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.
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.