Faith,  Motherhood

The Joy of the Unplanned

In a gas station bathroom in Kosovo, I finally said what I’d suspected for weeks: I think I’m pregnant. It was the strangest confessional, with my friend in one stall and me holding back nausea in the other. She gasped at the words and came out beaming at me.

Weeks before, she and I had been talking about birth control. She was planning a wedding and felt a little stuck when it came to her reproductive options. There seemed to be two basic paths: either avoid pregnancy like the plague or have babies right away. I told her how I’d felt roped into the same binary, and how I hadn’t wanted to do either. I didn’t feel comfortable taking hormones on a regular basis, and I wanted to let God give us a child in his timing, but I also didn’t really want to get pregnant right away.

While most people I knew were either desperately trying or not trying to have children, I felt a strong desire to leave it unplanned. I was conscious of the fact that we didn’t ultimately have control over when we’d have children—fertility isn’t a given, and even the most faithful birth control methods fail sometimes—and I wanted to embrace that reality and God’s sovereignty in it.

So we decided to take a middle path. Sam and I prayed about it, and we felt peace about leaving room for error, knowing that our lives could drastically change at any moment, but trusting that it would be the right moment.

We had almost two years of being happily childless, and then the moment came. It was equal parts exciting and terrifying, but ultimately, it felt right.

My friend understood this perfectly—she knew it was a gift, planned or not—and she celebrated the possibility of life inside me. But once we officially confirmed the pregnancy and started telling others, I was shocked by how many asked, Was it planned? with wide, fearful eyes. 

First of all, as a public service announcement, let me tell you that this is not an appropriate question. A woman’s birth control choice is never your business, and asking whether or not a pregnancy was planned is essentially the same as asking what pills she’s taking. So please, just don’t.

But this question was also troublesome to me because I felt like there was no easy way to explain that unplanned didn’t mean unwanted or accidental. It quickly became apparent to me that in middle-class American culture, there was an expectation that reproduction be carefully controlled, that children always be planned and only after careful consideration of finances and life goals. Anything else was reckless, perhaps even a mistake.

But this was no accident. It was a deliberate surrender of control to a God who gives good gifts.

Consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, and one of my favorite heroes of faith. In the Christmas story, the angel doesn’t ask her if she wants to get pregnant, he tells her that she will give birth. Remarkably, Mary seems okay with this, even though it means she’ll be risking everything. She has this profound spirit of obedience to God, which had to have been established long before the angel showed up on her doorstep. She isn’t afraid of surrendering control—she trusts that it’s a gift.

I admire Mary because she had a yes in her spirit even before she knew what would be asked of her. I suspect this is why God chose to do something incredible through her: she’d already decided to give him control, no matter what.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should run off and get pregnant to prove their faith, but I think there’s a lot we can learn from Mary’s example. While our culture teaches control and security, Mary’s story reminds us that there is joy and profound possibility in the unplanned. Instead of fear or anxiety, she embraces the unknown with a peaceful heart, and it ends up bringing the salvation of the world.

I don’t have such lofty expectations for my own pregnancy, but I do identify with her joy and hope that God is doing a new thing on the earth. And I share in her excitement that I get to carry it.

I don’t know what my life will look like after I give birth, and I don’t know who this child will grow up to be, but I do know that all the curveballs God has sent my way have turned out to be the most beautiful detours, and I expect no less of this one.


Photo: Jon Page, Creative Commons 

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