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“…an exceptional book, capturing wonder and joy without being maudlin, theologically grounded without being preachy.”
- Agnes Howard, Books & Culture
“The experience of pregnancy and childbearing can be a profound source of spiritual growth for women, but it is one that has remained largely unexplored. In Great with Child, Debra Rienstra brings us far on the fascinating journey of understanding the power and meaning of birth.”
- Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of At the Corner of East and Now
“A polished meditation on the body, on creativity and change, on the relations between men and women, and on our relationship with God.”
- Trudy Bush, The Christian Century
“Combines a richly informed feminism with an equally informed faith.”
- Jill Lightner, amazon.com
“…an important new voice in feminist spirituality.”
- Norah Piehl, Brain, Child
“Celebratory, reflective, and gloriously true, Great with Child is the thinking woman’s companion to pregnancy.”
- Lorilee Craker, author of When the Belly Button Pops,
the Baby’s Done
From Brain, Child 4.4 (Fall 2003), p. 61
Debra Rienstra examines the birth and first year of her third child through the lens of sprituality, an aspect of the pregnancy and birth experience she finds lacking in popular guidebooks. For Rienstra, virtually every aspect of becoming a mother provides opportunities for spiritual growth and reflection, from the desire for a child, which she likens to a yearning for the divine, to breastfeeding, a metaphor for God’s grace since ancient times. Even when Rienstra battles painfully with a form of postpartum depression, she turns to Psalms for sustenance, praying, “I want to get through this shadow valley. Don’t let me get stuck here forever.” Ultimately, her faith enables Rienstra to rise from her despair stronger in her beliefs and able once again to delight in her child. Although Rienstra’s devout Christianity shapes her prose, this thoughtful memoir-which draws not only on scripture but also on Greek mythology and the artwork of Judy Chicago-can speak even to readers who do not share Rienstra’s beliefs. Tempting as it could be to lump Great with Child in with treacly devotionals for expectant and new mothers, dismissing Rienstra’s thought-provoking, wide-ranging reflections on the spiritual aspects of motherhood, and womanhood in general, would mean missing out on an important new voice in feminist spirituality. -Norah Piehl
From Books & Culture 9.6 (November/December 2003), p. 30-31
Debra Rienstra’s Great with Child offers an altogether different way of spiritualizing pregnancy. It is an exceptional book, capturing wonder and joy without being maudlin, theologically grounded without being preachy.
Rienstra, an English professor at Calvin College, opens the book hoping for a third child but a miscarriage comes before the full-term pregnancy of her son Philip. Her experience carrying Philip resembles that of the other writers, but her perspective is different. Pregnancy is not about hcoice but assent to mystery: a “reckless yes,” Rienstra calls it. She stays with obstetricians rather than choosing midwives and finds support for her pregnancy in community and literature. Family, friends, and church members offer helop, cook meals, and adjust schedules, thereby paying respect in practical ways to the coming of new life, and showing that “work is love made visible,” as a cross-stitch over the author’s kitchen sink reminds. Rienstra observes that the changes wrought in the body during pregnancy are prepartory for the love-labors of motherhood. She shows how Christianity illuminates the creaturely experience of having children, calling her work a study in “embodied feminine spirituality.”
Scripture, hymns, and medieval mysticism nourish these reflections. Significantly, literature also helps her think through pregnancy. Contemporary women poets appear here, but Rienstra draw heavily from the Great Books: selections from Homer, Augustine, Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, and others connect the particulars of pregnancy with broadly human predicaments. Rather than a concern for women alone, childbearing amplifies themes integral to human life and cetnral to classic literature. -Agnes Howard
From Publishers Weekly (starred review)
What happens between the moment a pregnancy is planned and the baby’s first birthday? Rienstra, a poet who teaches at Calvin College, decided to write about these events in her own life, and, as she does so, her identities as a poet, scholar, Christian and white, middle-class millennial mom shape and inform her story. In the early chapters, for example, Rienstra writes beautifully about “womb hunger,” incorporating images from the Bible and contemporary poetry into her reflections. And her membership in a brave new generation of mothers is evident in the way she takes for granted the store-bought pregnancy tests that work less than two weeks after conception. Rienstra admirably cites medical, sociological, historical, theological and literary texts, and in doing so provides valuable context for her experience. The book’s greatest strength, however, is that she never strays far from her own narrative. Though she spent more than a year revising her manuscript, each chapter reflects her thoughts and feelings as the events she describes unfolded. As such, her memoir tells the truth in a way that few books about parenthood do. Rather than recounting her story long after it happened and/or interpreting it to support a particular parenting philosophy, she simply records how things felt as they occurred. A new or expectant mother is much more likely to find herself, and thereby solace, in these pages than in how-to books written by those for whom the sleeplessness and tumult of infant care is a distant memory.
