Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: Your Labor of Love by Agnes M. Penny

As soon as I knew I was pregnant, I started looking for a book specifically for expectant Catholics, however,  it was late in my pregnancy that I discovered that one did in fact exist, Your Labor of Love: A Spiritual Companion For Expectant Mothers.  I had high expectations for this book both because it came highly recommended to me and because I found a great personal need for spiritual guidance during my pregnancy.  My pregnancy, while a joyous experience, ha lacked the spiritual depth that I expected to gain while intimately participating the creation of new life. 


Due to my high expectations, I found some of the first several chapters disappointing because they lacked the profound spiritual insight that I was seeking.  Many of the earlier chapters with names such as “Your Changing Body”, “Bodily Discomforts”, and “Mood Swings” seek to provide spiritual solutions for common pregnancy complaints, however, I found the author’s suggestions to be simplistic or unspecific.  For example, for several chapters in a row it seemed that she was simply repeating advice to pray for strength to endure pain and discomfort.  I would have preferred a less generalized approach, with spiritual reflections and exercises directed toward each specific pregnancy situation.

However, after these initial chapters, Penny’s writing acquires the level of spiritual depth I was hoping for and provides truly insightful and uplifting reflections on pregnancy as part of the vocation of marriage and motherhood.  She reminds expectant mothers that their pregnancy, and all the discomforts that accompany it, is an act of love done in service for both their child and God.  She includes some practical spiritual tips, that while seemingly simple, have already made a great difference in my personal understanding of my pregnancy and how it can be used to better glorify God.  One of my favorite pieces of wisdom in this book is the comparison of waking often during the night to use the restroom (or later on to feed a newborn) to those in religious orders who regularly wake during the night for worship.  Giving these small inconveniences a greater purpose by using them to utter a few words of praise to the Lord makes them much easier to bear. 

Penny further helps pregnant women understand their vocation by exploring the pregnancy and motherhood of the Blessed Mother.  She constantly reminds the reader of ways in which expectant mothers can learn from her example and lean on her as the “Mother of mothers” through the difficulties they may face.  Also included are some short examples of faithful motherhood provided by the Saints.  I was particularly drawn to her descriptions of Venerable Zelie Martin, the mother of Saint Therese of Lisieux.  I found these to be particularly valuable and only wish that the author had included more of these examples and elaborated upon them further.  However, they provide a good starting point for the reader to engage in her own research of faithful maternal role models. 

The book is rather short, at little over 100 pages, and is deliberately divided into 36 petite chapters on various topics in order to make it easy for women to pick up and read a chapter or two in spare time.  While I understand the purpose of this, the brevity of some of the chapters left me feeling as if some of the topics were underdeveloped and may also be why some of the earlier chapters lacked depth.  However, if my biggest complaint about the book is that it’s too short, that’s more like a compliment!  The only problem I found with the content is that the author’s clear preference that women stay at home with their children may alienate, upset, or shame women who plan to continue to work after the birth of their child.  While I myself planned to stay at home and understand the author’s reasoning for encouraging women to be stay-at-home-mothers, I thought the way she presents this issue is overly harsh toward working mothers.  This one small issue aside, I would encourage all Catholic women who are expecting to include this book on their pregnancy book list; preparing spiritually for pregnancy and motherhood is every bit as important as reading up on proper nutrition, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

2 comments:

  1. Adrienne Rose PearsonMarch 16, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    Thanks for the recommendation! Perfect timing- I've been looking for something like this as we prepare for our first baby's arrival in July!

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  2. Adrienne, it took me forever to find a book like this, so glad you found this earlier on in your pregnancy.  There is also one called
    Prayerfully Expecting - A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers-To-Be that might be good too, but I haven't read it.

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