Most people would agree that the season of Advent is filled with tremendous anticipation and excitement whether it’s the celebration of Christ’s birth, the presents under the tree, or an overdue paid vacation. I loved my first Advent season while pregnant for this exact reason. The whole world seemed to mirror my own excitement and anticipation for the birth of my first child, and I felt a strong and visceral connection to the Holy Family in their “advent” of becoming a family.
Then, Advent 2013 came along, and I found myself waiting again although much less graciously. After getting pregnant with our firstborn almost instantly, we had been trying for several months to get pregnant again, losing two pregnancies in the process. Again, I was waiting, but excitement had morphed into impatience, and anticipation was yielding to anxiety.
This type of waiting had been eating away at my joy in the Advent season, and I was desperately seeking a rudder to bring balance back to my life. As I took my often-abandoned but much-needed 30 minutes to myself between my husband leaving for work and my toddler starting her day, I turned to scripture.
When I recalled that it was the Feast Day for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I marveled that I was entering the fertile time of my cycle at almost the exact day as the feast day that celebrates, of all things, conception! Being one for signs, I started getting almost giddy at the thought that God was preparing me to be pregnant, and I found myself planning for my future…again (this type of obsessive planning is a problem for me). When would the due date be? What should I change in the nursery? When is John getting home?!
As I did a cursory reading of the Psalm and second reading, I was focused more on my temporal plans for this perceived sign from above than I was focused on God’s word in front of me. By the time I got to the Gospel reading, I was practically envisioning myself as Our Holy Mother as Gabriel pronounces her “full of grace.” Why yes, thank you Gabriel! Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. Ah yes, don’t mind if I do! He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. Well, that’s good to know, his grandparents will be thrilled! …
I blithely continued reading through the passage as Gabriel continues to give Mary her “pep talk,” even including the fact that her relative, Elizabeth is now pregnant too.
Incidentally, this is how I see this conversation going in modern speak:
Gabe: “Hey Mary, you are a lucky girl!”
Gabe: “Don’t worry, you’re not crazy, I’m just one of God’s angels come to down to Earth to give you a message: You are going to become pregnant, don’t worry about how. You are going to name him Jesus; it fits well with ‘Joachim,’ ‘Joseph,’ and ‘Jacob,’ don’t you think? He’s going to be awesome, and he will change the world.”
Mary: “Wait, what?!”
Gabe: “Ok, I get it; you’re confused. Basically, you’re going to get cosmically pregnant, but don’t worry about that part. The main reason I’m here is to tell you that your son is going to be God. Focus on that. Oh, and your cousin, Elizabeth is already pregnant, and you don’t see her complaining about it, even though she’s, like, really old. Basically, through God, all things are possible, so get excited!”
So, to recap, here’s Mary: a teenager. Unmarried. Unprepared. Uncertain. This young woman doesn’t even have a room at the inn let alone whatever was the appropriate infant paraphernalia required of women in her time (Bethlehem BOB stroller?). And she’s pregnant. Without ANY warning or desire to be, she is PREGNANT! And she’s told that it’s a blessing?! Considering that she’s living in a time where she could just as easily be stoned to death as anything, it would be a difficult blessing to handle. Come to think of it, anything less than the angel Gabriel appearing, harp a blazing, might not have overcome the crushing feelings of fear, confusion, and isolation.
Then, you have Elizabeth: OLD (I find it amusing that we have no clear biblical concept for Elizabeth’s age other than this term). She has been trying to conceive for, arguably, decades. Regardless of years, it has been a LONG time. She has probably tried every trick in the B.C. book for fertility boosting. As a woman of her time, this was her one and only calling, and there was nothing she could do. At that time, a man could even divorce his wife for infertility. And yet, she had tried, month in month out, disappointment after disappointment until one day, she is blessed with the miracle of life inside her.
There couldn’t be two more disparate examples of the trials and tribulations of women’s fertility. Yet, here they are in one, easy to digest passage. Here were the women for me, on a day where I needed them most.
Of course, I hadn’t come to that yet. Remember, I’m still hopped-up on my heavens-parting sign from above that I’m about to conceive a perfect, boy-child. But then, I read the last verse:
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
Oh, snap! Or more appropriately, Amen! Now came my true message for the day. As chills coursed through my body, I accepted what God truly needed for me to hear and what I truly needed to understand:
*Fertility* is not something that humanity controls. It is something that is “done” to us, gifted to us, by God.
Don’t get me wrong, the modern world has countless suggestions and “cures” for the problems of fertility. A simple Google search can confirm it. But, it’s not until you meet women struggling with becoming pregnant regardless of the steps they’ve taken to become pregnant alongside the women who have painstakingly tried to prevent pregnancy and still get pregnant that you realize that some things (many things, in fact) are simply outside of our control.
It is a vital mission (literally) for humanity, to be open to and prepared to serve our Lord until that time which He feels is right for us to bring another of his blessed creation into this world. It is a mission of service to support the women and families struggling with fertility (either in lack or in abundance). It is a lifelong pursuit of grace to love all of God’s creation (including ourselves) regardless of our personal feelings of impatience, anxiety, or whatever else may be in our way.
As a woman seeking to be part of the miracle of life, I have a part to play. I can help. I can pray. I can hope. But most of all, I can serve the path that God has planned for me and allow God to work in my life and guide me according to God’s plan.
*Either our own fertility through pregnancy or the gift of another’s fertility through adoption, foster care, surrogacy, etc.