When Michael and I discovered, at the end of August, that we were pregnant with our first child, we found that we had already taken the first steps into a new covenant—not one made with words and vows, but made through the new life that God was forming within me. Marriage, we have learned, is its own type of covenant, one that requires initial promises fulfilled through daily choices. But parenthood is another type of covenant, one we are just stepping into, and in these months of preparation, a small but significant shift has started in our marriage. I know that once our daughter is out of my womb and in the world, the changes will only continue, in greater and more radical measure. But I am thankful for these months of preparation, for this time to prepare for what is ahead.
Michael and I have had a good amount of time to build rhythms and norms into our married life. For the last six-and-a-half years, it has been just the two of us. We have worked long hours, gone to multiple graduate schools, traveled long distances, and never had to think about hiring a babysitter when we went out for dinner. I have loved the pattern of our married life. I have enjoyed learning who Michael is more fully—and who I am more fully—as we have stepped with greater clarity into our adult years: our church, our careers, our community.
We married young and, as we have been told, have had the "luxury" of time on our hands for starting a family. When our daughter is born, I will be barely shy of 30 and will have been married for seven years. Several of my married friends have three-, four-, and five-year-old children.
Shifts in Our Marriage
The tectonic plates of our marriage are starting to rub and move in preparation for our daughter's arrival. The first shift was physical; I was flattened by "morning" sickness so severe that I went to the ER months before Kate Middleton made it chic to do so. Physical intimacy took a backseat to consistent vomiting and nausea; any physical touch was overwhelming at times. The roles that we had shared in the home—taking out the trash, washing the dishes, doing the laundry—all fell to Michael. When I started feeling better after the first months were over, my changing body created new shifts in the bedroom.
But sex has not been the biggest shift. More than that is the way we find ourselves thinking and talking about the months ahead. Instead of spending hours pondering questions about ministry (my husband is a pastor), about education (I teach college courses), or about friendships, now our conversations are interspersed with topics such as what our daughter might look like, what activities her personality will be drawn to, and how we will parent together.
I have started perceiving Michael differently, thinking about him now not only as husband but also as father. It's not that I haven't imagined Michael as a father before, but now the thoughts are more specific, more particular. I remember, when we were falling in love, I thought he would be a fantastic father. I saw in him many of the traits I loved about my own father and associated the two. But the thoughts were general, fuzzy around the edges. Now there is a little life inside of me that I am thinking about—specifically. Michael will be father to our little girl. How will he interact with her? How will I interact with her? Will I be the type of mother I want to be?
Looking ahead to Parenting
Because we have never known one another as parents, so much is mystery as we look ahead. It feels similar, in ways, to the questions I had during engagement. I knew and loved Michael as a boyfriend, as a fiancé, as my best friend. But who would he be as a husband? As my husband? Certainly, he would not morph into a different person altogether. But as we both learned, covenant changes relationship. Things changed physically, practically, and spiritually for Abram when God made a covenant with him—he got a new name, he and his entire household were circumcised, and he walked with the God of the universe at new levels of obedience and faith. Marriage is similar. Names (often) change, sex is added into the equation, and the spiritual dynamic shifts in the relationship.
I find myself wondering if having a child will change us in similar ways. My body is already altered, and we are adding a new name—a new life—to our family. Spiritually, I can imagine that the shifts will be even more dramatic. But those are still not fully known to us. What we are experiencing now is the spiritual shift of preparing for parenthood—reading in the Scriptures about godly parents and the models they provide, perusing parenting books, talking about what we appreciated in our own homes growing up and what we want to change, discussing what family life and even discipline will look like in our home. Every conversation is both old and new—old because we have circled around these topics before; new because the urgency we have about them is very, very real.
Real, because this person who is stretching and kicking in my womb will require of us similar things to what marriage requires—daily choices to fulfill the promises we have made. She is a manifestation of covenant, of the commitment and love and unity and marriage between us. And after her birth we will stand in front of our church congregation and dedicate her life and ours—again—to God. But even if we did not have such a tradition and were not outwardly planning on speaking vows of faithfulness and love over her, our daughter will be born into the same covenant we made on our wedding day. In God's ideal plan, parenting is borne out of the marriage covenant, and so falls under the vows made at the altar.
Honoring Our Marriage Covenant
To honor that initial covenant in this season of preparing for our daughter, Michael and I have set up weekly meetings—apart from our date night—to make sure we are on the same page and have the same goals for this season. We are making time to focus on our marriage by taking spontaneous dates and by focusing on our personal and marital health. Also, we have decided to start creating clearer boundaries around our evenings in order to create more "family time" and in preparation for the exhaustion that we know is ahead.
Still, preparation will not be the same as reality. The reality of being parents—of having a child—is still unknown, a new type of covenant that we will walk into. And as with all covenants, we will walk into it somewhat blind, unaware of how we will be changed until we step into the covenant itself. But this season of preparation is necessary and important. I am grateful for it, grateful for how God is using this time to ready our hearts both for our daughter and for the changes between Michael and me. I am grateful for new life, both the life in my womb and the life in my spirit, as God is growing both in his timing and with his care.
Ann Swindell teaches classes at Wheaton College and writes about marriage and ministry on her blog at annswindell.com. Follow her on Twitter @annswindell.