Review from Books & Culture

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 central to classic literature.

– Agnes Howard

Books & Culture 9.6 (November/December 2003)

p. 30-31

I have published books on motherhood, Christian spirituality, and language in worship. I write regularly about all sorts of topics for The Twelve, and I teach literature and writing at Calvin College, where I have served on the faculty since 1996.

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