I’m not going to lie to you: this pregnancy has been my hardest yet. There were a couple of weeks in there where I wondered seriously if I might shrivel up and die.But that’s all behind me now, thank God. New and different hardships lie on the horizon, and you know that I’m bursting with excitement to meet them. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying all the attention my (weirdly huge) bump is attracting. Though this attention is not quite what you might think. While many people are being very kind to us about the existence of a new small person in our family, many people are also, like, “Five kids are so ‘yawn,’ dude. When you get to 19, give us a ring.” No, the attention I’m appreciating is far more favorable than the belly rubs and horror stories of bygone days, and far less jarring than the gawks and misguided criticisms of the birth control crowd. With this pregnancy, we’ve garnered the consideration of a generation of people for whom birth control consisted of something involving Epsom and somersaults—which is to say, a generation of people who birthed and raised lots of babies, and lived to tell about it. And tell about it they do. Oh, girls, the stories we’ve started hearing! There’s the dear, sweet shut-in, a mother of eight, who told us a tale of raising her children alone during the work week while her husband traveled with the railroad. She recalls being terribly ill (and before the days of Zofran!), throwing up all day long, throwing up in the sink over her right arm while her left arm stirred the pot that bubbled with that night’s supper. Most amazingly, she recalled this and other stories with a giggle; her memories tickled her in the telling. And there are the grown children from a family of nine who told us of the many unconventional meals they were served when they were young. Their father was a farmer, and poor; their mother made their home and their clothes. They couldn’t afford beef, so they ate the squirrels, opossums, and coons their father or brothers shot in the woods behind their house. (Coon was the finest, they claimed.) These grown children didn’t feed such critters to their own children, but neither did they snarl at the memory of having eaten such wild fare. Rather, they laughed and smiled warmly at one another and tumbled into their shared childhood all over again.
And my family received a gift in the hearing.
On Sunday mornings, as my belly grows almost before my eyes and I manage the pew-pent energies of my other four children, the older ladies of my husband’s congregation watch with sympathetic smiles. Then, after the Benediction, they quietly approach to offer me their histories, those most beautifully adorned crutches of support. The tales these dear ladies tell differ sharply from the “they grow up so fast” platitudes that I’ve heretofore wondered about. These tales are an unselfish giving of hope, for these elderly mothers of many know very well that I am suffering now only to receive later a joy similar to that which they have received.
I accept their stories gladly, hungrily, not so much for the commiseration, but for the laughter that comes with the telling. That laughter is the final piece of punctuation on lives filled with the giving of life, and it buoys me up. I leave such conversations feeling soothed and better able to stand above the melee that is my sinful flesh to laugh even now at the cross I am, by the grace of God, bearing. Sisters have walked this path before. I can walk it behind them. Thanks be to Christ for working in us the strength to love our neighbors as ourselves. I hope that one day I may share a scrap of laughter with one of your daughters, dear reader, and that you may do the same for one of mine.
CORRECTION: My husband read through this and informed me that I got a fact wrong. The family that ate varmint contains 15 grown children, not nine. Sorry about that, folks. You'd think I'd be able to remember something as remarkable as 15 kids, but it's easy to get tripped up in my own brain.