I feel that I have frequently been advised that parenting, while certainly a blessing, can be difficult and painful. However, I was not aware how much this could apply to simply being pregnant. Certainly, the opportunity and ability for Michael and I to be expecting a baby is a blessing, something we have hoped for and haven’t been sure would be ours, since Michael has Cerebral Palsy. At the same time, my first trimester of pregnancy has been incredibly difficult. I’ve been very sick and have found unrelenting, day and night nausea (a condition that before now, I would hardly think could be serious or debilitating) to be more difficult than the most pain I have ever experienced, even while on medication.
At times I have been on a diet of meal replacements for days and almost weeks because that’s all I could keep down; other times, watching TV and other distractions only have made me feel worse than ever, and the most comfort I could find has been in a dark and quiet room; for weeks, I have been unable to completely lie down and have been propped up day and night to reduce nausea, retching, and throwing up, which upright posture I find exhausting on top of already present exhaustion.
I realize now that I have grossly underestimated how hard severe physical trials can be on the soul. Having had a number of moderate physical trials, I have assumed that I understand the emotional challenges of physical pain and assumed that I have mastered them. I couldn’t have been more wrong; what skills I have developed have been no match for the simple “morning sickness” of the past two months of a healthy pregnancy. Never in my life have I found being alive so hard, and it hasn’t numbed the pain to feel that my life has never been so important—though it has helped motivate me to be as healthy as I can.
I am amazed that every single person in this world is the result of a difficult pregnancy—some less and some more difficult than my own has been so far. The fact of reproduction is hardly the feel-good groove of the sexual revolution; reproduction, the thing for which are bodies are designed to do, is excruciating. Even if a mother doesn’t have morning sickness, she will almost certainly have labored breathing for months, sleepless nights, fetus kicks that can be strong enough to break ribs (I know this for sure from a friend who had this happen), and of course, the trauma of giving labor, the sometimes excruciating pain of breastfeeding, and the weeks of profuse bleeding. The best of evolution and natural selection doesn’t get around the reality that making life is a costly, painful, risky business—every time.
With this amazement, I feel far more grateful to my own mother for her sacrifices, and to Michael’s mother for hers. At the same time, I am amazed that so many people go through much harder illnesses, and often without the promise of joy and purpose that comes with having children. I am in debt to my family and friends who have helped pick up the slack where I have been completely incapable. In particular, Michael has risen to the task of not only doing the tasks I normally do, but serving me exuberantly and with no expectation of return service. And with his sacrifice, and the army of helpers we have had, I am amazed that whether we are making life, or fighting illness or death, or both, the burden is never just on one person. Life, in all of it’s forms, is a family and community business; it is the business of diffusing burdens with others, and bonding over those same burdens.
Certainly, I have found comfort when I have been alone; I have found special and needed comfort through my faith and in the scriptures, and I do believe all experience will be for our good. However, I do not believe that all experience would be for my good if it were left to myself. Left alone, I am sure I would be harder and more bitter for some experience (even, though it frightens me to admit it, being pregnant). But I am not alone. I have amazing family and friends who have eased my burden more than I can say. Most importantly, I have access to the atonement, which gift is available to me only because Christ suffered past the endurance of anyone. I believe in grace, and as I wait—hardly patiently, hardly cheerfully—I find comfort in Jeffrey Holland’s words:
Don’t you quit. You keep walking, you keep trying, there is help and happiness ahead . . . It will be alright in the end. Trust God and believe in Good Things to Come.
Alizabeth is a new contributor to thebrotherssabey and lives with her husband, Michael, in Salt Lake City. The two of them were married a year ago this October!