“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Though the funny incident of my water bottle spilling made me chuckle, it also led me to muse about everyone’s initial reaction to panic when they thought my “water” had broken.
We live in a country and a time where birth is feared instead of embraced for the beauty and gift that it truly is.
The dramatic scenes of labor that predominate our television screens depict this as a time to panic. Women and men congregate around their water coolers to exchange horror stories of their horrific labor stories, sending fear into any attentively listening “virgin” or first-time pregnant ears.
This mainstream attitude toward labor and birth runs in such a stark contrast to Rosie the Riveter’s “We Can Do It” motto adopted by the feminist movement. So much of what women do, and who we are, is about being strong and “in control”, taking charge of the situation. But childbirth isn’t the time to show off our “guns” or “feminine machismo” (even if we do roar throughout it); birth is a time to surrender—to become vulnerable, weak. It’s a time to swing our hips around, to grunt and yell, and to open our bodies – open ourselves – to bring forth LIFE.
While I haven’t gone through medical school and have never worked in an OB office or Labor and Delivery unit, from what I have seen and heard, the customary business-like approach to pregnancy and labor & “delivery” fails to truly respect women, our bodies, and the birth process. I see this as a direct result of our “contra-ceptive” and “anti-life” culture. If women and medical professionals see pregnancy as a disease and as something to be protected from, it makes sense that birth would be treated in the same way.
In a similar way, if a couple uses contraception as a shield from the inconveniences and frustrations that come with pregnancy and children, this attitude is likely to linger into the birthing room should they “accidentally” become pregnant anyway. However, this isn’t always the case as I’ve noticed that many who are strong advocates of natural childbirth also strongly support contraception and birth control (including abortion as one method) because of their focus on “choice”. That said, I’ve also noticed that many couples who are “pro-life” and against the use of contraception still approach birth with trepidation and an over-dependence on medical doctors and nurses.
In Lynn M Griesemer’s Unassisted Homebirth: An Act of Love, she quotes from Susanna Napierala’s Water Birth: A Midwife’s Perspective about the natural function of birth.
Giving birth is a function that women inherently know how to perform, if left alone for nature to take its course. Women also need to take responsibility for themselves and to not be afraid of their bodies. Their bodies were made to give birth…There is no mystery about it. If women educate themselves about birth and trust in their bodies, they will suffer fewer complications for both themselves and their babies. (Napierala 1994: 6)
I’m not knocking epidurals and pitocin and c-sections entirely, I know there is a time and a place when these and other medical interventions can be helpful and even life-saving, but I do feel that too many women, starting with their doctors and nurses, rely on these out of fear, diluting the real significance of birth.
Pregnancy and birth are not merely medical “conditions” and “events” that need to be controlled and monitored. In the General Audiences of John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body he brilliantly describes the human body as “the expression of the spirit…” Through and with our bodies humans have an amazing “capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and – by means of this gift – fulfils the meaning of his being and his existence”.
The sexual act between a man and a woman that brings about the conception of a new human being is only the beginning of this self-giving expression of love, the woman’s body continues this ‘becoming-gift’ through the pregnancy, culminating in a total gift of self during the labor and birth of this human being out into communion with the world.
If we take time to look at birth again, to truly re-spect it, we can see that it is a humbling extension of our mutual self-giving, an acceptance of ”being open to life.”When we say “yes” to God, even by accepting a new life, we are saying “yes” to all it comes with, including the work, the discomforts of pregnancy and the intense work of labor, birth, and the post-partum time. In this way, these “pains” take on a new meaning; they achieve a greater purpose and become…beautiful.
I don’t see childbirth as a punishment; it is a great opportunity to share in Christ’s sacrificial offering and love for us. There has never been a time in my life when I have felt so close to God than when a baby is crowning out of me. It is a time to be in deep awe of God’s ingenious design of our bodies. I do not fear birth, I embrace it.
“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19)
“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)