Book Review, motherhood
Comments 19

Fertile Ground: A Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy

Six and a half years ago, expecting my first daughter, I remember looking for books about pregnancy. I didn’t want ones that just covered biology or gave more rules about eating unpasteurized soft cheeses. I wanted a book that would bring Scripture and theology to bear on my pregnancy, but I looked in vain. 

For this reason, when I learned about Fertile Ground: A Pilgrimage Through Pregnancy by Laura S. Jansson, I jumped at the opportunity to read it (I received a copy through Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for my honest review). And, I am so glad — this is the book I was hoping to find. Jansson’s many years as a doula, along with her theological training (she has a Masters in Theology and Philosophy from Oxford) and beautiful writing combine to make this a truly valuable book. It’s one of my favorites of 2019. Now, in writing this review, I could sound like an over-excited infomercial. But, to give my words a bit more specificity, I’m going to focus on the ways it hits the right tone, acts as a true guide, and richly illumines the Scriptures. 

First, I think that even women who cringe at the word “placenta” would appreciate this book. Jansson has just the right tone.  Though I’m a bit “crunchy,” I’m not particularly “birthy,” if you know what I mean. Some of the natural childbirth resources make me feel like a ten-year-old, trying not to giggle at hyperbolic descriptions of my maternal magnificence. As Jansson states in the introduction, “Whether you are expecting your first baby or your fifth, this book is for you. It’s for you whether you are delighted or mortified to be pregnant. It’s for you if you end up braving a cesarean, a straightforward birth, or anything in between.” I’m 32 weeks with my third, and if this book had been around 6 years ago, I would have reread it for each pregnancy (and I plan to read it for any pregnancies to come).

Next, though we use the word “guide” a bit thoughtlessly in terms of books, I find that word to be very apt to describe Fertile Ground as it moves through the “pilgrimage of pregnancy.” The book includes a chapter for each week of pregnancy (from 6 to 37) and is divided into seven parts: 1.) Welcoming a New Reality; 2.) Experiencing Pregnancy; 3.) Exploring Birth in Symbols; 4.) Fearing Labor; 5.) Braving Labor; 6.) Becoming a Parent; and 7.) Preparing for Birth. In these chapters, Jansson weaves together medical information, anecdotes from her experience as a doula, fascinating stories and perspectives from other cultures, theology and quotations from saints, and reflections on the Scriptures. Each chapter is a gem, meant for meditation. If you receive this book at the beginning of your pregnancy, it can guide your mind and heart as you deliberately read a chapter a week. It would also be perfect for a husband and wife to read together. 

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Lastly, I believe that both women and men would benefit from the theological reflection and scriptural insight found in this book. For example, it’s truly wonderful to read what a doula-theologian says about being “born again” (John 3:4). It was beautiful to read Jesus’s words about a woman’s “hour” coming in her labor and then, how he speaks about his crucifixion as his own “hour,” thereby comparing his passion to childbirth.  As Jansson writes:

“Childbirth and the Passion, [Jesus] says, share the same Paschal shape, with labor standing for crucifixion and birth standing for resurrection. Both Christ and the birthing mother bring forth new life, but through pain and sacrifice. Our species is perpetuated only on the brink of annihilation.” [She continues] “Christ tells us that just as a baby comes forth from his mother, joy is born from pain. Joy is blissful not despite adversity, but because of it. Resurrection comes not just after death, but through it.”

The whole church profits from being attentive to the meaning inherent in our embodiment. Seeing pregnancy as “theology in motion” (as Jansson calls it) is not just illuminating for pregnant women.

To conclude my wholehearted recommendation of this book, I’d like to offer a suggestion to Laura Jansson and Ancient Faith Publishing. Please consider a guide for the postpartum mother — perhaps specifically for those first six weeks after pregnancy — something short to read each day. Those sleepless newborn days, swirling with all the emotions and hormones, are so disorienting. Personally, I would be so grateful for a book that follows in the path of Fertile Ground, that would also guide and ground me with a new baby. 

