A Good Day for the Beginnings of Journeys

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood

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.”

Waiting #

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.”

Restriction Points #

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!

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  1. Well, Nicole, I’m certainly glad you are leading this discussion! You have a great study-guide, devotional/ meditational style and I think you’ll inspire us all to reflect a bit more deeply than we would on our own.

    My first response to this book has been amazement. In spite of my stint in the public-school sex-ed stream, as well as my own homeschool curriculum development on the subject, I had no idea of the sorts of things that went on in my womb! “Wow!” I said a million times in this first chapter. She’s like a Ms. Frizzle for adults, and our Magic School Bus ride takes us into her intimate thoughts as well as her intimate geography. Wonderful.

    However, I did find it a bit less beautiful than I found “Living Downstream.” I’m not quite sure why, but I don’t find myself awed by the prose as I was in her first book.

    Still, I’m excited to go on, and to do it together.

  2. And I’ll take a stab at answering one of your questions, Five Pennies:

    What journey am I on right now that is profoundly changing me?

    Raising our children
    Supporting my spouse’s work
    Becoming a digital citizen

    Each of these things keeps on challenging me to reach farther, and I’m grateful to be on these roads.

  3. Jodi Bubenzer says

    Well, I have to confess that I haven’t yet read the book…but I’m going tomorrow to get it! I was intrigued when Kriss invited me to the discussion because in addition to raising my four sons and homesteading (and homeschooling, btw), I am a Childbirth Educator and have been for 12 years. Birth is in me and a part of me and something I am very passionate about. But, in thinking about your questions, Nicole, I feel that I am on a really crazy journey that I don’t quite understand yet. We moved out to our farm almost 5 years ago and after growing up in St. Louis and then living in Madison for 11 years, I find myself on a farm with 4 sons, sheep, chickens, bees and wanting more.

    I guess right now my journey is raising my children with my wonderful husband and learning self-sufficiency and the “old” ways. I’m thrilled with wool and poop (animal, that is) and vegetables and seed catalogs and the smell of hay and I could go on and on.

    How did I get on this path? I’m not sure. Where am I going? I’m not sure. But I am sure of something – this is the path I’m meant to take. I am on the right one. I can feel it in my heart.

    I can’t wait to read the book!

  4. Meredith Soyster says

    Wow– a rich discussion already, and it has only been up a few days! I’ve never participated in an on-line anything, and was honored when Nicole thought of me. (Thanks Nicole! 🙂 )

    I think what struck me most about the first chapter was how powerful the ideas of reproduction and fertility are in the psyche of many women. The pregnancy tests at home are really quite revolutionary — they have opened up an avenue of knowledge (and therefore power) about what is most fundamental, and most extraordinary, about biology. But it is that 3-5 minutes of waiting for the second line to show or not, and the incredibly strong feelings that hang in that small cradle of space and time, that are indelible, unforgettabe, and ultimately so very personal.

    What I think I’m going to really enjoy about this book is that it promises to discuss the science (for me, a nurse, riveting) along side with what science does not adequately address — perseverance, faith, community — all the qualitative ‘gut’ stuff that shape life.

    As for journey — it is fun to hear where everyone is. I, mother of 2 and almost 3 girls (12 days late and counting, and yes, I do find humor in this — thinking that I knew what to expect! How truly ridiculous!) I can’t help but think of the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” And how it really comes down to that wisdom piece, which takes so much trial and error to figure out — and for me, right now, almost 42 weeks gestation, and really for long before the transformation of motherhood, that wisdom (and often lack thereof) really has revolved around knowing one’s energy, one’s potential and one’s limits at any given time. Because given limitless energy, very little is impossible. But energy is highly limited. How best to deploy one’s energy in the world is critical to do wisely. For me, it is this ‘wisdom’ that determines both the impact in one’s personal journey and how that journey intersects with the world.

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