Excerpt from Expecting Wonder, Chapter 8
“Your baby is the size of a sweet pea!”
“Your baby is the size of a cucumber!”
“Your baby is the size of a pumpkin!”
Every Monday morning, after settling in to my cubicle at work, I would open a pregnancy app on my phone to see what was new with my baby and my body that week.
While I knew my body was changing substantially—hormones skyrocketing, uterus growing, blood volume increasing—those changes were mostly invisible to my eye. My belly wasn’t getting rounder yet, and I couldn’t feel the baby moving around inside me. I thought about him or her constantly, but much about pregnancy still felt abstract.
Instead, I relied on pregnancy apps and books to tell me what was happening in my womb. These resources often liken babies in utero to various pieces of produce—a sweet pea, a raspberry, a plum. Being new to this growing-a-human thing, I eagerly checked the app every week and devoured the information.
During the early days, I remember being amazed that the heart was beating, the organs were forming, and the eyelids and lips I would someday kiss were developing. After reading about the current week’s changes and developments, I would often skip ahead to the next week to satisfy my curiosity and eagerness about what was to come, despite the internal sense that I should try to savor each week slowly.
At week seven I read that the baby was the size of a blueberry, which was ten thousand times the size he or she had been at conception. The rapid growth was staggering, but even more so was the former smallness—just how small is one ten-thousandth of a blueberry? I let my mind wander, remembering and reinterpreting what my faith told me about my baby’s identity as a beloved creation of God: If I’m a tiny dot on this earth, a mere speck in a universe so expansive that it’s beyond my comprehension, then what does that make this blueberry baby? Who is this blueberry baby that God cares for them and is shaping them with God’s very own hands?
As the weeks passed, my blueberry became a lime and then a kumquat and then an avocado. The comparison to fruits and vegetables may seem far-fetched, but I relied on these imperfect descriptors to help me make sense of a truth I could not see for myself. These fruits were concrete, tangible pictures I could ground myself in amid the rapid change and overwhelming nature of the miracle happening inside me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wrap my head around all that my body was doing to grow this baby—but I could picture a peach- or pear-sized being with tiny fingers and toes, the ones I would count and marvel at in a matter of months.
Isn’t this what humans do with the divine too? We can’t help but wrestle with the idea of something so much greater than us. The Bible is full of metaphors for God: Father, Mother, King, Rock. We take concepts we know and apply them to God to help us understand even a small slice of who God is, to reveal spiritual truths one glimpse at a time.
This is normal human behavior, but there can be a dark side. We like black and white, right and wrong, here and there. We like light over shadow, certainty over doubt, clear explanations over open-ended questions, the knowable over the mysterious. So we make God play by our rules, forgetting that God is not boxed in by time or space. We can’t fathom a being who operates outside of our limitations, so we fashion a God who reflects our identities, try to squeeze God inside the walls of our churches, attempt to distill God’s essence into an arsenal of “right” answers.
All the while, God is waiting for us to open our eyes, to see that God is right in front of us, that God’s image is the blueprint for the universe, that God cannot be contained by our bodies or our minds or our theological beliefs. God offers us the sweetness of honey and the nourishment of milk and the substance of bread and the richness of wine, asking us to taste and know that God is good, to touch and know that God is real, to see and know that God is behind it all. God is in it all.
Likewise, turning to fact-filled apps and books to try to understand what’s happening in our bodies isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These resources can equip us with knowledge, which can in turn help us feel more connected to the events unfolding inside us. But what they can’t do is fully reveal the beauty and wonder and miracle of a tiny life being created cell by cell inside our bodies, by our bodies, following the same pattern that has played out in billions of women across human history. And these books and apps definitely can’t assuage all our fears or guarantee everything will turn out fine simply because they contain the “right” answers to our questions.
Early on, I prayed for my growing child nearly every day, ending each prayer with a superstitious petition: Lord, keep this baby safe. Lord, keep this baby growing. Lord, keep this baby healthy. I probably wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but deep down I was afraid my prayers had a shelf life. I worried that if I didn’t ask God to keep the baby healthy every single time I prayed, my previous prayer would expire, and my child would no longer be safe.
I suppose this was my way of boxing in the divine, of trying to make sense of who God is and how God operates, but meanwhile, I was missing the point. Yes, God is the creator of life and was sustaining my child and causing this mystery to progress inside me. But that doesn’t mean God is so fickle as to demand I grovel day in and day out with specific requests or risk losing the life God had placed within me—a life that God loved even more than I did.
I had to accept that no amount of information or compulsive recitations could illuminate the mystery, make the abstract tangible, or give me control over the process.
As I leaned in to the mystery—by letting myself become increasingly astonished at what God had set in motion, at what my body was doing without any intervention from me—I found myself repeating that superstitious prayer less frequently. And as those words tapered off, my grip loosened on who I thought God is. God isn’t a puppet master or a manipulator, using pregnancy and my love for this child to increase my fear and, thus, my devotion. This is a God who loves fully, unabashedly, even recklessly; a God who loved my blueberry baby long before I knew about him or her, and who would love this baby for a whole lifetime, however long that turned out to be.
We are critical to the process of pregnancy, of course, but thank goodness we are not fully responsible for every little development. We don’t need to say any magic words to make it all work. We get to trust the intricate design of our bodies, which God has empowered and equipped to bear life.
What a gift that we get to grow the next generation inside us.
What a relief that we are not alone in this.
What a wonder that we get to be partners and cocreators with God.
This wasn’t a one-and-done lesson for me, and I’m guessing it won’t be for you, either. We may continue to learn it over and over through the rest of our pregnancies, through the sleepless nights of new motherhood, and through the meltdowns and mess of raising feisty toddlers.
But the more we are molded into the shape of a mother, the more we can acknowledge this paradox: we have great power but little control. As we acknowledge that, perhaps our prayers can change from desperate pleas to keep our babies safe to wonder-filled affirmations of God’s goodness, of God’s very essence in it all.
Learn more about Expecting Wonder by Brittany L. Bergman