Giving birth as a Christian should be different.
(I know. Did she just say that? Really? Don't freak out.)
I mean, of course, on the outset much of it is going to look the same. The baby is coming out the same way it does for every other mother throughout the world, yes. The physical movements and techniques, the physiological aids, possibly everything on the outside is going to look very similar. But when our lives and souls are transformed through Baptism, every aspect of our lives becomes a conduit for grace. And the most profound moments, the most God-like, life-giving moments of our lives? I'm not sure they should be the exception to that reality.
Perhaps as Christians there should be a different quality about our births. Not necessarily that they are all going to look the same but that there is some sort of difference underlying the whole experience. Perhaps there is a tremendous opportunity for grace in these profound moments that we would do well to tap into. Birth has the potential to be one of the most transforming moments of our lives (just ask any mother what those moments were like when she first held that baby or hang out at any moms group and see what almost inevitably gets talked about). It's never just a birth. As Christians, it seems entirely appropriate and expected that the time of birth can be infused with grace and that we might invite and prepare for that possibility. Is it required? Of course not. Just like it's not required that we pray before we eat or before that surgery and it's not required that we do spiritual reading or any devotion. But deep down, each woman knows that birth? It's a Big Deal. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally…and as complete human persons we can't split ourselves up into different segments. What affects one aspect of our person affects the other parts. So why not invite the One who planned it all in the first place to saturate those moments with grace? Heaven knows we need it.
I know people will perhaps roll their eyes at that. There is a temptation to separate the parts of our lives that don't feel or look holy (because sometimes our understanding of holy is pretty distorted, right?) and some may feel like God wants nothing to do with that birthy stuff. It's purely a physical process for them. Or perhaps some feel pressure either from themselves or others that a holy birth should look or feel a certain way. But that isn't a valid reason, I think, to write off the concept that God can be and yes, may even want to be, a part of that important time.
Every birth should look different. And every Christian birth should look different because we're all, well, different. But below are a few time and doula-tested ideas for inviting that grace into your birth and allowing it to sanctify and transform your birth experience. (And for those who are stumbling upon this post, I approach this as a Catholic Christian so if you are not, you may find a few things in here that you don't quite understand. Please feel free to ask. But many of these ideas are applicable to any Christian of any denomination.)
Pray Before the Birth
It is so powerful to pray for your birth as it approaches, with your husband especially. Praying together with your own words is wonderful, but if spontaneous prayer makes you or him uncomfortable, how about a novena to St. Gerard (patron of expectant mothers and birth) or some prayers to St. Brigid (patroness of newborns)? How about praying the Rosary (or even one decade) together in the days or weeks before you are due with the birth as your specific intention? Pray together that the birth will be healthy, happy, and holy. Pray for abandonment to His will and that the time of birth can be transformed with His grace. Pray that you can do what is best for your baby and that God will strengthen your marriage through it. If you don't have the gift of a husband that will do that with you, certainly doing it on your own is good as well. Or perhaps you have some close friends or family that will join you.
Not only can you pray on your own before the birth but did you know there is a legit rite for
Blessing of a Mother Before Childbirth, a Blessing of Parents Before Childbirth and a Rite of Blessing for a Child in the Womb all offered by the Church? What a testimony that is to how spiritual and important birth is and how God can and should be invited into it. Your priest can pray that over you but if you don't have a priest or deacon available, it is acceptable for a layperson to do it as well. If you are undergoing a cesarean section for a serious condition, Catechism 1515 also states “It is fitting to receive the Anointing of the Sick just prior to a serious operation.” In that understanding and with certain qualifications, a mother may also receive that Sacrament prior to her birth and draw incredible grace from that as well.
Intentions and Offerings
No matter what kind of birth you have, there is a lot to offer up. Before, during, and after. Those pains and sacrifices can be used for others' intentions, your own sanctification, or offered as prayers for whatever the Lord sees fit.
