On Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, my church blesses expectant families. Rejoice, rejoice, we sing, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. A whole people waiting for a savior, families who are waiting for the birth of their baby. The rite is called the Blessing of a Child in the Womb, a small curled-up body in warmth and darkness.
For many years, though, the message to wait, to rejoice meant something very different to me: the lack of a child in the womb. Disappointment month after month.
I began to doubt that my husband and I would ever hold a baby in swaddling blankets. I clutched his hand more tightly as couples walked up the center aisle to be blessed in front of the congregation. Our hands formed the shape of the nursery rhyme: Here is the church; Here is the steeple. I pursed my lips and willed my stinging eyes to stay dry. Or, knowing it was coming, I asked my husband if we could attend another Mass, without the blessing.
Others in those pews, huddled in their winter coats under stark blue banners, have their own yearnings: for employment, for a spouse, for an end to pain or illness. Not all will see fulfillment by Christmas when the church fills with pines and poinsettias.
One of my favorite Psalms says, “I believe that I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living,” not in heaven, but here on earth. Some difficult days, I could hold that phrase like a warm heating stone in my cold torso. Many times, it felt like self-deception to say such things.
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near, the choir sings. The harmonies hug each other in thirds and then go dissonant: Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart. The Advent candles at our parish look almost blue in their violet-ness, and pink. Boys’ and girls’ colors.
The community is named for the two parishes that joined to create it: St. Monica St. George. A nagging mother, a slayer of dragons.
Last year, my husband and I were sixteen weeks pregnant on Gaudete Sunday, ready to announce our good news. My stomach was starting to look more pregnant than fat, and I’d bought my first maternity jeans.
I held my husband’s hand as we walked up the marbled aisle, and my eyes stung again, this time because I couldn’t believe we were finally here, ready to celebrate in the church where we’d met. We stood in front of the brightly lit altar, the day outside gloomy and chill. Four other couples joined us, one with a two-year-old son who wiggled away and wanted to stand on his own with his parents. “That’s what we’re all in for!” I joked with the people next to us.
“God, author of all life, bless, we pray, this unborn child,” the priest said with hand raised. “Give constant protection and grant a healthy birth that is the sign of our rebirth one day into the eternal rejoicing of heaven. Lord, who have brought to this woman the wondrous joy of motherhood, grant her comfort in all anxiety and make her determined to lead her child along the ways of salvation.”
I expected to cry but felt calm. It was a nice change from the anxiety I often had about this baby who took so long to conceive. Even well into the second trimester, I tried to avoid stories of miscarriages. I avoided the news because a woman in Colorado, not much further along in her pregnancy, had been assaulted, her baby cut out of her womb. She survived; the baby died.
I’d started to touch my belly unconsciously, cupping the little avocado sleeping inside me.
When we returned to our pew after the blessing, I noticed that the woman in front of us held her husband’s hand a little tighter. Her face was blank. They didn’t congratulate us later during the Sign of Peace when we shook hands.
This year, as my six-month-old son lies sleeping in his baby carrier, strapped to my husband’s chest with his arms and legs splayed out like a starfish, we’ll bless those anticipating their own babies’ arrivals. But I’ll think of those still waiting for their blessing.
I’ll think of my friends waiting to adopt, their Facebook page showing holiday celebrations that the baby could join (lopsidedly grinning snowman, hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows). I’ll remember that for some, Christmas will not mean the end of waiting.
Advent is a season when we join them in their limbo, even if for a few short weeks.
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Written by: Lisa Ampleman
Lisa Ampleman is the author of a book of poetry, Full Cry (NFSPS Press), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Poetry, Image, Kenyon Review Online, and 32 Poems, and her reviews and prose in Diagram, Pleaides and Southeast Review Online. She is a Mullin Scholar at the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC from 2013-15 and lives in Cincinnati.
Above image is by Morgan, used with permission under a Creative Commons license.