“And who’s the man!” Philip scrunched up his face in thought. Then it suddenly brightened, like the sun breaking away from a cloud. “I know!” he shouted. “The doctor!” Although Philip was only four, he was old enough to understand that his own mother is more or less in favor of having a doctor on hand whenever she gives birth, and he figured Mary probably felt the same way. Actually, Mary probably did feel the same way, but the circumstances of her labor and delivery were, in a word, unusual.
I’ve been thinking about Mary a great deal this holiday season because, as everyone who has bumped into me lately knows, I am hugely pregnant.
During Queen Victoria’s reign, being pregnant really meant something. It meant that you got to stay home, put your feet up, and watch soap operas written by Charles Dickens on television all day long. It was great. The reason Victorians treated pregnant women this way was that Queen Victoria was the one making up all the rules then, and she knew from direct personal experience that deep in their hearts, pregnant women would rather be lounging around the conservatory munching on Wheat Thins than doing Jane Fonda’s workout tape for expectant mothers.
[p.150]Today’s pregnant woman, on the other hand, isn’t even supposed to feel pregnant. She isn’t supposed to feel weak or nauseated or short of breath or ready for bed every night by 7:30. Also she’s supposed to run in southern Utah’s St. George marathon the day before she gives birth. The twentieth-century woman isn’t supposed to feel pregnant because it has been scientifically proven by the American Academy of Talk Show Hosts that there are NO TRUE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SEXES, and since men don’t feel pregnant, women can’t either. Just remember that the modern rule of thumb for dealing with a pregnant woman who says her back hurts because she’s been packing around twenty-five extra pounds of kid all day long is to tell her she’s making it up. She’ll appreciate the reminder.
Being nine months pregnant during the holidays can be especially trying. Downtown merchants, for example, give you dirty looks every time you walk into their stores because they know that while to the naked eye you may appear to be pregnant, in actuality you’re busy stuffing stereos and Nintendo games, as well as several Christmas hams, underneath your coat when nobody is looking.
Actually, I don’t mean to whine. At least I get to go to a clean, well-lit hospital staffed by skilled people when the time comes for me to deliver. Mary didn’t have that option. Mary, heavy and far from home, couldn’t even get a room. When she delivered, it was in the hay of a stable lit by stars. My experience, I’m sure, will be quite different from hers.
Still, I find that I relate to the Christmas story on a deeply personal level this holiday season. That’s because it is more than a record of a single birth in Bethlehem a long time ago. It is ultimately a story about the longing that accompanies all births.
Humanity has not always acquitted itself well over the years. History often reads like an endless saga of the evil men do to one another, and there is no rational reason whatsoever to believe that things will change in the future. And yet every time a baby is about to be born, you can almost hear the human race hold its collective breath and say, “Well! Maybe this time we’ll get it right.” There’s hope in that voice.
And there is joy, too.