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THIS IS MY BODY

As I cried along with my newborn son Christopher one sleepless night, I remembered the words of my Lord the night before he sacrificed himself for me: "This is my body, broken for you."

This is my body, broken for youAfter a year of marriage, my husband and I decided to start actively trying to have a child. I wanted one so badly, I ached. We prayed and planned, charted and hoped. The day I surprised my husband with a positive pregnancy test, I couldn't remember being happier. I bought books on pregnancy, started taking vitamins and looked forward to a blissful nine months.

Then I got sick. Really sick.

I had to eat Cheerios from the side of the bed in the morning before I even lifted my head off the pillow. Some days I could barely get up for exhaustion. I couldn't open the refrigerator or dishwasher without vomiting. Yes, I did go to work every day, but for three months I felt far worse than I ever had on a "sick day." Certainly, I knew that many women experienced far more difficult pregnancies and that my suffering was relatively minor. Still, it amazed me that women around the globe went through this routinely. I couldn't understand a paradigm in which this would be considered normal.

Of course, I loved the baby growing inside of me. I was preparing a home for him, avoiding alcohol, soft cheeses and sushi, and choosing from 20,001 Baby Names for him. I was supposed to be excited, glowing and anticipatory. But I had never before felt so out of control.

Friends of mine, due the same month, giggled and exclaimed over their babies' first kicks. When I felt my baby's first kick, I felt squeamish and even a bit repulsed. I found it frightening rather than comforting. Here I was, growing somewhat resentful and increasingly disillusioned. I had chosen this. I had asked for this. I wanted this. Then why was it so foreign and creepy?

The fact was, nothing in my life had prepared me for pregnancy. I simply had not been taught that my body was made for childbearing. Even as I write this, it feels like a betrayal of my gender. How can my body be "for" anything? I had learned that my body was my own, that no one could decide anything about it but me. Then what was going on?

For nine months, another person decided whether I kept my breakfast down or not. Another was stretching my skin, making room for himself. Another used me as an incubator, fed from me and kicked my organs. As I looked and felt less and less like the person I had been, I cried out, "This is my body! What is happening to it?"

I prayed a lot during my pregnancy. I prayed for my baby's health. I prayed for him to have a good life. I prayed to feel better. I prayed not to throw up in any embarrassing places. I prayed that labor wouldn't hurt too much (I didn't say these were the noblest prayers). And I prayed for something to help this make sense.

My questioning only increased during Christopher's birth. I was fortunate in that my labor was "textbook," as if a textbook could encompass what it is like to give birth to a child. He was born after 11 hours of labor, no drugs (the anesthesiologist was "busy") and the most energy I've ever expended on anything.

But as I was reveling in the beauty of my new baby, I marveled that my husband's body was exactly the same as it had been twenty-four hours before. I could barely recognize myself. My breasts were feeding troughs, and my stomach sagged in positions I didn't think possible. All my modesty had been stripped away. By the time I delivered, I remember thinking that anyone could do just about anything to me and I would hardly notice.

With my body at the weakest point it had ever been, I embarked on the trial of actually raising my newborn. I wanted to spend the first night with him, to have him near me, to welcome him with love. But my body had reached its physical and emotional limits.

All I could do was cry. The nurses finally asked gently if I wanted them to take my baby out of the room so I could sleep. Sobbing, I agreed. It was my first night and already I felt that I had failed.

A few weeks later, as I cried along with Christopher one sleepless night, I remembered the words of my Lord the night before he sacrificed himself for me: "This is my body, broken for you."

He, too, spent a grueling, sleepless night of agony before the most difficult experience of his life. He, too, prayed before his suffering, asking his father for relief, wondering if there were any other way. He, too, lost his modesty, splayed naked before onlookers, laid bare while suffering and in pain. Jesus, God made flesh, was physically torn. He endured torment and exhaustion. His body had been broken, too. He understood what was happening to me.

The answer to the why—to what was happening to his body—was life. At the end of Jesus' sacrifice was life. Life for me. Life for all who would believe in him. Like me, he went through his agony with a name on his lips, the name of the one for whom this all made sense, for whom the pain and suffering were worthwhile. Like his suffering, my suffering was not meaningless.

The body that had endured so much to bring Christopher into the world now ached with joy. There in my arms lay a being that existed because of my love and my sacrifice. If my body had not been available and enduring, he would not have been there—and I could not imagine a world without him. Perhaps this paradigm was not "normal," but it was holy.

So I held Christopher close those sleepless nights when I thought I couldn't give one more ounce. When I thought I would collapse, I looked into his face and whispered, "This is my body—broken for you."
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December 24, 2003

Elizabeth Wirth, a Godspy contributing editor, is a free-lance writer and full-time mother to Christopher, now age two. She and her husband, Karl, are expecting their second child in January.

Reprinted with permission from The Damaris Project. All rights reserved. (www.damarisproject.org)

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READER COMMENTS
12.31.03   kdesmith says:
I just read Mrs. Wirth's article about childbirth, and have to say it is very beautiful. As a mother of two I remember how difficult pregnancy was for me at times. It really does change your body, and can be very physically and emotionally wrenching. (As can parenthood.) What a wonderful perspective, to be able to offer up life's difficulties and trials to the Lord as a gift, and to be able to think of it as a sacrificial offering! I am grateful to Elizabeth Wirth for sharing this perspective with me, as I am trying to become less self-centered and more open to God's Grace. May the Lord bless you and give you an easy delivery with your second child. :-) kdesmith

