Who knew such a thing existed? Not I, that’s for sure. I’ll be honest, when I was offered the chance to review Sarah Reinhard’s new book, A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy, I wasn’t too enthused about it. I immediately assumed that it would be like many other devotional books I’ve found little to my liking over the years, filled as they usually are with overly emotive, saccharine passages about how wonderful everything that God makes is.
Everything that God makes is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. It’s just hard to remember that when you’re up to your elbows in baby poop, toddler messes, and grammar school homework, while also dealing with constant nausea and crushing exhaustion. I like books that keep it real, that meet me where I am. Those are the books that I find encouraging. So I was totally psyched when I read the opening sentences to the preface.
I never thought I’d be a mother. It wasn’t part of the grand plan for my life, and even when I was baptized and confirmed a Catholic, I didn’t see motherhood as something I wanted to do. I found it impossible to imagine myself as a mom. I had never wanted children of my own, and though my future nieces and nephews were cute, they weren’t really relatable.
I could have written those words myself. In fact, I think I have, with minor syntactical differences. I absolutely love that Sarah started the book that way, because even though I know there are many wonderful Christian mothers who have always known they have a vocation to motherhood, there are also quite a few of us who were blindsided by it. I believe that Sarah manages to really speak to those of us who have struggled to accept our vocations without alienating those who haven’t. I also think that it’s so important to be honest about motherhood…the joys and the struggles. Sarah is refreshingly, wonderfully honest throughout this book. She doesn’t paint pregnancy with a rosy tint around it, but she’s also clear that pregnancy and motherhood are gifts: joyful, amazing ones at that. And because she’s honest about the difficult parts of pregnancy, the joy and wonder of it are all the more evident.
The book is organized by weeks, much like most other pregnancy books. Unlike other pregnancy books, though, this one doesn’t focus exclusively on how the baby’s developing and how you might be feeling. Sarah begins each chapter with physical details like that, but then goes on to reflect on Mary, using one of the mysteries of the rosary. These reflections are beautiful. Even three weeks post-partum, they brought me to tears. I wished so much that I had had this book during my last pregnancy, and all my pregnancies. I think that reading Sarah’s insightful reflections on our Mama would have been invaluable to me as I tried to reconcile myself to being mama to another little soul. I also wish I had thought to focus myself on Our Lady each week, instead of focusing only on myself. It’s almost impossible to avoid the temptation to close in on oneself during pregnancy. I know I become utterly navel-gazing, thinking that no one’s problems are as big as mine, no one’s trials as real, and no one’s life quite as important as mine. My ego seems to grow in direct proportion to my belly, until I start to expect people to drop everything and help me with the slightest difficulty, because can’t they see that I’m pregnant?!? Focusing on our selfless Mother would have helped me battle that temptation.
The next section in each chapter is called “One Small Step.” This is probably my favorite thing that Sarah did with the book. The weekly pregnancy emails that websites send out always include something small that you can do to get ready for baby, things like setting up the nursery or finding a pediatrician. But Sarah suggests things like praying for vocations (all vocations), praying for your husband, spiritually adopting someone, and going to confession. Things that take us outside of the pregnancy and ourselves, and remind us of the world around us, the world that we are still called to be a part of, even in the midst of pregnancy. I could really have used that during all my pregnancies. And unlike the “helpful” suggestions from baby websites, these are things I actually would have done.
The last section of each chapter is a snippet on our faith. The subjects vary widely, from the anointing of the sick to reflections on the seven sorrows of Our Lady. I learned a lot of new information about our faith from these snippets, and they’re written to tie in to some aspect of pregnancy. Sarah closes every chapter with a prayer, which is a nice little reminder for pregnant mothers to continue on with our prayer lives, even in the midst of morning sickness and last-trimester aches and pains.
There are several personal anecdotes included on topics ranging from body image to the loss of a baby. Many of these are written by other authors (including one by one of my favorite bloggers, Kate Wicker!) and are always deeply personal. I found myself really enjoying these anecdotes, as they gave me insight into other women’s struggles and reminded me that the areas of sensitivity in pregnancy vary from woman to woman, and pregnancy to pregnancy.
I had planned to give my copy of the book away after I read and reviewed it, but there’s no way I’m doing that now. This book is going on my treasured “pregnancy and postpartum” bookshelf, along with Husband-Coached Childbirth and Harry Potter. Honestly, I loved this book so much that I’d almost like to be pregnant again, just so I could read the book week-by-week. Almost.