Pregnant during Advent

By Rachel Cohen | Special to The Compass | December 22, 2016

Anticipation of first baby’s birth is a deep connection with Mary

My husband Joe and I are expecting our first baby, due early February. I can tell the time is drawing near, because the floor is littered with dropped items I can’t bear to pick up and I’ve begun to waddle like a slow-motion penguin.

As Joe stoically takes up the work of clearing the sidewalks (again), I can recline with hot cocoa and a half-crocheted baby blanket and reflect on the adventure that has been pregnancy. Being pregnant during Advent and Christmas, I can’t help but feel a deep connection to the Blessed Mother Mary.

Joe and Rachel Cohen, pictured on their wedding day Nov. 8, 2014, praying for assistance from the Holy Family at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in De Pere. (Photo by Olivia Brey of Oh! Photography)

Mary, like me, was a first-time mother. This may not seem terribly significant, but this Christmas, I understand the anticipation and anxieties that come with bearing one’s first child.

For one, it is incredibly strange to feel tiny limbs pushing out of one’s stomach. When I finally recognized the sensation of the baby moving in my womb, I was instantly reassured. Yes: there’s really a baby in there — you haven’t been sick and exhausted for no reason; and that cookie dough ice cream you enjoyed didn’t harm the baby.

As a first-time Mom, it must also have taken Mary some time to recognize the kicks for what they were. I imagine that her sense of reassurance was overwhelming, finally sensing some tangible proof of what she had believed to be true for months: that she, a virgin, was with child.

And, as space inside grew tight and the kicks became more adamant, perhaps her reassurance, like mine, changed slowly to apprehension about the future: Am I ready for this? Will I be strong enough to bring the baby into the world? Will the baby be healthy? What kind of mother will I be?

My experience of feeling the baby kick was quite different than Joe’s experience. It took him quite a bit longer to feel the baby kick (is that a baby, or is it gas?), but once he did feel a kick, his expression was a bit more complicated.

He tried to hide it at first, but later confessed that the baby’s movements felt “creepy.” He reports that the first kicks confronted him with the full reality of the situation and made him feel scared and happy all at once. This must have been doubly true for Mary’s Joseph.

Even if he had perfect belief in Mary and the angel, feeling the first kicks must have shaken him (though, he probably hid his initial expression as well, for Mary’s sake). Maybe he felt conflicted about the baby, perhaps originally hoping that he could father a child by Mary, and instead finding God’s plan was much, much bigger than that.

And I wonder what kinds of fears surfaced in him: Would he be able to love the child as his own? Would he be able to provide for his unusual family? How would his relationship with Mary change?

The baby’s movements continue to ground me in the reality that our lives are about to change forever and there’s no turning back. This becomes uniquely intimidating as I think about the pain-filled hours that I’ll spend in labor and delivery.

In his “Summa Theologica,” St. Thomas Aquinas asserts that Mary felt no pain during the birth of the Christ, because she was the New Eve, without original sin, and without the effects of original sin. I doubt, though, if anyone notified Mary of this before she gave birth.

She would have known of the pains and dangers of childbirth in ancient times from watching the women in her family and community. Like Mary, I have no idea what to expect on the day of my first child’s birth. It seems that this is my next big lesson in learning to trust God and I consider myself blessed to walk with a spiritual Mother who has been through it already.

Cohen is director of youth ministry at St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Two Rivers.

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