A woman, big-with-child, sat patiently at the curb in a stiff wooden chair. She sat in the hot sunshine watching the life on the street and guarding within herself, her own mystery of life.

Francie remembered her surprise that time when mama told her that Jesus was a Jew. Francie had thought that he was a Catholic. But mama knew. Mama said that the Jews had never looked on Jesus as anything but a troublesome Yiddish boy who would not work at the carpentry trade, marry, settle down and raise a family. And the Jews believed that their Messiah was yet to come, mama said. Thinking of this, Francie stared at the Pregnant Jewess.

“I guess that’s why the Jews have so many babies,” Francie thought. “And why they sit so quiet…waiting. And why they aren’t ashamed the way they are fat. Each one thinks that she might be making the real little Jesus. That’s why they walk so proud when they’re that way. Now the Irish women always looked so ashamed. They know that they can never make a Jesus. It will be just another Mick. When I grow up and know that I am going to have a baby, I will remember to walk proud and slow even though I am not a Jew.”

I read A Tree Grows In Brooklyn when I was about 12. Two passages stuck with me. In one, the teenage protagonist Francie asks her brother for fancy underwear for Christmas. Somehow, this strange request doesn’t seem awkward or inappropriate because the siblings are so comfortable with one another and with themselves. Francie is not shamed. This was a beautiful message of reassurance for a girl going through puberty at the height of the Lewinsky trial.

In the other passage, above, a younger Francie (Irish-Austrian, like my mother) reflects on the pregnant women she sees around Williamsburg in 1912.

I had watched my mother, my aunts, my babysitter (nanny, really) and other women around me go through many pregnancies, and I was proud and excited to know that soon I could do the same. These words on expectant motherhood echoed for 15 years, and they helped me through the long anxious days of my pregnancy.

When my turn for motherhood came, I tried to maintain a serene appearance but below the surface I was intensely nervous. I’d seen first-hand many of the things that can go wrong. Although I knew that I was doing everything right – and knew that nothing I did would make a big difference anyhow – I still worried. Told only 5 people during the first trimester. Didn’t take a single picture until I had a normal screening ultrasound and reached 23 weeks (“viability”, that word). Refused to run or jump, for fear of jostling my son’s umbilical cord. My worrying didn’t work.

It’s okay to move slowly, I often reminded myself during those days of housing my precious baby in my body. It’s okay to stand straighter, step deliberately. “Proud and slow even though I am not a Jew.”