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What pregnancy taught me about my own powerlessness

Burger/Phanie via AFP

Anna O'Neil - published on 02/11/17

A mother's vulnerability is the perfect ground for trust to grow in, and maybe the only place it can grow.

So here I am, sitting at my desk, and deep within my body, my newest child is working hard, producing 250,000 new neurons every minute. Our two bodies, cooperating together, are enmeshed in this unbelievably complicated process, to make the baby grow and develop. Not that you could tell from the outside.

It’s a process I’m an integral part of, but it feels strangely passive. Not only do I not understand 95% of what’s happening inside of me, but I couldn’t make it start or stop (by sheer force of will, that is) if I tried. I can hold my breath, but I can’t put the baby on pause. Once begun, the baby’s life and growth is immediately out of my control.

Every pregnant woman feels this sense of not being in control, and it’s made even more painful by how important it is to you that the baby be safe. From the moment I saw that little “Yes+” on the pregnancy test stick, I was already worrying. Would everything be OK? Would he be healthy? Here is a little person, whom I love so deeply, dependent on me for literally everything in his world, but I can’t protect him from illness, suffering, and maybe even death. With the exception of the few moments of the pregnancy that I’m looking at him on the ultrasound, I don’t even know if he’s still thriving in there. I have so much love, but so little power.

I got to thinking about control and power, and realized that these concepts are almost always complete fantasies. We have control over so little in our lives. I can’t choose my genetic makeup, my parents, my birthplace, or the people and events that have shaped who I am today. I can’t choose my brain’s structure. I can’t save the people I love, or change the choices that anybody makes. I control exactly one thing: my actions. That’s it. It isn’t much.

So I am starting to see this intense sense of vulnerability that I carry as a sort of blessing. And this vulnerability is by no means exclusive to pregnant women alone. Everyone’s aware of their own powerlessness, to some extent. The blessing is that the knowledge of your own total powerlessness is the perfect ground for trust to grow in, and maybe the only place it can grow.

Christ said to St. Faustina, “The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is — trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive” (Diary 1578). We aren’t meant to grasp for the security that comes from being totally in control of everything in our life that matters to us. That isn’t because nobody is in control; it’s just that we aren’t. God is. The opposite of control isn’t chaos, it’s trust.

Trusting in God’s power over your own is deeply liberating. “If even the smallest things are beyond your control,” Christ says to us, “why are you anxious about the rest? Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Lk 12:26, 32) The only way out of the great fear that every human experiences is equally great trust. That fear is a gift, though, because it whispers to us, deep in our hearts, the knowledge that there is no amount of money or power or influence that could ever make us truly safe, and that no man escapes death. What good news, then, that “the Father is pleased to give [us] the kingdom.” Control, which is out of our grasp, is not required of us. Only trust is.

“When I am weak,” writes St. Paul, “then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10) The only strength that poor, fallen mankind can have, is borrowed strength, God’s strength.

Although we all need to recognize our powerlessness, there’s a special reason that pregnancy makes you even more painfully aware of how much you can’t control. It’s because trust, more than anything else, is what a mother has to teach her child, and if she is listening closely, she will be learning how to trust even before the child is born. The uncertainty in life, but especially during pregnancy, is training for the mother to be able to give her child the greatest gift of all, in this uncertain, confusing, chaotic world — trust in God’s strength, which we all ought to foster.

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