The nine months before giving birth can be a great time of preparation. Children’s worker and mum of two Annie Willmot shares her thoughts...
Preparing for the unknown
A nice neat bump, a healthy glow, the overwhelming joy of picking up the test you just peed on and finding out you’re carrying a tiny human. Doesn’t it sound wonderful?
What’s missing from this idyllic picture? The agony of not getting pregnant, the all-day nausea and the way your body aches in a way it never has before, the heartbreak and loss of miscarriage and the fear of everything not going smoothly.
Pregnancy is unpredictable. We’re often presented with a romanticised view of what it will be like, but in reality we have no idea how our bodies will react to making a baby. We might get ‘the glow’ and feel more energetic than ever before, or we might feel sick the entire time and cry a lot because of the hormones. Perhaps we’ll have ‘easy’, straightforward pregnancies or perhaps we’ll have to go through the pain of losing multiple babies.
The truth is, it is a complete unknown. So, how on earth do we prepare for something when we have no idea what it’s going to be like? And how do we walk that journey with God?
A big part of preparing to get pregnant was first preparing not to get pregnant
Preparing for pregnancy
Getting pregnant easily isn’t a given. According to the NHS, fertility problems affect one in seven couples in the UK, and it recommends trying for at least one to two years before going to see your GP. It’s not always the norm to talk about how difficult it often is to get pregnant or how common miscarriage is. Instead, we’re more likely to hear the ‘I got pregnant right away’ stories.
When my husband and I started thinking about it I was working as a children’s pastor and knew a lot of people, including numerous friends, who were also trying to conceive. I also knew that a lot of these people had miscarried, some multiple times, and that others just weren’t getting pregnant.
For me, a big part of preparing to get pregnant was first preparing not to get pregnant. When we began talking about starting a family we first asked ourselves some big questions. For us, this was about pregnancy, fostering and adoption. How much would each option cost? What if it took us a long time to get pregnant, or if we fostered now and then struggled to get pregnant in the future? What would work look like for us? Could we still afford to live in this house? What was God saying? A combination of head, heart and the list with the most highlighted points led us to deciding that we wanted to try and get pregnant.
It was really important to me when we decided this that I acknowledged the fact that it might take longer than I expected, and that miscarriage was a reality many women face.
I will admit that I did go into my first scan feeling pretty apprehensive, particularly as only that week a friend had told me she had just lost another baby. However, I found that by allowing myself to recognise how incredibly fragile pregnancy was I began to marvel at the fact that God makes it happen rather than becoming increasingly fearful about what could go wrong. I found I was praying for my baby knowing that life is precious and feeling incredibly grateful for the whole journey. I had begun to pray for him before he was even conceived. I prayed for his life. I asked God to speak to me for him, and I felt connected to my baby before he even began to be formed. I began to get spiritually prepared.
Before I became a parent I imagined that faith would slot neatly into planned sections of my day: prayers before bedtime, a Bible sticker activity in the afternoon or a family prayer time over dinner. But my faith doesn’t work like that. Life is messy and unpredictable, and being in relationship with God means doing life with him in the everydayness as well as the occasional planned time of quiet.
For me, preparing spiritually for pregnancy, labour and parenthood wasn’t about planning specific God moments or activities. It was me asking myself: how do I do the whole journey – every messy detail – with God?
Babies respond to so much in the womb
Babies are wriggly and respond to the world around them while in the womb. There are so many ways we can connect with them as parents even before they’re born.
We can read them stories, whether that’s Bible stories or celebrity biographies (my husband’s personal favourite at the time of my first pregnancy). I found knowing my baby’s sex and having a name already chosen from 20 weeks helped me personally feel more connected with him, but I know many people love the surprise of not knowing!
It’s never too early or too late to think about how you’re going to help your child connect with God. Letting our kids see windows into our relationship with God isn’t something that has to wait until they’re old enough to talk to us. I love thinking about all the babies in wombs who have heard their mother’s voices as they worship God. When I was pregnant I loved praying for my baby and asking God to speak to me for him. I began chatting to God out loud and praying for him, involving him spiritually in the conversation. I prayed and sang out loud, and found this was really good practice for continuing to chat to God so my baby could hear it when he was born.
What I found incredible was that both of my babies connected with God in specific ways that I still see now they’re outside of the womb. Baby number one particularly loved when his dad was leading worship. As a toddler now, worship it is still one of the ways he most easily connects with God. Baby number two responded most to hearing others pray. He is fascinated by people preaching and loves listening to people pray. I recommend both the Parenting for Faith course (parentingforfaith.org) or Your Baby and You by Olly and Helen Goldenberg if you want to spend time really thinking about what this might look like for you.
Choosing how you want others to get involved
When people ask us how they can help it can be tempting to say that we’re fine. Instead, have a think about what would actually be useful, and don’t be afraid to ask. Would some extra meals in the freezer be helpful? Would you love help sorting all that junk in your spare room? Are there specific times you want prayer? Even now my phone is going off with WhatsApp messages for a friend who is currently in labour. That’s how she wanted her friends to support her – just to be ready to pray as soon as she asked.
It’s totally OK to try something, realise it doesn’t work for you and then try something else
Some days you just cannot be bothered
I had a big to-do list of jobs I wanted to achieve before baby arrived, but some days I was knackered and all I wanted to do was stay in my pyjamas and watch TV. Be kind to yourself. Babies honestly don’t care if your house is tidy or if their room is ready. They just need you and somewhere to sleep. So put your feet up and have that slice of cake!
This tip also applies to those hazy newborn days. Babies cry. They feed a lot. They have no respect for what time of day it is. I really had no idea what three sleepless nights in a row would feel like until I was in that situation. Remember that even if you just sat in one chair and stayed in your pyjamas all day you spent it sustaining a life. Your role is huge and incredible, but it can feel relentless and exhausting. Continue to be kind to yourself.
Babies don’t read birth plans
The best advice I was given when it came to labour was: “Make a birth plan, but be prepared to do something completely different.” Neither of my labours were very different from my birth plans, but the peace that came from knowing the plan didn’t matter and from choosing to trust the medical expertise of the midwives was enormous. Also knowing that my husband knew what I wanted and would advocate on my behalf freed me up to chat to God throughout each labour instead. I don’t know whether it was the effects of the gas and air or truly a remarkable spiritual experience, but I’ve never felt closer to God than in the moments just before my first son was born.
Still not feeling prepared?
I’m not convinced that we can ever feel fully prepared for everything pregnancy, labour and parenthood has to throw at us. You will undoubtedly receive lots of advice, but remember that you are the expert of your own body. You are the expert of your baby. No one else has parented your child. Each parent’s journey looks different, so it’s OK to do what works for you. It’s also totally OK to try something, realise it doesn’t work for you and then try something else. Maybe we can’t be fully prepared, but we can be intentional about doing the journey with God and thinking about how to help our babies connect with him. What’s your journey going to look like?