Thursday, January 27, 2005

Dread and Joyful Anticipation

I have been ruminating about birth, and why women, as decendants of Eve, are given childbirth as a way of participating in salvation. As someone who has given birth naturally seven times, I have spent much of the last 12 years contemplating the purpose of the birth process, spiritually speaking. Of course, I am not implying that women who do not give birth do not achieve salvation. My comments here are limited in scope only to women who have given birth.

I didn't give this any thought during my first pregnancy. It was as the second birth was impending that I had such a mix of dread and joyful anticipation. I felt pulled in opposite directions. One day, glowing with mother-love-birth-power, the next cowering in dread and fear. Just thinking about the pain I was going to have to endure gave me a cold shiver. Then the uncertainty of the birth would plague me. What if it takes 36 hours? What if the baby dies? What if I die? What if the baby has a deformity? I would console myself with the hope of a successful birth, a healthy baby. One evening, I realized these are exactly the same emotions I have about death. Thinking about the certainty of death would give me a cold shiver. What will it be like? How much will it hurt? How long will it last? When will it happen? What will the outcome be? Then I would be consoled with the hope of Heaven. As birth approached, I would mentally envision walking up to the edge of an abyss, and looking deeply inside. That is what giving birth is like to me; as close to death as I have ever come, where life meets eternity, totally self-giving, trusting relinquishment of my future. What will be WILL be. Amen.

My husband found my comparison fascinating, but then asked,"What is men's preparation for death?" I think that men are hard wired to face death frequently, in defending his family, home, country. Being brave, facing the world, running interference between the world and his family, daily toiling, sweat on the brow. Women tackle death preparation in huge mouthfuls, with the birth of each baby. Men tackle death preparation in small daily portions.

And so it goes. With each pregnancy, I would struggle with the fear, the dread, and try to heal the irritation with hope. During each birth, I would realize that being able to pray, to offer up the pain, to concentrate on the hoped-for outcome, would assist me in my final illness. Because of birth, I have practiced praying through pain and fear; I have practiced focusing on hope and pushing away despair. During the joyful first moments of connection with my new wee one, the joy, relief, and love just gushing through me, I have had a small glimmer of heaven.

With each successive birth, I have gone through the same process. I think I struggle most with the inevitability of birth. Once pregnant, there is no getting out of it. Just like death.


Blogger Philothea Rose said...

I wrote this whole long comment on how beautiful motherhood, childbirth, and the time in hospital with your newborn is, and then my little "angel" reached over and pressed my ctrl button and then something else and it all got deleted! Grr... Maybe God is trying to teach me to have a sense of humor. :)

Anyways, I really liked the thoughts you brought up in your post.

January 27, 2005  
Blogger rita said...

I have to admit, I never got that "deep" with my pregnancies (2)- I recognized that I could offer up my pain for the sake of the cross...but I always wimped out. Perhaps God will give me a few more chances? :)

January 27, 2005  
Blogger Renee said...

Believe me, I wish I didn't get so deep sometimes. I often wish I wasn't so ponderous. I know I overthink many things, completely squeezing the joy of of it, like an over-chewed piece of meat.

January 27, 2005  
Blogger Valerie said...

I'm glad you found the time to blog a little more about this topic, as I now know I'm not the only one who has felt that incredible mix of joy and dread. I, too, have often thought of the birth process as one akin to dying. All of my births (6) have been unmedicated with a varying degree of pain (the last three have been, well, awful as far as pain goes). Then there is that moment, just prior to the birth, when you FINALLY yield your control to the process and you are released, and, OH, the joy when you greet that child! YES, I like to think that this is what it is like, when we yield control and release our attachment to this world and are called to the next. Oh, the joy!

January 28, 2005  
Blogger Elena LaVictoire said...

I have often thought that preparing for labor and birth, is as close as we will ever get to experiencing what Christ felt in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Nice blog BTW!

January 29, 2005  
Blogger Nancy said...

I just *had* to laugh with this last comment especially.... "I think I struggle most with the inevitability of birth. Once pregnant, there is no getting out of it. Just like death."

Having birthed 9 and number 10 closing in, I can totally relate! Especially since I'm a midwife, I look at the women in labor and think to myself "nope, sure don't look forward to that part!!" Then there is remembering the last part- you know- transition- and the pain I *always, always* get in my hips that tells me it won't be long.

I get through it by breathing, by saying LOTS of Hail Mary's, by thinking that "it will all be over by this time tomorrow" and literally just trying to deal with one ctx at a time. I distinctly remember thinking on more than one occasion- "I *know* why women get epidurals!!!"

I do not look forward to the sore bottom immediately after delivery, though the past couple of kids it hasn't been too too awful, once the placenta is out and the poking around done with. I so, so love my little babies. (As my 22mo old comes in to snuggle and give me a kiss). I wouldn't trade them for the world and if we must do this for them to be here, so be it.

My husband and I marvel as they grow and become, as our oldest daughter has, parents themselves. Our 21 y/o is talking marriage and babies, our 19 y/o has been "out there" a while. Now my 17 y/o son is talking about when *he* gets married and has kids! (mind you, he hasn't even been out on a date yet!!)

Part of our Labor is as parents, and I think a great part of our salvation lies in that as well, so tell your husband not to fret. Worrying over and raising your children is truly a "death to self". It is like what we say in the Easter Troparian about Christ:
"By death He conquered death, and to those in the grave, He granted life". As parents we have the unique opportunity to particpate in the salvic (what is the exact word??) process because by dying to ourselves and putting others first, we conquer eternal death, and will therefore- we hope- gain eternal life.

Geez, I don't know if I said that so well. Anyhow. As a midwife, I sometimes chuckle to myself when, after the labor and birth, the new parents inevitably say something like, "I'm so glad it's over!". I'm thinking, It has only just begun! Talk about inevitable. There truly is no getting out of it! But as I said before, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

January 30, 2005  

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