By Noelle Mering
When I was expecting my fourth child, after having suffered a number of traumatic losses already, another expectant mother commiserated with me that pregnancy felt a bit like approaching a waterfall. The machinations of my body were stretching and articulating as they prepared for the impending, dramatic rush of childbirth in all its glorious beauty and terrifying surrender.
In cartoon renderings, being swept away into a waterfall is entirely survivable, albeit scary. The reality of going over a waterfall, of course, would be harrowing, with boulders and shock and likely death. But in our imaginations, it’s easy to imagine it being a softer experience where we do not free fall, but rather are carried along and down, with the cushion of a pool waiting to receive us.
I think the mother meant the analogy in more of the gentler way, and it seems an apt one. The perspective from the top of a waterfall is terrifying -– the height, the rush of water, the total lack of control, the impending escalation of pain, the pushing force of nature, the crashing gravity of it all. But to encounter a waterfall from below feels something like finding a mystical pocket of the world -– a unicorn in the forest. From below we can see the rush of water as delightful, musical. Perhaps part of our delight at the bottom is knowing that of the two perspectives, ours is the better one to have. To see the beauty and not feel the fear.
Our first pregnancy came quickly after we married. We were young, and poor, and scared. All of that fear disappeared when our daughter came. After the strained and messy noise of childbirth there is a marvelous silence. The medical staff leaves, the lights are dimmed. Three people lay dopily grinning at one another. What exactly about this glorious, tiny, ballerina baby were we afraid of?
As our six kids get older and the experiences of childbirth get further and further away, we sit in that perspective, at the bottom of the fall, near the pool, surrounded by mystery. What a wonder to have traveled down that waterfall, gripping our sides and one another, banged and bruised, only to find ourselves on this verdant planet below.
This essay is an adapted excerpt from 'Theology of Home III: At the Sea,' available here.