I must admit that I think it a bit ironic that the maiden book discussion here at RCB is about a journey to birth. This has been a dream of my husband’s for a while, but I never thought I would be leading the first discussion!
I first began reading Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood about this time last year. I was expecting our fifth baby, and I thought it would be fun to journey through this pregnancy with Sandra Steingraber. I was immediately drawn in. The prose was beautiful — the science was engaging. But then my own maternal environment began to claim my attention. My blood pressure began to rise, and I began to worry — what if I had to be on medication for the rest of my pregnancy, or the rest of my life? What about the heart disease and diabetes among my relatives? I put the book down for a month or two.
When I found time to come back to it (between self-administered blood pressure measurements while on “modified bed rest”), we received an urgent prayer request: a couple we knew, old friends, were seeing heart troubles with their newborn baby, who would need surgery immediately. The problems turned out to be related to DiGeorge Syndrome, which Steingraber describes in the second chapter (“Hunger Moon”) of Having Faith. My heart ached for my old friends–but selfishly I began to worry about our own little one. What about my “advanced maternal age ” (40), mercury in the fish, financial stress, relationship stress, just-plain-busy stress–and that blood pressure (which it was time to check again)? I felt fear at every turn, and decided that there would be another time for Having Faith.
When Kriss mentioned this book, I jumped. Here was something I really was excited to read, was waiting for the chance, really, though for so long it was a journey I did not yet want to confront. But now I am in a different place, and I have a chance to read and and discuss this with friends. So, as Steingraber says in her prologue, “It is a good day for the beginnings of journeys.”
Steingraber begins her story in the “Old Moon” of January, as she is waiting for her answer to an old question: Am I pregnant? From the college bathroom where she waits the three minutes it takes for the drugstore pregnancy test to deliver its results, Steingraber shares with us the history of pregnancy tests, her experience of making such secretive, personal purchases (and perhaps we remember our own feelings), and the complex, intricate biological processes that make life-changing moments.
Now we come to the crossroads, the crux of the matter, the source of my lady-or-the-tiger inquiry. An ovulated, unfertilized human egg has a lifespan of just twelve to twenty-four hours. Forty-eight hours, tops. If it dies a maiden, its journey ends…. If, on the other hand, something else has happened during the trip down the tunnel…then our story changes…. [and] the rest of my life is going to be very different.
We continue to wait and wonder with her: Is this it? Will she be pregnant? And as I wait with her, reading, I wonder: What am I waiting for that will make my life very different? Is there something in this waiting that I do not yet want to confront? Am I postponing “looking at the wand” in my own life because I am not sure if I am ready to begin the journey it may announce?
The announcement of a life-journey can happen quickly; Steingraber gets her answer in the brief pause in the restroom: “Now there are two of us.”
Beginning a new journey of any kind is a bit fearful, because “no important journey ends without profoundly changing the one who undertakes it.”p. 16 As I dive into the second chapter, “Hunger Moon,” I am struck by two things: hunger and choice.
Having gone through pregnancy several times, I know that not wanting to eat and yet needing to eat something to stave off nausea go hand in hand. My particular hunger varied dramatically with each pregnancy. With my twins, I craved meat and lipstick.Andy and I drove all over southern Illinois, nearly crossing into Ohio in our quest for a burger. I never did eat the lipstick, but there were times I avoided wearing it because the temptation was so strong. Then with my third child, bagels; fizzy-water, wine, and nothing hot with the fourth; and with the fifth, cottage cheese. Crazy.
I think hunger should go with us on any journey. It drives us to get what we need, to move forward, to survive.
Choosing to begin one particular journey may close doors to others for good. The pregnancy test makes Steingraber late for class, and “Hunger Moon” deals with the consequences of beginning the journey to parenthood. How should she plan for this transformation of her life? What needs to change to make room for it? What can she no longer do? And the process happens on the cellular level as well: stem-cells move around the developing embryo, brushing up against each other and being changed by their contacts along the way. “Embryologists talk about embryonic stem cells passing through ‘restriction points’ as they migrate. During these moments, whole strings of genes are turned off, leaving only the few needed for a cell’s new, more specialized life.”p.16 I can empathize with Steingraber when she says:
I feel a little like a migrating embryonic cell myself, sent out on a journey that seems not entirely of my own choosing or under my own direction…. I suspect I will be changed by it, that some new identity is forthcoming. Restriction points lie ahead.
Here are some questions that I am pondering: What journey am I on right now that is profoundly changing me? Is this journey one of my own choosing? What about this journey can I control? What is out of my control? Am I happy about the new identity that is forthcoming? What are the restriction points on this journey? What new doors will open. What doors will be closed forever? What are the risks of closing that door?
I am looking forward to our discussion!