My friend Colin and I have met regularly to talk over many years. He retired early as his wife Joy was not well, and as her illness progressed and she was confined to her bed, he became her full-time carer. As he could no longer visit me I started to visit him at their home. Joy and I knew each other quite well, so one day when I was there I asked her if I could sit and talk with her for a while. She agreed and we ended up talking for most of the afternoon, to the surprise of both of us. Thereafter our afternoon conversations became a regular part of my visits.
Joy talked about many things, but her favourite topic of conversation was her two sons whom she loved deeply and of whom she was immensely proud. She talked about the work they did, and about their homes & families. She recounted stories of them as young men and little boys. But then one afternoon she took me quite by surprise by sharing her experience of being pregnant with each of them. She told of her sense of wonder the moment she felt the first spark of a new life inside her. It touched her somewhere deep, bringing her a profound sense of fulfilment as a woman, and giving meaning and purpose to her life. As she spoke I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising. She spoke as if it had happened yesterday, rather than forty years previously. We were on holy ground. She never spoke of it to me again.
As I reflected later it seemed, in my language, that the two tiny embryos each in turn, brought Joy a message: that she was loved, affirmed and trusted by God, Who had a vocation for her. They were angels before they were human. She received God’s blessing from the children whom she blessed by bringing them to birth. When she returned to paid employment as her sons grew up, she worked for Barnardos. counselling and accompanying adults who had been placed for adoption by them and now possibly wanted to reconnect with their birth mother or siblings.
I’ve shared this story with women whom I know, some have identified with it immediately and said that they’ve spoken of it with other women; others have clearly not experienced anything of the sort.
Her story might serve as a model for understanding the story of The Annunciation. Mary felt the stirrings of new life & received the message of an angel, that gave her her life’s meaning & purpose. As such it has echoes of many peoples’ spiritual experience. Research suggests that 70% of people claim to have had a spiritual experience at some point in their lives but rarely talk about it, some describe an experience which follows the pattern that Joy described. For many it is an experience that can be revisited as she did in speaking of it to me, finding that it has lost nothing of its original power.
But it also brings with it some hard questions. What of women who have this experience and their child is not then brought to birth? What of women who don’t have this experience during pregnancy? What of women who have been raped? What of women who are not able to become pregnant?
And what of men, what of fathers? I’ve sometimes felt rather envious of women who have been the bearers and nurturers of new life. Is there an equivalent experience for men? For me I think that there was. I remember how astonished I was at the love my first daughter drew out from within me at her birth: how I loved her!. When my second daughter was due I was anxious at the prospect of having to share this love with another. But ‘No’ she drew even more love out of me, and I realised to my amazement that there was a seemingly inexhaustible well of love within me waiting to be drawn out, as two more daughters later demonstrated.
Joy died some twelve months after our conversation. I am grateful to Colin for his agreement to my sharing with you, what she shared with me.