Preparing for motherhood doesn’t mean you must devote yourself strictly to medical topics–it’s also a time of emotional and spiritual change, a proper focus on which can get lost amid the business of doctor’s appointments and preparing for a baby’s arrival. Great with Child is one woman’s saga of pregnancy, from the first desire to become a parent to the baby’s first birthday. While simultaneously mothering two children and working, author Debra Rienstra has managed to write a lucid and loving journal of her experiences that will resonate with mothers-to-be.
Combining a richly informed feminism with an equally informed faith, Rienstra’s ruminations on motherhood cover everything from comments on Genesis to happily comparing herself to a “warm, sloppy fountain.” In the afterword, she writes, “My experience with motherhood is very ordinary.” Yet it’s this sense of the ordinary that makes this book so easy to relate to–the balancing of work, children, and personal needs is familiar to any parent. Both sweetly absorbed and intelligently thoughtful, her writings are a welcome addition to the world of books on motherhood.
- Jill Lightner
From The Dallas Morning News (May 12, 2003)
Ms. Rienstra explores the way in which pregnancy and childbirth often deepen a woman’s connection to God through the mysterious and uniquely female power of creation.
From The Grand Rapids Press (April 2, 2002)
There are laughter, pathos, despair, joy and spiritual and physical renewal. Rienstra’s story is the story of all womankind. She writes of a common experience but brands it with her unique worldview and personality. – Ann Byle
From Books & Culture (May/June 2002)
By about page ten, most readers will wish they could sit down with Rienstra and have a heart-to-heart…. Rienstra reminds us that, though having her third child was a reckless decision, it was recklessness in God, not “recklessness in a void.” And that is a lesson that applies whether you have children or not. – Lauren F. Winner
From readers’ heartfelt letters to the author…
“I could relate to everything you wrote.”
“I read it in a single day it was so compelling. Thank you for putting into words so many of the feelings I was too tired and busy to write down myself.”
“[At the bookstore] I decided to flip through Great with Child for a few minutes. That few minutes turned into almost two hours, at which point I wiped my eyes (embarrassing) and paid the money so that the book could come home with me. … I know that others have liked it too, since my home church has decided to include it in the gift packages that it gives to new moms.”
“You may be pleased to know that the presentation of your book Great with Child to our young expectant mothers has evolved into a very meaningful tradition at the University Avenue Church of Christ in Austin, Texas…. We have had the pleasure of giving away more than twenty-five copies of your book to them. Comments from the girls are especially heartening as they tell us of their own step by step experience while reading Great with Child. Thank you for the practical and spiritual nature of this guide through a very special time in their lives.”
“I read it deep into the night – it engaged me so profoundly that I couldn’t stop reading. It’s been forty-plus years since I gave birth, and yet your account of your experiences makes all those years drop away.”
“I discovered Great with Child while pregnant with my first baby. It’s a beautiful read and is unlike any other pregnancy book I’ve seen. I fell in love with this book and read it once in each trimester and once again after Abigail was born. Anyone who is a mother, wants to be a mother, or has a mother will appreciate the depth of insight Great with Child brings to the heart, body, mind, and soul experience of motherhood. That’s why I bought forty copies to give to all the mothers and future mothers I know. I’ve even put one aside for my daughter.”