The year was 2004, and I was pregnant with our first child. After a year of travelling, West and I were finally ‘settled’ in a rental flat in a pleasant Auckland suburb.
For most of the previous year I had been relentlessly clucky and spent a good deal of our enviable free-roaming time in Europe wanting to fast-forward to the next phase of life; I spent hours (I wasn’t working) doing fertility/pregnancy/childbirth/parenting research on the internet. Even before I was pregnant I had the whole nursery planned out – and I already knew the kind of natural pregnancy and low-intervention childbirth I was aiming for.
So it was with great delight and some relief that we discovered that I was pregnant – except that, anticipating it taking us the 3-6 months it takes an ‘average couple’ to conceive, we’d just signed a one-year lease on a flat that was not suitable for children.
We spent the first two trimesters of my pregnancy in that little ground-floor suite, and for the most part they were happy months; in spite of endless morning sickness, recurrent dizzy spells, and relentless fatigue, it was a time of joyful anticipation. During that period we chose and purchased our nursery furniture, baby clothes, and buggy. We hosted a baby shower for my younger sister-in-law (two of West’s sisters were also expecting that year), and we were spoiled with a baby shower for me during a visit to Canada as well as another one with my Auckland family and friends. I joined an online forum for ‘Mums-to-Be’ and made some wonderful connections with other pregnant ladies, some of whom ended up becoming real-life friends. It was a truly special time.
But there was something that was not as I’d imagined it would be. There was something that wasn’t in the plan.
As I’ve mentioned, we were renting – and this little place, with neighbours living above us and a single bedroom in our own suite, was not going to accommodate a baby. We would have been willing to do so, but under our contract we were required to be ‘child-free’. Our landlord wasn’t happy at our having to break the lease, either, so he wouldn’t release us from the contract until close to the end of the calendar year. Thus it was that we found ourselves searching for new digs as I grew heavier and heavier; we eventually moved about a week before Christmas, when I was 36 weeks pregnant.
All that nesting I’d anticipated – all that cocooning that I craved – was, frustratingly, not happening during that time before the move. And even afterwards, there were limits (due to timing and location) to what I was able to do.
As I sat in that first little Auckland flat, I had lots of time to feel sorry for myself. I had lots of time to grieve the injustice of being denied these special rites of motherhood; preparing a nursery, becoming a family in our own little home, feeling a sense of permanence as we nurtured a little garden to grow alongside our babies…
I probably would have continued on this trajectory of self-pity if it weren’t for a couple of moments of enlightenment that merged to create a small epiphany for me during those last few months in our first place.
For one thing, I was doing a study of Philippians. The apostle Paul (formerly Saul) was imprisoned during the time that he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, and it really is a worthwhile read. Paul was languishing in prison, with no expectation of release, when he wrote these words:
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
These words really struck me. Phil. 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me) has been a favourite verse of mine since my high school days; but now the verse preceding it was etching itself into my heart.
Around the same time, I became aware of an event that had taken place a few years earlier in which a pregnant woman, during the floods in Mozambique, climbed a tree to escape the flood waters and ended up giving birth in the tree. That’s right – she gave birth in a tree…
To me these two seemingly unrelated narratives formed a single clear message:
How shallow it would be to continue to rage and rail about the injustices I was suffering – when this poor woman had brought her child into this world in such precarious circumstances! She had clung to life as her home washed away. My conscience was pricked: all my petty grievances seemed utterly frivolous in light of her story.
And Paul – what a lesson. To be content in all circumstances? That takes practice. That takes discipline. That takes wisdom.
So I let go of it. I released my disappointment and focused on all the goodness I’d received. And the blessing was in the contentment I felt throughout the rest of the search for an acceptable rental, our shift to a less-desirable suburb, and a hurried preparation for our baby’s arrival. Contentment, even, when I went ten days past my due date with lots of preparatory contractions interrupting my nighttime rest (I didn’t say I was happy, but I was generally content).
I’m still learning to be content ‘in all circumstances’. I still fall into melancholy phases when I allow what I want to overshadow what I have. I still pine for a place of my own. But by now contentment is pretty much my default setting – and that, in itself, is a blessing.