Kimberly Baker, Manager of Child Life Education and Movement at the Church Health Center, talked with Church Health Reader about pregnancy as a powerfully spiritual and transformative experience in a woman’s life, in a couple’s life and in a community’s life. Kimberly has two children of her own and has served as a birth doula in Memphis, Tenn.
John Shorb: How did pregnancy change the way you see your faith?
Kimberly Baker: It is such a miracle, being pregnant, experiencing transformation in your body and knowing that you have been created to be able to carry a child. It is such a unique experience. When it actually happens to you, you get to capture all of the little changes and the big changes. Everyday is a miracle and you are constantly aware that God created your body to do this. For most women it does bring you into a deeper place of faith, understanding that you were made to do this. The act of birth itself is a gift because you are part of creation, and that made me feel close to my Creator. Your child is a gift from God and parents are chosen to love and learn from their children.
When I had both of my children, there was this sense of a strange separation right after they were born because they were always with me when they were growing inside me. Pregnancy gives you this sense that you are never ever alone. To have God bless you with pregnancy is a beautiful reminder that with God you are never alone.
Did pregnancy change the way you viewed your body?
During pregnancy, it is great to be round, and to have a growing belly, so maybe some of the things that we do not always feel comfortable with in our society seem a more accepted because you are bringing life into the world. It is ok to get a little bit bigger when you are pregnant, and it is ok to have that round belly, and it is something to celebrate. So I think for me, that was exciting, because I came from a world where I did dance, yoga and pilates and there is a lot of pressure to look a certain a way. During my pregnancy I embraced the changes that were happening with my body.
After you have the baby, your body does shift and change. It is important to accept who you are and to know that your body may be a little different before you had children, but this body, this vessel, was the thing that got your children here. Whatever changes have happened are worth it because God used you as a way to have your children arrive on the planet. I think that is a blessing. That is a different way to look at it than if you look at it from a media perspective. When you see all of the superstars out there, singers and actresses, they usually have their “body back” in six weeks. That is not the reality of pregnancy. For some women, their bodies naturally go back very quickly, and for some women, it takes time to get your body to a place where you are feeling comfortable. I do not like to say, to get your body back, instead, I like to think of it as getting your body to a place where you are feeling comfortable with it again.
What can congregations and churches do to support women in their pregnancy and into motherhood?
I think one way that congregations can support women during their pregnancies is to keep acknowledging and growing a sense of community, knowing that women are bringing their children into the world and they will ultimately be bringing them into that community and they want to feel safe. Continuing to build community and trust is one of most important things.
Let pregnant women see that there is a genuine excitement for their pregnancy, no matter their circumstances. People get pregnant under lots of different circumstances and ultimately, they need to feel like they are nurtured by the people around them as they embark on this journey of motherhood. One of the ways we can give support is by giving advice when asked for it. Some women, who are pregnant, feel like they are inundated with lots of unsolicited advice from people. You can say, “I have some ideas about how you might be able to eat a little bit healthier during your pregnancy, if you ever need any help, you can always come to me and I’d be happy to talk with you about that if you need any extra support.” Saying a statement like that instead of jumping right in with a judgmental comment can help a woman see that person as a resource should she ever need that help. A lot of times people come up with their own ideas and they never think about all of the pressures, changes and expectations that a woman is going through and the hormonal changes that she is experiencing in a pregnancy before they offer their advice. I think providing support without judgment is very important.
Were there any spiritual disciplines or religious engagements that you practiced during your pregnancy or after?
Each one of my pregnancies is different, but with my first pregnancy, I prayed a lot when I was thinking about becoming a mother and it was a focused time for me, my daily quiet time with God. Even for women as they are going through the process of attempting to get pregnant, it can be a very stressful time, so that time was really important. Even pre-conception, I was focused on giving this whole process to God - knowing that if it was God’s will then I would have a child. It was important for me to pray for my child throughout the process. This grounded me once I found out that I was pregnant.
I think the other thing, too, is finding ways to get your partner connected with you while you are pregnant. It is sort of like a loop between the pregnant woman, the baby, the partner, your support person, and God. During my first pregnancy, my husband and I would have a quiet time together about twice a week and put on music, and he would touch my belly and we would breathe together. Making space to do that for our child was helping us to connect to God and to connect to that baby. We would always close that quiet time with relaxing music in the background. We asked God to protect our growing child. It helped us to bond as a couple and to bond with our child.
John Shorb is the Editor of Church Health Reader.