Our current Pilgrim in Residence Meghan Cappon joins us again this week, sharing more about her journey through pregnancy as we continue in the season of Advent. (Read my introduction of her and her first post here.)
I love how candid Meghan is in this post about the experience of pregnancy, particularly when it comes to how it affects (and highlights!) her body. We so often keep Mary as the porcelain figure in our nativity that we forget about her journey that comes before that holy night. Meghan’s reflections on her own body (and indeed, embodiment) in this season take me deeper into what Mary’s own experience might have been like as a woman pregnant for the first time, this great mystery forming slowly and carefully inside her—something intimately secret yet also so Sacred you can’t help but proclaim, as Meghan expresses.
Where their experiences might deviate, however, is Seattle’s Summer Solstice Parade. Read on to see for yourself… -Lacy
(PS: As I reflect on both Meghan and Mary’s pregnancy journey, I can’t help but think how much she looks like the girl who played Mary in The Nativity Story. Uncanny, right?)
Conception and pregnancy are both so full of mystery.
There’s the thing with the egg and the sperm and the multiplication of cells. There are words like “zygote” and “embryo” and pictures of shrimp-like creatures suspended in a uterine universe with a beating heart and gigantic eyes…and a tail. And somehow a little person develops out of that. Inside a woman.
And it’s just way too enormous and at the same time way too minute for our brains to comprehend and so we are always curious and always amazed and probably scared. That is mystery.
And our reactions to mystery vary. How we handle our curiosity and wonder and fear varies. Like with many of the richest most beautiful things in life, there is an intricate marriage of happiness and sadness, joy and grief, anticipation and fear.
When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to tell my family right away. And we did. We also told those friends of ours that we regularly eat and drink with (because my eating and drinking was no longer regular and they would’ve guessed I was pregnant anyway). I was exploding with the anticipation of sharing the good news with those I love—to cry and giggle and be stunned with them. There was a baby growing inside of my body!!!
And then, after I exploded,
I didn’t want anyone else to know. All of the sudden it felt like the most private and intimate thing in the world. The mystery wasn’t just that there was a baby newly planted and growing. The mystery, I realized, was also that it was happening INSIDE ME. My womb was housing new life. My womb was expanding. My belly was bulging. My stomach muscles were separating. My breasts were swelling. My perineum was working to support extra weight. I was incubating a baby with inside parts that no one ever touches and which we talk about very little.
Changes were happening inside and to my body that I had absolutely no control over whatsoever. This was not a time to invite the world into my affairs, to share and divulge the greatest thing my body has ever done. I cringed at the thought of people apart from close friends and family touching my belly. Before I was even showing, I anticipated moments in the months to come when faceless individuals would come at me with hands stretching out in front of them to feel my bump. “I’m sorry, but if we aren’t on a hugging basis normally in life, keep your hands to yourself,” was the mantra in my head, defending myself against unwanted touch. I was constantly amazed and surprised and undone as my body continued to grow and swell and change.
When you are pregnant, everyone monitors your changes. You hear things like, “Whoa—your belly has grown so much since the last time I saw you,” and, “Wow, she’s due any day now!” or, “Your hips are much wider than before—you’re having a girl.” You hear about how beautiful you look pregnant, how you look compared to other women during their pregnancies. Your body is showcased more than ever.
If you are like me or many others (especially women in the U.S.), the concept of body holds a lot of story and meaning, both positive and negative. We are told a million things about our bodies every day: what it’s worth, if it’s beautiful, how we should or should not use it, how we ought to or ought not to take care of it, how we should allow others to interact with it. The concept we have of our bodies is loaded. And it is no different for pregnant women.
The difference for me during that time was that things were changing so quickly that there wasn’t time and space to process how I wanted to be in this new body and how I wanted others to interact with this new body. I’d had years of success and failure up until that point with my pre-pregnant body learning how to live into and define my body concept and ethic. I’d only had a month in this new and ever-changing body to comprehend it and become comfortable with it—which meant that there was very little comprehension and comfortability established.
Let me be clear: I loved my pregnant body. It was beautiful and amazing and it was doing beautiful and amazing things. But the whole process was all-encompassing and overwhelming. I had never embodied my body in this way before.
I wanted to wrap myself in a cocoon until the baby was born. Hide away. Keep it secret.
And at the same time, I loved that my body shouted to the world the presence of a new, developing human everywhere I went. I kept waiting for my belly to get big enough for people to know that I was pregnant and not maybe just gaining weight. I was so proud of my swelling breasts and my baby bump! I felt like a goddess and wanted to display my body’s prowess to everyone. I felt powerful in a way that only a woman can feel powerful. (Mind you, not powerful in the only way a woman can feel powerful—there’s a difference there.)
I was excited to be very pregnant during the summer so I could wear a bikini to show off my great big belly. I loved being naked in the women’s bath house after a swim in the public pool with all the other women—no one had to guess if I was pregnant. And somehow, being naked with other women makes everyone tender. Everyone feels vulnerable and respectful of one another’s bodies. There were a lot of knowing looks and words of encouragement and funny stories about other women’s pregnancies—especially from the women with the most wrinkled bottoms and the saggiest breasts.
Kids always know. (And also, I think, animals.) They would always approach with so much wonder and ask, “Is there a baby in your tummy?” And then we would talk about if it was a girl or boy and I would ask them what I should name the baby. (More than one mom found out who her primary school daughter was crushing on from that conversation.) Having a good amount of asian blood in my body, I had the linea nigra (black line) down the middle of my belly and whenever I was in the bath house and there were little girls showering down too, there were always questions about the line. I loved it!
I enjoyed inviting friends to touch my belly and feel the hiccups and kicks. There’s something so sacred about taking a timid, wondering hand and helping it find the baby’s knee or butt, and also the wide eyes and open mouth when they comprehend what it is they are feeling through my skin.
Every summer there is a Solstice Day Parade in a neighborhood of Seattle. The parade is full of beautiful floats and dancers celebrating the longest day of the year. And to kick off the parade is about two hundred bike riders—naked bike riders. (Technically, to avoid arrest for indecent exposure, one must have covered one’s body in paint—at least the privates, anyway.) It was my dream to one day have a big pregnant belly, paint myself, and join in the naked festivities. And my dream came true! I painted the cosmos on my body with a big ‘ole half sun/half moon on my tummy and road my bike nakey in the parade. It was exhilarating. I felt resplendent. I felt I was the embodiment of a celebration of spring and new life!
With the great mystery taking place in my body there were some days I wanted to burrow under the covers and hide my changing body from the world. And other days I wanted to walk out the door in my birthday suit purely for the glory of it.
I wonder how much Mary loathed the damn star that kept following her around announcing, even to the kings from Asia, the great mystery to be born out of her vagina? And at the same time, I wonder how much she felt it was entirely fitting, thank you very much.
What mystery you are incubating in the depths of your being? What dream, idea, emotion, revelation is growing hands and feet in you? How are you scared of it? How does it feel so private and personal you barely even say it out loud to yourself? How are you anticipating it with such excitement that you can’t contain yourself another moment? In what ways do you want to keep it secret and cocoon? How will you ride naked through the streets bearing it proudly for all to see?