We lock eyes, but really it’s our swelling bellies that bring us together. I remember her from Sunday, directing the choir at the church in Fontaine with belly protruding. The sweat trickled down her cheek from her brow but she was all smiles as her hand kept time. She led the harmonies, her sweet voice scraping heaven.
We return to the province of Fontaine on Monday morning for the start of a three-day Discipleship Conference. This little stretch of road extending through the countryside about 15 minutes from the city of Pignon is the home of one of the small church plants of our ministry. Our dear friend Gerby and his partner, Pastor Calvin, shepherd this flock of about 100 people who daily seek Christ together.
Today, we are the transportation and behind-the-scenes support for two American friends from Memphis, Tennessee, who have come to speak about “Disciple-Making” with Gerby as their translator. We pile our girls in the truck for a ride. I am anxious to spend some time building relationships with the women in Fontaine.
Many of the men and some women from the church as well as visiting churches, pile into the one-room building for the conference. I go searching for the group of women who work behind the scenes, preparing breakfast for the conference attendees. They are half a dozen grandmas and perhaps another half dozen more young mamas carrying babies on their hips.
She is shy at first barely nodding when I greet her. We speak the silent knowing of bellies. We have a kinship because we are both pregnant. It’s a quiet knowing that I believe pregnant mamas feel when they meet or perhaps adoptive moms feel when they connect. We can spot each other from far away. We are more brave to share stories or ask questions of strangers when we know we share this “bearing children” space.
I find out using my elementary Haitian Kreyol that she is 6 months pregnant. Our due dates would probably be a few weeks apart, although they don’t really talk about due dates and follow calendars as diligently as we do in the United States.
An email from Baby Center this week reminds me that I am 23 weeks into my pregnancy. I am nearing that final trimester. The home stretch. And then I will be ready for this Thanksgiving baby to make her entrance into this world.
This pregnancy has been wildly different from my first two. At first, it was a surprise. The wave of nausea and tiredness caught me quite off guard. I wasn’t ready or even filled with that soon-to-be-mama anticipation that helps one endure the ups and downs of the first trimester. After I accepted that this pregnancy was God’s gift, I started to settle into the idea.
Of course, this pregnancy is different because I’m journeying part of it in the developing world. Three months here in Haiti.
The most obvious contrast is the lack of conveniences here compared to what pregnant mamas enjoy in my home country. We have made pregnancy about pampering: bubble baths, massages, pedicures, designer maternity wardrobes, sending our spouses on midnight trips to drive-thrus for strange food cravings. (I know I would be running out for Trader Joe's chocolate bon-bons right now if I had the chance!) American women enjoy frequent prenatal visits and several ultrasounds per pregnancy. We plan elaborate baby showers and paint our nurseries and “nest” for months. There is none of that here in Haiti, although there is still much anticipation and celebration of little ones.
There are pregnant women everywhere but I am humbled when I think about how different their lifestyle. One pregnant mama with watermelon-round belly walks down the street carrying a heavy bucket of water on her head. Another woman covers her breasts and middle with a simple white sheet as she sits on the porch of her mountain home on the road to Haiti’s Citadel. I remember another mama just down the street from our Mission House who spends her mornings frying plantains over sizzling hot oil to sell to travelers and neighbors. Not exactly what I would call pampering.
These women teach me perseverance. When I am tempted to complain in my spirit about the dripping-in-all-crevices humidity or the mosquitoes buzzing in my ears, I remember them. When I am holding my belly tight to cradle it during bumpy truck rides, a sense of deep compassion rises from within. My heart reaches out to these women who walk long distances with water or ride on donkeys’ backs to sell produce at market or even hitch rides in the back of pick-up truck taxis that are jam-packed with people.
I have been reading L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert devotional. She writes, “Therefore we cannot help others who suffer without paying a price ourselves, because afflictions are the cost we pay for our ability to sympathize. Those who wish to help others must first suffer” (July 19).
My pregnancy has also taught me to set boundaries for myself, my girls. My body dictates my daily need for rest, ample water. I might be tempted to overwork myself in ministry but being pregnant reminds me that I have three girls God has gifted to me and I have to care for them first. I am a missionary mama. I have to allow myself daily naps and even time to lavish my 2-year-old Giada and 5-year-old Meilani with love.
I daily give thanks to God for the little things - that He allowed me to be here in my second trimester when most of the nausea and aversions to strong smells are gone. I am grateful my belly is just beginning to swell into maternity clothes and I am not yet in the stage of swollen ankles and face. I am humbled and blessed that I have the luxury of returning to California for the last trimester to birth my baby at home with a midwife or in a sparkling-clean hospital room. I recognize I have a place of privilege.
For now, I am pregnant in Haiti, and God is using it again to refine me, remind me that He holds the cycle of life in His hands. He calls me to walk this journey with my Haitian sisters and see just a glimpse through their eyes.