Somewhere in my heart there is a folder of images of the perfect pregnancy. I can see them clearly: bad days are spent cozied in bed with a book and whatever hot beverage comforts without sickening. Mornings after bad nights are calm and relaxed, and we set aside the hurry of a normal day to accommodate the rest this body needs. Good days have boundless energy to accomplish all the tasks that have fallen by the wayside on the bad days. Things are uncluttered and the children are never excessively needy or quarrelsome. I can enjoy the process of pregnancy, take care of my own, and look forward peacefully to the day the new baby joins us.
I can see it all so clearly that it’s unacceptable to believe that the images could be false or impossible. Somewhere, somehow, this glorious tenth pregnancy of mine exists–it must–but I can’t grasp it. Our days are not always easy. I am in physical pain. I am emotionally fragile. The children are human. Things I want to accomplish are left undone, again and again.
When I can’t achieve that ideal good, I blame myself; I get angry and progressively more miserable with my body and my emotions and the fact I can’t make this process match the possibilities in my head. What am I doing? I wonder. Can I ever do it again?
Eighth Kransling is named after Flannery O’Connor and Simone Weil, two women who were single-minded and driven by their convictions. They both saw grace as something more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling of ease and comfort, or a release from suffering. “…Before [grace] heals, it cuts with the sword Christ said He came to bring.” O’Connor once wrote. Weil said, “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.”
This thought is not comfortable. Frankly it is one, I think, we have abandoned in the modern forms of Christianity. We may pay lip service to the truth, reminding one another to “fight the good fight” or to “carry our cross”. In reality we scrupulously avoid suffering. (Unless we are shoved into it against our will.) Many times fellow Christians have asked me when we will stop having children. The reason, generally, is that it is so difficult for me.
the grace of her name
I often have felt the children’s names are providential. This is more true for some of the children than others, but everyone seems to have fit into their names in an uncanny way. In this baby’s case, her name (or namesakes) have been a source of admonition and encouragement to me throughout this pregnancy.
A few weeks ago I was buried in the weight of my once again failing to reach that idealized version of pregnancy. It was nap time, and I had gone to my room to lie down and brood on what I could be doing differently.
I ended up reading in Gravity and Grace by Weil the chapter titled Contradiction.
There is no contradiction in what is imaginary, she writes. The contradictions the mind comes up against, these are the only realities, the criterion of the real.
All true good carries with it conditions which are contradictory.
I cried reading that.
The images of that perfect pregnancy I carried close to my heart–they were missing something essential, something that proved that they were nothing more than a fancy of my mind. There was no hardship in them, no struggle, no shortcomings. Even the bad days were not bad. There was no physical pain. They were completely unreal, not even unattainable–and not even that. For something to be categorized as unattainable, does it not have to also be capable of being attained? These ideals didn’t even have the shadow of existence necessary to categorize them as distant and elusive. They weren’t some kind of goal to strive for. They were mirages, despicable in their immateriality.
opposites, story arcs
The good is always defined by the union of opposites. When we recommend the opposite of an evil we remain on the level of that evil. After we have put it to the test, we return to the evil.Weil, Gravity and Grace
One of our children has always been a volatile movie-watcher. Many, many times he would up and leave the room when a film portrayed its characters in a difficult, suffering situation.
I would stop him when he did this. “You have to let the story tell itself,” I would tell him. “This part is hard but it’s necessary for the story. You can’t shut this part out. Let the story tell itself.” Stripped of these low moments, the story, and its ultimate resolution, loses its potency. Like a lion with its teeth and claws pulled out, it has no claim to our awe and attention.
the true good
We readily recognize evil for what it is. What may be far more difficult is our concept of good. We think we know what is good–it is the opposite of evil, for us. It is the world where evil is not. The good, to me, was the pregnancy free from hardship, where I didn’t run the risk of dropping balls, of exasperating my children with my needs, and they wouldn’t exasperate me with theirs. It is hard to imagine this season as “the story telling itself”, and the hard parts being necessary. It feels more like a failure on my part. Shaking that belief is very difficult.
But this imaginary good, Weil says–the good without any contradiction, no evil present–not only keeps us on the same level as evil, as that is where it exists, but ultimately will lead us back to evil when we find our imaginings cannot withstand the test of practicable reality. This was demonstrable in my own life. I would clearly demarcate what a “good” season of pregnancy looked like, then strive for it. Then, when I found I couldn’t achieve it, I would wither; more angry, more resentful, more discouraged, more volatile towards myself and my family. It was a vicious game of ping-pong, and it exhausted me.
sorrow and joy
The bad union of opposites […] is that which is achieved on the same plane as the opposites. […] The right union of opposites is achieved on a higher plane. […] In the same way suffering (and this is its special function) separates the opposites which have been united in order to unite them again on a higher plane that that of their first union. The pulsation of sorrow-joy. But mathematically joy always triumphs.Weil, Gravity and Grace
The mystery of essential suffering and the good it brings–or perhaps vice versa–is something I have to contemplate, to wrestle with. I have tried very hard to minimize difficulties this pregnancy–staunchly believing that if I played my cards right (ate the right things, slept the right amount, exercised enough, etc.) then I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain and limitations I have struggled with in the past. I am beginning to understand that those pains are fundamental to this process. That they can’t be done away with. That they testify to the realness of the good that is the entry of Eighth Kransling–Flannery Simone–into existence. They are the teeth and claws of her being.