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The Braided Rug

By Juli Loesch Wiley


This article was originally published in Caelum Et Terra, Winter 1993, Volume 3, no 1, and is used here with the authorís permission. To obtain permission to republish this article, contact the author by clicking on the author's name link above.



††††††††††† When I was pregnant with my son Benjamin, I decided to braid a rug. It was my way of dealing with "MMS"--- Maternal Mushbrain Syndrome.


††††††††††† As a prolife feminist, I'd always pooh-poohed the notion that pregnancy is some kind of disease. After all, carrying a baby is a healthy and highly positive female experience--- and one which need not interfere with women's other activities and goals.


††††††††††† But when I was pregnant, my ability to function as a productive adult--- hoo, hah!--- took a heavy hit.I was sleepy all the time.I couldn't keep my fogged-up brain on intellectual tasks. It was as if all my blood had been diverted from my cerebral cortex to my uterus.


††††††††††† But while it was difficult to concentrate on writing and speaking--- my former occupations---†† I found sewing and braiding to be very satisfying work.My husband would come home from his job and find me in the kitchen of our little apartment, surrounded by scraps of Salvation Army woolens and spools of carpet thread."Nesting instinct?" he'djoke.


††††††††††† I often felt defensive and almost ashamed about it.I'd had articles published in major magazines!I'd done speaking engagements in Europe!Was my IQ cooling to room temperature?


To make matters worse, the expectedpregnancy mood swings took on a frightening aspect for me.I had full-scale anxiety attacks--- sweating, trembling, heart pounding--- which would wake me up in the middle of the night and set me sobbing for, as they say, "no reason."What to do?


I'd shuffle out the kitchen, red-eyed and blubbering, and cut strips of wool.How pleasing the feel of wool is, how soft and smooth in the hands!And when the rug was finally done--- after incalculable hours of cutting, and braiding, and sewing the braids together --- I would sit on it in the dark, and pray.I guess anguish (and hormonal flux) makes for good prayers.


Did I say "anguish"?I had no reason for anguish.Here I was, a healthy woman carrying a healthy baby, with a loving and understanding husband, enough food, enough clothes, enough-and-plenty of everything I needed, and yet---


††††††††††† The anxiety-attacks turned into compassion-attacks.I would sit on the braided rug and be rocked by bolts of lightning clarity: aware, somehow, of all the other pregnant women in the world.


††††††††††† I groaned under the weight of the worried thoughts of women who didn't have enough food for the healthy development of their babies.(How many expectant mothers in Sudan get 100 grams of protein a day?)I sensed in my own heart the discouragement and panic of pregnant moms unmarried and alone, or married to men who made it insultingly clear that they didn't want to be fathers.I could see, or practically feel, the aching exhaustion of women who must do hard manual labor throughout pregnancy: field workers or subsistence farmers hauling water, hauling wood, hauling two or three other children around as well.


If you can't sleep and you can't sleep, and the warm milk and pacing aren't doing it for you, you might as well pray.If you can't get calm and you can't get happy, you might as well let all the pregnant women in the world flood into your consciousness: rock on your little braided rug and let the tears flow.Insomnia can drive you nuts, but it can be a resource, too.


Sometimes when I'd be in the midst of one of these prayer-frenzies, my husband would wake up and join me, and we'd get dressed and walk away the night together.Off we'd go, prowling the neighborhood sidewalks at 3:30 a.m., up one street and down the other until I got calm enough and settled enough to sleep.I regretted becoming a cause of anxiety for him, but at the same time, I was grateful to be constantly shown the depth of his tenderness and love.


Daytimes were better.I'd sit on my little braided rug and conscientiously puff through all my childbirth exercises, the "mad cat" and the "stretching camel" and the "beached whale"--- yes, we had zooey names for everything--- or I'd lie back and play "push the bump," knowing the marvel of feeling my little boy's knee or foot or elbow respond to the pressure with tiny pokes and pushes.Sometimes Iput the stereo headphones over my swelling belly and pipe in some Irish music for my unborn son.


For reasons too complicated to explain here, my anxiety phase lightened up in the last months of my pregnancy, and I was in a bright frame of mind for childbirth and mothering.And after Ben was born, the rug was used to cushion the floor under my rocking chair.Ben's postpartum lifestyle could fairly be described as "Rock Around the Clock."I guess the rug really took a beating, because after a few months it fell to pieces.


††††††††††† "I'll stitch it together again when I get the time," I told myself."When Ben's about 6 years old, I'll show him this rustic little rug and tell about how I made it when I was pregnant with him, and how I'd stretch out on it and we'd listen to "The Thistle and the Shamrock" when he was just a frisky little fetus!"


††††††††††† But I didn't stitch it together.Never had time.And I couldn't even tell you where the raveled remains of it are today: stuck in a bag somewhere, I guess, or lost.


††††††††††† So where are the hundreds of hours (it must have been hundreds) I put into that rug?Where did all my efforts go? What do I have to show for it now?


††††††††††† There isn't anything to show but life.It was just part of the living.


††††††††††† Like the hours of praying, or the hours of rocking your baby, so many of the hours of mothering don't have any "product" at all.They ravel away like an old braided rug and leave nothing but an impression on the heart, perhaps something worked together invisibly in the soul.


††††††††††† "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to
those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."


††††††††††† I think that when, in His mercy, God admits me to His dwelling place, there I'll find it all.The love lavished.The time lavished.The overflowing fruitfulness of prayer.And the old braided rug, not one stitch lost, spread out before the hearth of heaven.



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