Pregnant with Thoughts by Sara Frykenberg

Sara FrykenbergI never liked the metaphorical use of the word “pregnant” as it tended to be used in the academy. Reading the “pregnant phrases,” of mostly men who were “pregnant with thought,” as a student, I felt angry by what I saw as a co-optation of my female potential, and even, a patriarchal ranking of what kinds of “pregnancy” were deemed important or worthy of “serious” consideration.

At this time in my life, I did not know if I wanted to have children or ever be a mother. However, retrospectively, I know that I had internalized the picture of “good” motherhood projected all around me by my religious community. Specifically, I remember watching two female leaders who had been vibrant and vocal members of one community become quiet, even silent, objects of adoration. It was as though I watched them walk behind and close a door, marked in my mind with the sign “appropriate female role,” and they ceased speaking. Other people spoke about them, even doted on these women—but I didn’t know where the women themselves had gone. These women were certainly pregnant, but seemed somehow less significant, no longer worthy of “serious” consideration, like sacred chalices holding the all-important blood of another life. I began to believe that you could not be you and be a mommy. I remember telling a friend or a sister, rather judgmentally, “I will never become a mother if I have to be like that.”

It was not until after college that I began to re-member mothers as themselves through meeting more mothers: mothers living, mothers working, mothers who didn’t just speak, but spoke about their sexual experiments, showed off their tattoos and expressed themselves, mothers who loved their children but also seemed to love themselves. My harsh rejection of motherhood revealed itself as a defense mechanism, protecting me from my fear of further abuse. I saw hope for myself in these women, a hope that countered the part of me that was trained to assume proscribed roles and accept them, whether I could see myself flourishing in such roles or not. I started to release the idea that one had to be the kind of mother idealized within the kyriarchal Christianity in which I was raised: a mother who was all-important, but still an object of male creation… There are (I began to see more clearly), many ways to be a mother, many of which have nothing to do with the physical act of procreation.

When I finished my dissertation defense, I felt the need to, like a dinosaur, eat the approval documentation ;)

When I finished my dissertation defense, I felt the need to, like a dinosaur, eat the approval documentation ;)

Completing my qualifying exams and then, my dissertation, my view of what it meant to be “pregnant” also changed. Like many graduate students, I was VERY depressed after I finished my qualifying exams. I couldn’t understand what the point of all my efforts had been; and I felt lost starting my dissertation (which had received only a tentative “okay” during my oral defense). I started to question all of my choices; until one day, sitting in an advisors office, I burst into tears and explained what I was feeling. This advisor told me, “I’m so glad you told me what’s going on. You are having post-partum depression. It’s normal.” This was a revelation to me, and a freeing one at that. Hadn’t I studied for almost a year to take these exams? Labored, physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually, over books upon books and a proposal? I had. I did. I was “pregnant with thought,” but not in the way I imagined one needed to be. I was myself, a woman and a scholar, a body and a mind, whose intellectual creativity did not negate the physical or spiritual creativity of others.  Nor did another’s physical ability to procreate negate my intellectual creative potential.  Accepting the “pregnancy” of my intellectual work, I accepted myself more and found greater respect for similar acts of creation.

Pregnant me, cooking turkey bacon and french toast.

Pregnant me, cooking turkey bacon and french toast.

Today I find myself considering a new act of ongoing creation. I am little over five months physically pregnant, and somewhere in-between really excited and anxious, feeling like a passive participant and an overactive incubator, and really amazed by every little fetal movement, trying to interpret the flutters and jabs as a kind of communication.

Pregnancy, physical, spiritual and metaphorical, is like and completely unlike what I feel I was told.

Contemplating my physical pregnancy, I am making a mental list of all of the symptoms about which I knew nothing, like the fact that your carpel tunnel syndrome gets worse when you are pregnant, the way in which my right leg (the whole thing) falls asleep because of uterine pressure, or the fact that—excuse the very physical details here—some days you feel like someone punched you in the vagina because of increased vascular blood flow. I also didn’t realize I’d start worrying about this little body in my big body so soon. How I’d love this little one already; although I do not “love” being pregnant, nor experience every single day as a “miracle.” I am finding I have to resist the part of me that feels I “should” feel these things, and actively accept the part of me that sees the whole experience as very unique and is still having trouble interpreting all of my actual feelings, which are numerous.

I also have lots of questions about motherhood.

Image sourced from here.

Image sourced from here.

What kind of a mom will I be? How will it change me, and how will I still be me as I change? How can I incorporate my feminist ideals into parenting (a question that many FAR bloggers help me to consider in multiple ways)? Will I/ can I avoid the heavy gendering of my child into a hetero-patriarchal norm? How will I give birth (during the school year); and how will I care for those already in my charge when I do so?

There are many ways to be pregnant and to be a mother– I am growing some definitions; and I thank you for letting me share some of my thoughts about this here. I am also “pregnant with questions” (pun intended), so I hope you all will not mind if I seek out your advice and experiences along the way.


Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence.  In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.

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10 replies

  1. What a lovely post. I can certainly relate as this time last year I was in the same spot, in my second trimester and preparing for the unknowns of what motherhood would be. I won’t offer any advice because I’m sure you are getting plenty of that, but from my experience I can say that nothing about being a mom was as I expected it would be. As soon as I’ve adapted to one “normal,” my daughter changes. It’s a frustrating, beautiful process that keeps me on my toes and in the present moment. Blessings to you during this time of uncertainty. I’m so glad you have a community to lean on.


  2. Love your questions, Sara! (Quest is at the root of the word question!) I had similar ones about thirty-three years ago and then again at thirty when my mother expressed her doubt that I would be able to write when I had two children (as I had already apparently made it evident that I could still write after one). More than one woman of her generation who had been supportive of my writing when I was single withdrew their approval, expressing their conviction that motherhood had to be single-minded.

    How did I change? As many people have expressed it, your heart now has a location outside your body and increasingly beyond the reach of your arms. But I also remained myself, my passion and vocation persisted. I did not neglect my children although I raised them to be able to take care of and entertain themselves, which they do sometimes all too well. They also have good friends, community, their own passions and vocations, which take them far from home. I am proud to know them.

    Wishing you a rich and satisfying journey with your child and with yourself.


  3. While I was writing my M.A. thesis and working as a secretary to five psychologists, my husband came home on leave from the Navy and I became pregnant. (It was his Christmas present to me.) About the time I took my oral exams, I came across an article that compared writing a thesis or dissertation to being pregnant. Similar effects, including a sore back from carrying around extra weight–the fetus or an armful of books–and yes, post-partum depression. Blessings to you and all your children!


  4. Thank you for his beautiful and important reflection! It addresses a matter very close to my own heart.


  5. Congratulations! You have many good questions which can only be answered by living through them. Of course motherhood will change you, just like any significant relationship with another human being changes you. You will learn a completely different definition of the word “nurture”, and you will be in for many surprises as your little one absorbs your life advice, combines it with their own thoughts and then says something completely jaw dropping (often in the presence of grandparents). The truest advice I ever got was “Babies bring their own blessings”. Good luck!


  6. A beautiful analogy between the journey of grad school and motherhood. You have a strong community of women surrounding you, superior knowledge of gender theory and a heart even more expansive. You’re going to be a wonderful and thoughtful mother. Congratulations on the beginning of a journey towards immense love and growth.


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