It’s baby shower season! This winter, I’ve already enjoyed attending three baby showers from various groups of friends and family to celebrate Baby V’s upcoming debut (and I still get to look forward to one more with some of my fave people here in Chi-town!) Showers mean being surrounded by generous and kind people who have been part of my life and/or Peter’s life and who want to share this new adventure of welcoming a new person into the world with us. Each event has been unique – including a creative couple’s shower with friends/family in Minneapolis, an intimate and meaningful ‘ladies from my home church family’ shower in Rochester, and a festive gathering of church friends and extended family in Michigan. Each event has been a gift to me to attend and a reminder that Peter and I are rich in our varied communities of support. And at each occasion, I have found myself thinking through how GRATEFUL I am that part of what I can give to our daughter is the grace, support, encouragement, fun and collection of memories that all of these different communities have given to me. As I have looked around at these gatherings made up of my friends who are like family, new and budding acquintances, church women who share the joy of anticipating motherhood right alongside me, extended family, and women who have held deeply significant roles in my own life, I truly feel overwhelmed. How did we get so lucky?
It also is particularly significant to me that we (and now our daughter), are part of these larger communities because one reality that I grieved when we found out that I was pregnant was the recent loss of several of my own family members. My great-grandma (who lived to be 101 yrs!) will miss meeting our daugher – the fifth generation of first-born girls of my lineage – by a little over a year. My aunt who we all adored, my godparents who were like family, and my great uncle who hosted us as kids many a summer, won’t ever get to be part of my daughter’s life either – and they all “missed meeting her” by about a year. It also reminded me of family on Peter’s side who have died in the past few years, particularly his grandma who was an amazing example for many younger women in her lineage. I have a (numerically) small family to begin with, and having so many significant people die within a short time span was obviously a major hit in itself – but I found myself re-feeling those losses somehow as I pondered us having our first child and what it meant to be transitioning into being the one who now links a new generation to previous ones.
While these genetic losses will always remain significant to me (obviously), the experience of losing some aspects of my ‘heritage’ has also brought out the reality that I am gifted with other broader ‘heritages’ that I get to be a part of, other communities and individuals who truly are part of my story and want to welcome our daughter into their stories. My family identity can be seen as one of several key stories that I see operating in my own life (and in the life of a future generation), instead of the only one that I sometimes fear is shrinking in front of my eyes. In these sometimes unexpected places – whether it is sustained and deep friendships, adopted/extended family, particular church congregations, the larger church community that I am part of, in-law family, friends and family of other friends and family – I realize that I can also find my own story. These places are ones where I feel like I belong, where I can see myself as part of a larger network of roots, branches and future growth that came before and will go after me. Because I have realized that this is what I fear I might be losing – the sense that I belong, that my story is connected to others, that relationships and memories and times of sorrow/joy/messiness/celebration all matter to others; that when I am lost or need guidance or simply want to share the journey, there are others who I know will show up and be on the road with me. Contemplating what being a parent might mean points me to this greater need outside of myself in a new way – we as parents will surely need to rely on the wisdom and balance of these other communities to help our daughter find faith and truth and beauty.
There are many of us who struggle with a lack of (or have difficult) family relationships and who can see the various affects that has on our own family. And while I think that struggle always brings with it very real pain and loss, I have also seen that loss open up space in my life, a space that I see being filled by a long line of people whom God has seemingly already set up to walk into that loss with me. My daughter (wow- that sounds like such a foreign label/person!), will get to meet so many amazing people from these various ‘family trees’ that Peter and I have been grafted onto! She’ll no doubt forge her own story and make new connections as well, but realizing this ‘heritage’ that I can give to her of such a rich and diverse collection of (genetic and not) ‘family’ is powerfully healing and theologically profound to me. “I am because we are,” the African spiritual concept of Ubuntu tells us; I find myself only when I look to the wider influence and identity of others. So as I have looked around these circles of friends, women, family, church family and others who have been gathering to welcome this baby into the world, all I can feel in reply is a deep thank you. I am overflowing with gratitude that loss and struggle can also make way for grace and abundance.