lays it down:
I’ve been having lots of weird, really vibrant dreams (I usually don’t dream or don’t remember my dreams or they’re really dull.) The latest was that I was going to make a birth pilgrimage where I would be walking in silence across country to the place where I would give birth. My face was going to be veiled because in the dream women’s faces become plasticized and cartoonish during pregnancy. I was walking with a woman who I was supposed to pretend was my grandmother, even though she wasn’t, and the entire thing was a weird mish-mash of cultural detritus: the veils were Muslim, the “grandmother” was dedicating the quest to some pantheistic lightning god, and to make things look good the anthropology department that was sponsoring the pilgrimage had decided they needed someone high profile to walk with us – so they’d gotten St. Augustine. The only problem being that St. Augustine is dead, and therefore was just an empty chair with a bowl-full of clover sitting in front of it.
There were all of these weird dinners at the University to celebrate this and various other projects of the department, in which I was expected to follow precise protocols. Failure to do so meant that I didn’t get my strawberries, which bothered me because I was actually hungry and legit needed to eat good food. Also, they’d supplied a “traditional birthing herb” that I could add to my food, but nobody had bothered to research it beyond the fact that it was traditionally used in birthing and when I read the label it turned out it was an emetic. The congratulations were all very superficial, and while they wanted to televise our project nobody really wanted to talk about it.
So I’ve been thinking about this dream, and I think that it’s basically my subconscious wrestling with the lack of an adequate anthropology of the pregnant and birthing woman within Catholic theology. Giving birth – the capacity of the human body to produce a new living being – is the theoretical centre of our sexual morality and yet there’s a kind of weird and uncomfortable silence surrounding it. On the one hand pregnancy and birth are often placed on a pedestal, but on the other there’s a tendency to shrink back from the biological realities involved.
Tradition tells us, for example, that Mary laboured without pain and that miraculously the process of giving birth had so little impact on her body that even her hymen was preserved intact. This idealized birth is one in which the physical exactions of labour and delivery are entirely absent – yet it is the only birth that is treated with any regularity in the theological canon.