12.28.03   sem says:
I too will never be against scientific progress that maintains and upholds the dignity of persons; and I too share your fears in regard to the secular definition of “progress.” Two examples that are making me cringe the most these days are: A new birth control pill on the market that reduces a woman’s annual number of menstrual cycles from the normal and healthy 13, to 4. Let me please state the obvious here: We are taking something that is healthy and works fine– and we are deliberately stopping it from working. This is progress??? It sounds more like The Stepford Wives. and-- drug companies and women’s rights groups are rallying to get FDA approval for selling the morning-after pill as a non-prescription, over-the-counter remedy. This would truly be a feather in the evil one’s cap. It’s bad enough that the action of killing has been redefined and renamed (repackaged) as a "preventative," but how much better for Satan if even that weak thought process can be shortened or circumvented for convenience’s sake? Lord help us. I think your comments about the realities of our bodies is right on the mark. You fit a whole lot into that last paragraph! I can’t express how much I admire you for bringing that up. If I have a rough road ahead of me– what must your road be like? Do you ever just get tired and confused and overwhelmed? Peace, Prayers, and Blessings,sem

12.27.03   David Morrison says:
Even though I am a man, I could nonetheless relate to some of what Elizabeth had to say in this piece. Women are not the only ones who have been confused by the notion that the physical strucure of our bodies, our created, weak, clumsy, in so many ways disappointing bodies, has something to sat about the purposes to which we put them.Much of our contemporary world now holds the attitude that our bodies are merely incoveniences at best or outright obstacles at worst. For example, ever greater numbers of athletes wanting to win the next big pot cash prize seem ever willing to use any manner of drugs to make their bodies into vehicles of victory. The commentators that I have heard objecting to this drugging do so on the basis of undermining the integrity of the contest, not on the grounds that there is something inherently special or worthy about our bodies as they are, something which we should not violate just because we can. The movie Gattica depicted a culture where an increasingly powerful subset of the society was able to geneticly manipulate itself into steadily higher realms of social, economic, intellectual and asthetic power. The film remains science fiction, for now, but I have already read stories about theories of how genetic manipulation might be used to heighten the body's production of this or that protein to give an athlete this or that advantage. How far are we really from having an Olympics where the finalist have reached their positions at the starting gate because their bloodcells have been manipulated to produce a protein that carries oxygen molecules two or three percent points more efficiently? Ten years, 15, 20? As I grow older they years that seemed so much longer once appear to move in the blink of an eye.Please understand I am not a biotech luddite. I don't oppose seeking to alter the body to correct some genuine fault, a tendency to overproduce something or underproduce something else or to correct injuries. But I believe too many of us have lost an appreciation for the role our bodies play as they are in our being the human beings that we are. Human beings are not only their bodies, but neither are we entirely spiritual entities that can shed our physical bodies in favor of new ones like we would change a coat. We are unities of both, body and spirit. Connected. Neither all of earth nor all of heaven. That's why, for example, someone's emotional state can often manifest itself in a bodily symptoms. This is the relationship at the deepest root of countless relaxation classes that promise to teach us techniques to calm our spirits so that our bodies, in turn, might be lulled into dropping our blood pressures into something like a healthy scale.And underlying this loss of appreciation for our bodies is an unwillingness to recognize that our bodies have purposes. Elizabeth wrote with some dismay at the relative unfairness that her husband's body was much the same as it had been before she got pregnant, while carrying Christopher had changed hers beyond her ability to recognize parts of it. But underlying her husband's unchanged body is his ability to use to it to meet the needs of the young life she has just sacrificed her comfort and safety to bear; to go out into what might be a dangerous or difficult world to do his best to provide them both the food and shelter they need, to sacrifice some of the priorities which otherwise might beckon to him in favor of his responsibility.We don't like thinking along these lines for a lot of reasons. Women can feel it unjust that they be asked to give up part of their body for new life; men can feel it unjust that they be asked to support it. For both parties, fidelity to the realties of our all so human bodies requires sacrifice. But as Elizabeth points out as well, the reward for that sacrifice is something and someone that is literally irreplaceable.At the bottom line, years ago, it was the reality that my body, my created body, as a man, has meaning and function written into its very cellular foundations that provided me with one of the biggest obstacles to my continuing to practice homosexual sex. I am simply not not made for those acts, spiritually or physically. Just as I am coming to ever more deeply understand that I am not made for any sexual coupling outside of a committed relationship open to the possibility of new life and the sacrifice that a new life would bring.

12.24.03   sem says:
Kudos to the Godspy site for posting this article– especially on Christmas Eve I am so thankful for Elizabeth Wirth’s honesty, I can barely write. It’s times like these that I’m not even sure I know myself anymore. I guess I’m coming at the issue from the polar opposite of where the author is. I’ve never been pregnant. My thoughts and feelings about that fact have been changing over the last 5 or so years. A sadness has been growing. That sadness, and related longings caused me to start looking to God for some answers to some big questions: Committed relationship...? Traditional family...? You mean maybe I could...? Still prevalent, however, in regard to that most innate and seemingly inaccessible essence of my femininity was– fear: Fear of the unknown, fear of duplicating my parents’ mistakes, fear of such intense humility (that Wirth finally put into words for me), and fear of the sheer vulnerability (that Wirth spotlighted for me). [and that's just the beginning!!]What a paradox. The paradigm strength of woman most vividly experienced within the humility and vulnerability of pregnancy and labor. It is a total pouring out. The parallel with Christ’s passion is magnificent. I feel like I’ve reached a place that God has wanted me to reach. I’m thankful; and continue to be amazed at the depth and scope of His ways. I still feel a bit out of place, too. But closer to home.Merry Christmas to all,and to all a good nightsem

12.24.03   Godspy says:
As I cried along with my son Christopher one sleepless night, I remembered the words of my Lord the night before he sacrificed himself for me: "This is my body, broken for you."

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