Many women I know and have seen will bring a list of intentions into their labor and offer contractions up for those specific intentions. Sometimes they even ask for intentions from friends and family. (A similar thing could certainly be done with a surgical birth as well.) How beautiful is that? Using each contraction for the next intention on the list. It can be helpful to have someone read it to you as the contraction begins to remind you of that intention. A simple act of the will, even if you can't speak the words, is all it takes for God to use that pain for something that will bless another person. Some mothers choose to offer their entire birth up for one very special intention. What an awesome way to build up and recognize the Body of Christ.
Claiming the Word of God
Scripture talks a lot about birth and things that can be related to it. Speaking or praying those Scriptures passages during birth draws that power of God which is truly present in those words into your birth room. (The second Vatican Council declared that those words should be just as much revered as the Eucharist!) I've been with moms in labor who have had me cycle through their favorite Scriptures, reading one at the beginning of each contraction to help them focus. I came up with a list of Scriptures for birth that can be used for birth and some moms I've been with have picked through that list before their birth and chosen the ones that speak to their heart most to use when labor begins. The birth support then has that list ready and available during the birth. Simply having someone speak the words is enough. Sometimes a mom prefers to have just one verse be her verse for the entire birth and when things get tough, that Word of God Himself is used to bring strength.
Come up with a playlist or CD of music that you think would be helpful during your birth. Even if you're not actively listening to the music, it can be an awesome way to create a holy space for your birth. Some women like chant, some contemporary worship music, some ancient hymns…pick what you like best and have it available to use if you decide that it would be helpful. At one birth I attended, the mom had downloaded Father Groeschel's rosary and music for her to listen to. It was beautiful. Several other moms I've been with have used worship music. For my last birth, I had the same song playing over and over on repeat quietly in the background for about six hours straight (my poor birth team!). But that song was really powerful for me and helped create the space that I wanted for that birth. This can be done at the hospital or at home. Many surgical suites even have the option of having your own music played while you are in the room.
Using sacramentals not only draws us into that available grace but they are a GREAT reminder to us that we are incarnational people and that the physical world, through the power of the Incarnation, can be made holy. Which make them perfect for birth. Holy candles, a crucifix, an icon or another holy image, and holy water are all things that can be used during birth. Blessed candles can be lit if you are at home (or before you go to the hospital) and if you wanted you could even bring one to the hospital and not light it. Holding a crucifix in my hands during transition was really powerful for me during one birth. Having an icon of the Nativity or the Crucifixion displayed can be a beautiful focal point during contractions or surgery. Being blessed with holy water by your husband or doula during birth is another source of grace. Just keeping a rosary in your hand through the process is a simple way to draw that grace in.
Pray During the Birth
During early labor or before being wheeled into the operating room, it may be possible to pray either on your own or with your birth team. Heck, maybe you could even pray a Rosary with your husband or doula. This is an awesome way to offer up your whole labor and birth in one fell swoop. (And in some births that is all that can be managed!)
Then, of course, there are the transition prayers. These are the prayers that are often uttered, screamed, or moaned by women usually without even thinking when things get really hard…certainly not peaceful or (seemingly) reverent but desperate and humble pleas for help. But they are just as much prayers as anything else, if not more so. The holy name of Jesus over and over, God, help me, or just Oh, God are all prayers I've heard or said myself. When said sincerely, they can all be incredibly powerful prayers and I have no doubt God hears them that way. In fact, it is those spontaneous prayers said by even women who haven't thought much about bringing their faith into the birth that are one sign to me just how spiritual birth is in its essence.
Enlist a Prayer Team
Invite others to pray for you during the birth, even if they won't be physically present with you. You can get a little prayer team together that will promise to pray for you when labor time comes and you call or send them a text. Those prayers from others are powerful and a gift to those who want to help carry you through this time. Maybe you have an amazing friend who will go to Adoration for you for part of your labor or birth. Or maybe they can start an email chain or Facebook thread (only if you're comfortable with that) and get others praying. Maybe your grandma would love to light a candle and offer her Mass or Rosary for you. Enlisting the prayers of others unites the Body of Christ in such a powerful way during such an important time and are especially important if mom is struggling with fear or with the ability to pray on her own.
I hope this may help someone out there! I'd love to hear what you did or any suggestions you may have for expressing and drawing your faith into birth. Please share!
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