The gestation of your child is a time with its own rhythm and beauty, and you will never live out the reality of coexistence more radically.
by Susan Windley-Daoust
This article is adapted from chapter eight of The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust: “Waiting: ‘How Long, O Lord?'” Read other chapters as they become available by clicking on the chapter links in the sidebar. Get the whole book in print or ebook formats at the Gracewatch Media store.
Many remark that God knew what he was doing in making pregnancy nine months long; by the ninth month you are often willing to go through anything to get this growing child out!
But the gestation of this child is a time with its own rhythm and beauty, and you will never live out the reality of coexistence more radically. It is also a time with its own challenges (there are women who find pregnancy much more difficult than the actual birth). This chapter reflects briefly on the more notable points.
First encounters: the ultrasound and the “quickening”
Not every woman in the Western world receives an ultrasound between sixteen and twenty weeks, but it is common. The ultrasound is used by technicians to ascertain how the baby is developing, assess the baby’s age (in case that is unclear), and be aware of any potential challenges to the pregnancy or the baby’s development. You may even learn whether the baby is a boy or a girl. All this means what you see, and how it is interpreted, can be great news or very hard news. It is a reality our ancestors did not have to deal with in their pregnancies. Most people hold that, in general, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
If you receive hard news in your ultrasound, you may wish to move to chapter 17. But for most women and men, the ultrasound is a moment of wonder (sometimes even when it is accompanied by hard news). I know seeing my child for the first time during the ultrasound struck me as a holy event, a gift from God that I did not fully expect to affect my soul to the extent it did. I was frankly speechless, and struck to the core by his beauty. Another mother described the holy gratitude of seeing her unborn child alive and kicking after a recent miscarriage:
My first pregnancy was a loss, and seeing the little fluttering heart during my second pregnancy was a total blessing. I cried and thanked God that the baby was alive, and I’ve had similar reactions to every ultrasound I’ve had in subsequent pregnancies.
Another mother describes a third-trimester ultrasound and the courage that seeing her child gave her to face a difficult birth:
Because my pregnancy had been declared high risk, and they planned when he would be born, the doctor performed an ultrasound to verify my son was in the right position. It felt unreal; I looked, and I can still see that moment when he opened his eyes. It blew me away. I’d been scared about weathering the final stretch of induction, epidural, and birth, but once I’d seen his eyes, I knew I’d do it. I knew I could do anything for him.
The other tangible moment of “meeting your child” during gestation is called “the quickening,” that is, when the mother first feels the baby’s movement. Most women are not sure that the first senses of movement are, in fact, the baby. But eventually it becomes clear: that movement that initially feels like a butterfly in your womb is your child. In a few days, the movement is strong enough to be shared with your husband or a close friend: “Hurry, feel, right here!” Later, you can “play” with your child by moving your hand to one side of your womb, and waiting to feel him move to cuddle next to your hand. (It’s true! Try it!)
These first meetings make tangible what is real: there is a tiny new person growing inside of you, and she is announcing her existence. It is a quiet but real announcement: “Here I am, Mom.” How do you respond?
The tiredness and the last, never-ending month
A few women glide through their pregnancies with good energy, exercising, working, and caring for other children with good grace and humor. And then there are the rest of us.
Pregnancy always made me enormously tired. Part of it may have been that I was pregnant in my 30s and 40s. But it is normal for women to feel more tired than usual, especially as you move into the third trimester and last weeks of the pregnancy.
Your energy reserves are now expended for two, and the baby is growing at an astronomical rate.
The other difficulty many women have is that the baby’s activity and movement always increases when you slow down (for example, go to bed). The walking and activity of the day lulls the baby to rest, and when you are quiet, baby thinks it is a great time to get some exercise. This can make it hard to sleep.
This reality of tiredness is both a gift and a sacrifice. On the one hand, tiredness is a gift in that it forces you to slow down a bit. Exercise and activity are important, but so is rest, and this is a time when you grab rest wherever you can. We honor marathoners more than we do pregnant women, but they are doing similar work in terms of long-haul exertion. Letting yourself rest—or at least lowering a few expectations—is a way to honor your own human dignity as a mother.
The tiredness is also a sacrifice. Most women enjoy being involved in their families and work and community, but this sapping fatigue makes it difficult. You may not be able to do all the things you hope to accomplish before giving birth to this baby. Try letting that expectation go, and consider it a small sacrifice. Making room for this growing child in your womb is real work and has real consequences. It’s fine that your energy goes to your child for a few weeks. It is a temporary sacrifice, and your energy will come back.
In the meantime, pray for your child. Place your hand on your hidden child and ask the Holy Spirit to fill his heart.
Receive the Eucharist at Mass knowing that at some level, your unborn child receives Jesus as well. Pray for the pregnancy: I prayed with Psalm 16, “Keep me safe, O God.” Tell your child you love him. Sing to him. Your relationship has already begun, even though your child’s life is hidden for nine months. But the hidden life is a real and sacred life. Never forget!
 Kara McIntee, interview with author, June 11, 2014.
 Sherry Antonetti, interview with author, June 11, 2014.
 This first line of Psalm 16 is from the New American Bible Revised Edition.
For prayerful reflection
Chances are very good that part of your pregnancy falls within the season of Advent, the season of waiting for the Christ child. This can be a rich time to ponder the fullness of waiting. Even if it is not Advent, consider some of the music, the practices, the sense of Advent. Consider how waiting for the birth of Jesus can help you wait for the birth of this child. You may wish to pray through the following guided meditation.
Place yourself in a quiet space, and get as comfortable as you can make yourself. You may wish for a lit candle, to remember you live in the light of Christ.
With one hand on your womb and the other on your heart, ask God to help you imagine. . . .
This baby is attached to you, through the placenta, and swimming around, having a grand time. He or she can hear the sound of your heartbeat, your voice—they are extremely comforting, his first home. He swims some more. . . .
Although he or she is immersed in amniotic fluid, the baby does practice breathing. This is a good warm up for the birth to come, although he doesn’t know that. He may even hiccup. She works those legs, those arms. Movement is fun! Let’s keep it up. . . . Actually, the baby is getting tired now. Perhaps it is time for rest. . . .
She rests in your womb, content. This is home. She senses protection. She is free to thrive, to grow. . . .
As you are moved, pray for this little playful child. He has a soul and can receive the graces that we receive. She is within both your body and the Body of Christ. . . .
As your prayer ends, close with the opening lines of Psalm 16 (or another favorite prayer):
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Amen.
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Susan Windley-Daoust is a Catholic theologian, spiritual director, and award-winning author of Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying. She teaches theology at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and five children.