Guest commentary by Abbi Heimach-Snipes
I am experiencing an Advent like no other. Pregnant with my first child, I’m past my due date, and it’s less than a week before Christmas Day. Thoughts of Mary waiting and preparing for baby Jesus fill my mind. I’m not a particularly crass person, but I find myself drawn to the bodily-ness of Jesus – and definitely Mary – this season.
It’s probably the feminist in me who always found it absurd that for intense female-centered physical experiences – like excruciating menstrual cramps every month and discovering the God-given tools already in my body to track fertility – we don’t talk about it. We don’t reallylearn about how our bodies work. It’s socially polite to hide our bodily functions. We experience shame about them. We’re taught to worry about those stretch marks after growing a new life inside us, how to get that baby weight off or how to embody perfection in all that we do (look, work, parent, love). We forget that Mary (and Jesus, besides the female-centered parts) physically experienced what so many of our menstruating bodies also experience.
Mary felt the Divine joy of feeling baby wiggle and kick and hiccup inside us. She felt the awe of watching our bodies grow, baffled each day at a brand new human being growing inside our uterus. She felt the pelvic floor pressure, and probably even the hemorrhoids.
Yes, hemorrhoids. These are quite common in pregnancy, even for this vegetarian-new-mom-who-eats-plenty-of-fiber-each-day. I have to imagine Mary having a hemorrhoid (or two or three), while riding a horse into Nazareth, and then giving birth because otherwise, how can I too go through labor with a hemorrhoid the size of an alien?
They came after a painful coughing fit at church. I later discovered that walking and moving was extremely painful. The baby is fine. I’m physically strong, and aside from recovering from a cold, I’m so ready for the physical challenge of labor. I’m thrilled to experience the power God wove within me in my mother’s womb, to tap into something deeper than what I normally experience, to be woman in an innate way — unshielded, unguarded and free from the social constructions of patriarchal femininity. I want to moan and roar with the blessed Holy Spirit as we birth this precious new life into the world! I didn’t realize that before this beautiful moment occurs (and probably during too), that the pressure of carrying a baby’s head on my pelvic floor would cause alien-sized vessels to pop out and make it seem impossible to even open my legs. Holy Mother of God.
I asked my husband last night about the excruciating pain he’s experienced in his life. Rationally speaking, he described recovering from heart and lung surgery he had when he was 6. Six-years-old, folks. He couldn’t actually remember the pain, but assumed he felt it. He’s broken one bone in his foot (this was pretty bad), but aside from those moments, he’s not had much physical pain. I couldn’t believe it. Except for the hemorrhoid hell I’m in at the moment and some heartburn, my pregnancy has been pretty comfortable. But man, my female body has given me some regular period pain. I’m tough, but I also will talk about my pain and what’s going on in my body. If God created bodies that have bodily functions for survival and creating new life, why would we nottalk about them? These challenging moments often lead me to prayer. Besides periods or pregnancy, I will even find myself praying on the toilet because it can be a precious moment to myself when running around on a busy day.
God meets us in, through, around our bodily functions. There’s nothing shameful about them because they are real. Like the complicated beauty and pain in the world that we witness everyday, there are miraculous and messy moments with our bodies (birth and healthy poops), and horrendous atrocities (cancer, disease, hemorrhoids). God’s there for all of that.
Of course Mary’s pregnancy was a bit different than mine — carrying the Christ child, looking for a safe place to give birth and recover postpartum as she and Joseph fled their land. I hold this tension as I turn to her for comfort this season, knowing that she encountered some challenges with which I can relate and some I can’t.
So this Advent, with Mary on my mind, I’m yearning for the healing and love of bodies experiencing both pain and shame. I’m waiting for this labor to come any day now, even with a giant hemorrhoid. I’m trusting that, no matter what, God will be there, especially when others won’t tolerate the truth of our bodies doing what they do. Hope will come. The Christ child will be born. And the postpartum recovery and faithful parenting journey begins next.
ABBI HEIMACH-SNIPES is a pastor at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, leading its twenties and thirties ministry. She also serves as an organizer and trainer with Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism, and soon she’ll be learning how to be a parent for the first time!