What Co-creation Really Feels Like

On the cereal box, there’s always some arbitrary recipe that’s supposed to induce you to pour out the whole box at once to make “bran cookies” or some other non-dessert. Add your Frosted Flakes, all ten cups of it, to a bowl of peanuts and apricots–and voila–you have twelve cups of trail mix that no one wants to eat, and there’s nothing you can do about it now. The potion is mixed. You can leave it out on the counter in a plastic bag indefinitely, or you can throw it away and start over.

So it was in the earliest days of this pregnancy–another baby? It sounded like an ok idea in theory–why not? Throw in the peanuts and apricots.

Almost immediately, upon mixing the potion, I sunk into a groggy primordial funk. My grandma died. My dog got hit by a car. My husband and kids all smelled funny to me, and I could feel myself being sealed up in an over-sized ziplock bag of nausea-inducing ephemera.

If there is a “contraceptive mentality” in Catholic marriage, it has almost nothing to do with abstaining from sex to space babies. Rather, it’s about wanting to undo or interfere with something that’s already taken place. God pitched me a ball, and I wanted to throw it back, hard enough to leave a bruise. What a dumb idea it was to play this game.

My husband and I are not good planners. We itch, we scratch, we treat the wounds, and for the most part, we’ve ended up a little richer for closing our eyes and taking chances. But sometimes it takes longer for a wound to heal, and you have to wait in uncertainty and discomfort until it does.

I would like to say that I could NEVER act against a pregnancy, but temptation is such that it throws all of life’s options before you, including the option for death. I didn’t want to cause it, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have been slightly relieved to throw out all the unpleasantries of the first trimester, and the subsequent discomforts yet to come, and start over with my former health and vigor.

Of course, I would have felt incredible sadness at such a loss–I’ve experienced miscarriages before and they’re devastating. I would have mourned and felt pain. But I’d also have figured out a way to move on, even if I had to fake it for awhile. The pain of retreat seemed preferable to the pain of bearing forward.

Such is no longer the case.

It’s really difficult to pinpoint exactly when one’s feelings about a pregnancy transmogrify. Sometimes, it’s the moment you realize that the loss of it is really possible. Sometimes it’s with the baby’s first movement, which confirms in a way you’ve always suspected, that pregnancy isn’t really about you.

Over the weeks of rebellion I began to discern a person in there taking shape, arms and legs pushing against my ribs. I’ve made note of the ways this child’s head will butt against me, and how she will roil and hiccup into our family.

I have forgotten completely who I was before the prospect of this new person entering the world. I don’t know her name, nor what she looks like–but I WANT HER!

I remember clearly, after giving birth to my daughter, these were the first words I said, “I want her! Give her to me!”  I had no idea to whom I was speaking. Maybe I was talking to those rubber-gloved hands separating me from this person who’d made me uncomfortable for so long.

But even if, for some reason, I did not want her as vehemently as I did, her very existence trumped all of my desires.

She had wrung me out completely, leaving me empty and bleeding on a table. All of my children have done so–and never have I felt love so pure as in that moment when you have been emptied and wait with open arms.

I imagine the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross must be the forerunner to such feelings. To be powerless, with open arms is the ultimate symbol of poverty, and yet to undergo agony and pain as a gift to others that may never be returned is a taste of the way God loves. This is what it means to be a co-creator.

It’s difficult to know this at the beginning of a pregnancy, even though I’ve known it before. Wounds hurt, but as they heal they transform you into someone you never knew you would be–someone who can be, even if only for a moment, pure love for a stranger.

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About Elizabeth Duffy