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May 12, 2010

Mother’s Day Week, 2nd installment: Agnes M. Penny, author of Your Labor of Love

What I knew to expect of pregnancy was a physical and emotional roller coaster as my body—and my life as a whole—went through a series of drastic and amazing changes. What I didn’t anticipate was the impact pregnancy would have on my spirituality.  I’ve learned that physical or emotional discomfort during pregnancy can often be solved with a snack, a nap, or following along with a quick dose of prenatal yoga.  Spiritual discomfort or uncertainty, however, is often more difficult to pinpoint, and it takes a good deal more strength and resolve to confront.

In the first few weeks, especially, I had a bunch of thoughts and emotions that were probably totally normal, but troubling at the time.  As much as I knew I could talk to John about these things, I wanted to get some insight from someone who already knew what I was feeling and could help me work through it.  John is great at asking questions and patiently trying to understand what’s going on with me, but I found myself wishing he could read my mind.  There were some days when I felt sad, lonely, and doubtful, and explaining that was difficult when I wasn’t sure I was getting it right. I started to search for someone, something to instantly know where I was coming from so we could just start right in on the understanding.

I spent a lot of time praying about the Annunciation, about the joy Mary must have felt in knowing that a new child, the Son of God was growing within her.  I imagine this must have been like the all-encompassing peace I felt when I knew I was pregnant.  But I wondered how Mary dealt with the other aspects of being pregnant, the harder parts that come later.  Mary was born without sin, but she was still a human being, which means that she would have experienced feelings of doubt, frustration, and sadness, but she never would have let them get the better of her.

How do I separate the two, I wondered, the feelings and the reactions?  How do I translate the little I know about those ordinary days between the Annunciation and the Nativity into practical wisdom for New York City in 2010?

I asked one of the priests at my church for suggestions on something to read. (John’s always reading something of a spiritual nature, and I figured a more sophisticated and experienced perspective could do me good in this case.)  Father suggested I read the scenes from the Gospels leading up to the Nativity.  I agreed that was a good idea, but he didn’t have too much else in mind.  I think I kind of stumped him.

So I went home and did what I always do when I need a quick answer: I googled.  And this is what I found:

A Spiritual Companion for Expectant Mothers

Your Labor of Love by Agnes M. Penny (Tan Books, 2009)

There was an excerpt online that suggested reading from the lives of saints who were mothers, taking their real-life examples as inspiration.  This, although admittedly I haven’t done it yet, was to me pure and utter genius.

When I looked more closely and saw the book’s subtitle: A Spiritual Companion for Expectant Mothers, I thought, That’s exactly what I need.   I recognized the publisher, Tan Books, as that of many of the books John regularly reads, a few of which I have read as well.  I knew I trusted the company to provide books that would align with the direction in which I want my faith to grow, which was especially important for the purpose of this particular book for me.

Your Labor of Love has been a useful tool, one I hope to share with friends in their future pregnancies.  The book is most interested in living the Catholic faith, but I think other Christians and non-Christians with especially open minds and hearts could get something fruitful out of it too.

One thing I learned early in my reading has remained one of my greatest comforts.  That is that it’s okay to maybe spend a little less time in prayer if you just can’t stay awake for it.  A pregnant woman’s body tires much more easily than it used to, and both mother and baby need a good deal of rest (I get pretty cranky otherwise . . . by the way, as I type this, it’s twenty after eleven at night).  If that means not doing the dishes right away, fine; if it means you can’t manage the duration of prayer you used to, okay.

At the same time though, the author reminds the reader that it’s extremely important to take the time to pray every day.  This isn’t just advice for pregnant women—it’s for all women, all people.  When you do pray, make sure to truly listen after you’ve said your piece.  This is the part God really needs from us.  Not our listing of petitions or praise—he knows all of that already.  What he needs, and what ultimately my baby, my family, my friends, my coworkers need is love, faithfulness, and my complete trust in God.  This insight, from the perspective of a mother, is just what I needed.

The other section of the book that struck me is a chapter called, “The Hidden Life.”  It’s an imagined look into a day in the life of Mary and Joseph, before Jesus was born.  The chapter starts by asking the reader to imagine such a day.  The funny thing is, I could imagine the morning, but I wasn’t quite sure what Mary did all day, and so I couldn’t really picture the evening.  I spent some time thinking about it, and when I went back to the book, I realized the author had offered her imagining of the evening.  How perfect!  I felt connected and in conversation, which is exactly what I wanted.  The piece I couldn’t find for myself, she had offered me with honesty and sincerity, in a faithful Catholic context.

Not every page has had such a profound effect on me, but for the most part, I’m getting what I’d hoped for out of this book.  It really is a spiritual companion, a guide and impetus to a conversation I’d been longing to have—a conversation with God.


Quick Peanut update: I’m at 22 weeks this week, which means Peanut is probably about the size of a summer squash!  How fun!  And what a horrible new nickname . . . we’ll stick with Peanut.  More tomorrow after our ultrasound!

  1. […] Mother's Day Week, 2nd installment: Agnes M. Penny, author &#959f Y&#959&#965r … […]

  2. […] in Your Vocation of Love by Agnes Penny.  (I wrote about Penny’s book on pregnancy, Your Labor of Love, last May).  Chesterson is a writer I have just discovered, but already recognize as brilliant.  […]

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