I have been pregnant for 534 days, or at least that’s what it feels like.
During our first month of trying, I was so grateful to finally be in this season that the entire process seemed exciting. I began haphazardly tracking my cycle using the fertility awareness method, taking my temperature each day and monitoring cervical mucus to discover my fertile days. Once I knew I had ovulated I bought a box of pregnancy tests—First Response, early result, because I wanted to know the outcome as soon as possible. When the first day I could take the test rolled around, I woke early and took it in the bathroom, my hands shaking at the gravity of it all. The results were negative, and while disappointing, I found comfort in knowing that this was only our first cycle of trying to conceive—we were just getting started.
After a second month of trying, the day came to take the test again. As I set the test aside and waited for the results, I prepared myself to get another negative. However, when I glanced back, a second line began to appear—the line that would indicate pregnancy, or as it’s commonly known among those who are trying to conceive, a BFP or “Big Fat Positive.”
A week later a blood test confirmed the pregnancy, and although the results had my heart overflowing with joy and possibility it still didn’t seem real. It wasn’t supposed to happen so quickly, I thought, fully expecting to struggle to get pregnant just like my mother. And yet here I was already, just two months into trying. For something I longed for so deeply and for so long to come to fruition with such ease felt like a grace.
A week after that, however, I began to show signs of impending miscarriage. Just days before I was Googling what to expect in the sixth week of pregnancy. Now I was looking up what to expect in a miscarriage. That evening, after a day filled with cramps, bleeding, and slowly accepting my fate, I passed the tissue that served as the embryo’s sac.
It feels too good to be true, I thought, when I found out we were pregnant less than two weeks before. It turns out this time it was.
We’ve been trying and waiting ever since. And because we experienced a miscarriage so early in our season of trying to conceive, in a way each unsuccessful cycle doesn’t just feel like a negative result—it feels like another loss. Even so, I’ve been living as if I were pregnant ever since that positive test result 534 days ago, adjusting my diet, taking my supplements, hoping each cycle that this would be the one.
But the reality is, things feel frozen in time. While my projected due date has come and gone, many other pregnancies have been announced—family, friends, community members—those babies each arriving safe and sound. And yet here I am in the same place that I was before.
That’s not to say that things haven’t changed, because they undoubtedly have. In the past year I’ve seen multiple doctors and specialists, successfully meeting my healthcare deductible along the way. I’ve spent countless hours in acupuncture, which is a lot to say for a person who has a history of fearing needles, and have faithfully brewed Chinese herbs into a tea twice a day, even though I still have yet to find out what’s in them. I’ve participated in Mayan abdominal massage, been encouraged to talk to my uterus and record my dreams. In an Eat, Pray, Love moment I even visited a healer while on vacation in Bali—for fun, yes, but also because I yearn for hope and will take anything I can get. “Your connection—23%,” he said, referring to my relationship with Kyle, before hitting the top of my head for five minutes to release the bad karma as tears of exhaustion and disappointment welled up in my eyes. We later found out that he’s the Balinese equivalent of a televangelist, so I was grateful to put his 23% diagnosis aside. I didn’t need one more thing to tend to—one more way to not be enough.
We’ve also done all of the tests prescribed by traditional Western medicine. Kyle is good, and I am too, the tests seem to say. My fallopian tubes are clear and save for a few minor fluctuations here and there, my hormone levels are exactly what they need to be. And yet here we are in another Advent, a season of waiting that has come to feel like home.
Last year I began a practice of journaling through the season of Advent, keeping vigil with my sense of longing. This year, though I’m not journaling, the practice of keeping vigil continues, and I’m more grateful for the season than I’ve ever been. To many, Advent is about reflecting over the foretelling of the coming of Jesus and anticipating his birth, and it is that. But it makes space for so much more if we let it. In that liminal space between what is and is to come Advent holds us in our waiting, honoring our deepest yearnings and offering them a place to belong. And because of the promise of Christmas and the light that it brings, Advent acts as a model for holding out hope. Though in everyday life we don’t know how long our seasons of waiting will last, we know that light shines in the darkness, and in a season of uncertainty, we cling to that hope like we cling to life.
This past summer, in the midst of acupuncture treatments and blood tests and one negative result after another, I set out to paint an icon that would express just that. For obvious reasons, I’ve been drawn to Mary over the past two years more than I ever have before. But I didn’t want to paint another Madonna and Child. I wanted to paint a pregnant Mary—young and uncertain, and yet willing to fully enter into the mystery of the Divine. To gaze upon her pregnant image brings meaning to this season, and the fact that pregnancy doesn’t last forever—like the impermanence of the pencil marks that outline Mary’s body—gives me hope that this season of waiting will be transient, too.
The icon is here for you, too, as well as the invitation. You might not be trying to conceive, but it’s likely that you’re longing for something. As image-bearers and vessels of the incarnation, the seed of God is within you, and as Meister Eckhart so wisely says, “a seed of God grows into God.”
How can the image of a pregnant Mary, the original God-bearer, or theotokos, speak to you in this season? What is God conceiving within you through your desire, and how can you keep vigil while you wait?
All seasons of waiting are, after all, periods of gestation, and I’m getting more pregnant by the day.
To download a PDF of the icon with prompts for reflection, click here.