When I was a child, I remember putting my head on my mother’s pregnant belly and waiting for the baby to move. It was mysterious and magical.
When my next sibling was born, my sister and I were woken in the wee hours of the morning and taken to the hospital. There we greeted our newest brother before the world even knew he existed. It felt secret, almost sacred.
Looking back, I realise what a blessing it was to have been raised in a family and surrounded by a community that loved babies. Adults would indulge my sense of play as I wrapped my dolly in a blanket and “made house”, not laughing at me but playing along.
In my teen years, I loved overhearing women talk about their birth experiences. I could tell these were life-changing moments; a rite of passage unique to women. I anticipated the day that I, too, might know what they were talking about.
Like many first births, it was long and hard. My sister was heroic.A few years ago, I was privileged to attend the birth of my sister’s first child. The experience was incredible. Like many first births, it was long and hard. My sister was heroic. Thanks be to God, moments that felt close to death ended up being exchanged for life.
Truth be told, after I greeted my nephew, I left the hospital in shock, telling nurses “I couldn’t do that!” I was surprised that, within less than a few hours, my sister was bouncing around, having forgotten the pain at the joy of her son’s arrival. Birth support people don’t get the same endorphins!
Speaking with my father-in-law after the fact, he said he would have single-handedly fought off a whole army to protect his wife after she had given birth. I understood. I felt the world could be divided in two: those who had experienced birth and those who hadn’t. The experience was etched in my mind. The agony. The focus. The fatigue. The bravery. The triumph. That awe-filled moment of meeting your child face to face.
I remember thinking at the time, too, how the reality of childbirth must affect women facing pregnancy alone. What supports were being offered them? Surely those of us who know the value and gift of life have a role to play in ensuring that women facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies are adequately supported through pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.
The experience also helped me to prepare for the birth of my first child. I knew birth would push my body to the limit, and so required a kind of spiritual preparation. A surrendering.
Mary gave her body for the sake of bringing Christ into the world and so, too, we mothers give our bodies out of love for our children. This includes birth, but it is not just that. It might include prolonged morning sickness, swollen ankles or feet, “baby brain”, unsettling dreams, stretchmarks, veins and scars. But it also extends to the worries, fears and various trials that follow us after the child is born.
For the sake of bringing new life into the world, we are invited to take part in a mini crucifixion, offering up our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend who has seven children. I assumed that, having had a large family, she must be really “good” at giving birth. She confessed that each birth had been difficult and that, with each pregnancy, she had to process the fear of giving birth again. But, she said, the closer you get to birth the more the fear dissipates.
I have found this to be true myself and suspect it may have something to do with a change in hormones late in pregnancy. But spiritual reflection helps, too.
As I write this, I am preparing to give birth to my second child. I find myself thinking about the reality that it is God who gives life and takes life away. Our lives are ultimately in his hands.
I find myself thinking about the reality that it is God who gives life and takes life away. Our lives are ultimately in his hands.I also find myself reflecting again on Mary’s fiat: “Let it be to me according to your word, O Lord.” This prayer is not just for women preparing to give birth. It is a prayer that ought to be the cry of every woman’s heart, whether a mother or not.
Yesterday I caught up with a friend who is unable to have children. She finds the company of pregnant women and mothers with young children hard because of the pain it causes her.
Her journey is also one of surrender. Surrendering to what life has given her, acknowledging her utter dependence on Christ, and trusting that he will carry her through suffering into joy (John 16:21-22; 1 Peter 1:6-9).
May this be the case for me in the coming weeks, and ultimately for us all.