 

This entry was posted in: Book Review, motherhood

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Wife of Jon. Mother of two little girls (three in March, God willing). Music director at Christ the King Anglican Church. If I have any time by myself, I'll probably spend it reading and writing...

19 Comments

  1. Kristin Calhoun says

    I read this review and promptly ordered the book for a friend of mine. Hopefully I’ll have a reason to read it myself someday too! Thank you for the beautiful article about it. 🙂

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  2. I’m looking forward to working through it. The introduction suggests it’ll take a more nuanced approach than most of the devotional-ish Christian-y things I’ve read on pregnancy and birth. I have dreamy earth goddess births (so far) but really miserable mopey (though healthy) pregnancies (so far) and I’ve longed often for a book that takes faith as a given but doesn’t assume you’re basking in every pregnant moment. Have you read Sara Jobe’s Creating with God? It’s a good one, and I think she’s also a doula.

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    • Yes, it’s nuanced and rich! (I was going to say “meaty,” but I’m not quite sure if using that word in the context of a book ever leaves the right taste in my mouth). I’ve not read Creating with God, but I will look it up. I also have really mopey pregnancies (I just feel SO low and sometimes the fact that I don’t necessarily have a great reason for it makes me feel even more low). I’m glad for your earth goddess births [insert here: unicorns, rainbows, waterfalls]. My births have been merely mortal [insert here: rocks, weeds, toilets], but here’s hoping (and praying) that more intentional preparation this time around (physically and spiritually) helps.

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      • I think it’s really just luck of the draw! I really prepared well for my first birth doing a thousand hours of Bradley method prep, but the girls were both just something that happened to me, and super quick — 4 hours and 90 min.

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      • That’s amazing!!! My first was 3 days and 3 nights followed by 2.5 hours of pushing. 😦 Second was so much better– only 8 hours, but I still was pushing 1.5 hours. I’ve been doing the Spinning Babies daily yoga this time — experimenting with seeing if I can improve flexibility in my pelvic hinge movement and whether that shortens my pushing. We’ll see!

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      • My first was four hours of pushing but only about ten hours of calm labor before that so while I was very unhappy at the time I was pushing, I consider myself lucky. Both girls were super fast on the pushing end and I actually got the urge to push, which I didn’t experience with Pip.

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  3. Have you read Creating with God by Sarah Jobe? She’s a doula and pastor, I think, and it’s less devotional-structured than this but a lot of lovely nuanced meditations on how the inelegance and sacrifice and ridiculousness of pregnancy mirrors God’s work.

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    • “Inelegance and sacrifice and ridiculousness” = current mood. I will look this up. Did you ever read Great With Child by Beth Ann Fennally? It’s not about Christianity and pregnancy, but she is a poet and I appreciated her beautiful reflections.

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      • Yes! I really like that one, too. I long for books about just life within pregnancy, you know? I’m there and I want my books to be there with me, not troubleshooting or preaching at me or glossing over it.

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      • Yes, absolutely. I really struggle with being pregnant. And with the little baby days (though, of course, I always love my little babies). It would be a great temptation if there were a choice to skip pregnancy and little baby stage and go right to a one year old. And, it’s just weird to deal with those emotions when everyone is asking about how excited you are to be pregnant. I was grateful for the week 6 chapter in the book, where she discusses how Mary was “greatly troubled” and how our fiat does not necessarily mean uncomplicated feelings.

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      • Yes! I liked that bit, too. I’ve never gotten a pregnancy test result (positive or negative) that I’ve felt just elated about. I’ve enjoyed my subsequent babies way more than I had expected—I lived in bored terror through most of my firstborn’s babyhood.

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  5. Amanda, I think you captured the beauty and importance of Laura’s book beautifully. I agree with your wholehearted recommendation! I also hear your call for a book on the postpartum time and am happy to share that with my good friend, Sasha Rose, I am co-writing: Forty-Days in the Wilderness-A Spiritual Journey for Mothers, to be published by Ancient Faith in the next year. We are honored to follow Laura’s work and hope it will help mothers once the baby arrives. If you would like to learn more you can visit my website.

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