Women In Spirit and Flesh
Journeying: An Advent Reflection
"Is your back killing you?"
"Lord yes! And my feet . . ."
This is what I suspect that the conversation between Mary and Elizabeth really sounded like.
I believe they talked about how their backs hurt, and how their extremities were swelling. I imagine that they talked about how there was no comfortable sleeping position, and that they would give anything for a nice long foot rub. I think they laughed as they compared the foods that were digestible in the first trimester, but now caused indigestion. I bet they complained about how their men "did this to them," and how they were going to lose their mind if there was any way in which the men suggested that we are having a baby. They were clear. They—the women, Mary and Elizabeth—were having the babies.
This is what pregnant women do. At least it's what I did as a pregnant woman. I found other women who were pregnant, or who had been pregnant. We gathered. Sometimes one on one where my mommy-friends whispered words of advice to me: Don't let anyone tell you how to be a parent; follow your instinct. They sent emails and checked in on me. They told me what I needed to buy, and what was completely unnecessary.
Other times, I met with a friend whose baby was due just six weeks after mine. We talked about the challenge of working while completely tired, how much time we would have off, what names we were considering, and how odd it was to be so happy about a baby, while so uncomfortable with pregnancy.
And there was the baby shower where many women gathered to share food, hand-decorated one-sies, and wisdom for the journey ahead.
As the women gathered, we talked about how important it is to be flexible and adaptive. How the quality of mothering should not be based on the ability to breastfeed, and how there is a new normal with less sleep.
There were pregnant women visiting all the time.
The tradition makes the visit of Elizabeth and Mary about the men. It tells of how the babies leapt inside their wombs. It describes the faith or faithlessness of the fathers. It discusses how the baby-naming broke from tradition: John and Jesus, the prophet cousins.
I think there's more to the story. I think that the baby kicked and Elizabeth pushed the knee or elbow back into the depth of her womb. And like most play dates, the visit was a time for the mothers to talk.
And the Advent lesson isn't about prophetic fetal cousins, trusting fathers, or even breaking through age and infertility. Rather, it's the lesson we all need for the beginning of our spiritual journeys: You aren't meant to travel this road alone.
Monica A. Coleman is Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. An ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Coleman has earned degrees at Harvard University, Vanderbilt University and Claremont Graduate University. She blogs about faith and depression at Beautiful Mind Blog