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I gave birth on a warm afternoon. My husband and our doula pulled the hospital blinds closed in an attempt to replicate a “cave-like environment,” a tip we learned during our Hypnobirthing course. I hummed through contractions, visualizing myself on a beach, cool water surging over my legs. The older women in my family stood against the wall, watching with wonder. Had I really not asked for an epidural?
Growing up in Protestant churches, I had learned a few things about childbirth early on. Most memorably, the oft-cited Genesis 3:16: “To the woman he said, I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.” Whenever the verse was mentioned, I’d watch the older women look at each other knowingly, as to say, “God sure wasn’t joking about that!” I’d overhear women swapping birth stories in the fellowship hall. “You think that’s long? Mine lasted for almost 32 hours!” The faces of these women betrayed a mix of fear and pain. Little did they know their faces also imposed dread on a younger generation.
Marriage, pregnancy, and new parenthood were viewed as blessings from God. But labor and delivery? Reminders of our sinfulness. A necessary but unpleasant trial rooted in Eve’s disobedience.
As I grew older and devoted much of my academic career to Women’s Studies, I questioned many of the patriarchal teachings of the church. I struggled to reconcile female empowerment with an antiquated doctrine of submission. When I married, I happily held onto my last name (which still confuses a few Christian friends).
And when I got pregnant, I abandoned what I’d learned about childbirth from the church and sought to find a message of empowerment instead.
Marriage, pregnancy, and new parenthood were viewed as blessings from God. But labor and delivery? Reminders of our sinfulness.
While my body stretched to accommodate a new life within, my mind opened to a different possibility for birthing. I read books, reached out to doulas, and attended a Hypnobirthing course. I learned that birth was a gift, not a curse.
I also learned that my labor didn’t need to be painful.
I stood in church each Sunday with my hand on my stomach; I thanked God for my baby and prayed for protection. But I didn’t know if he’d be of much practical help on delivery day. I turned to my Rainbow Relaxation CD, my doula, and my birth affirmations instead.
In the weeks leading up to my daughter’s birth, I sensed skepticism from others about our choices. To most people in my largely Christian community, Hypnobirthing was far too New Age to be taken seriously. And why hire a doula when I had a perfectly capable husband and doctor? But I felt newly empowered in my pregnant body. I had broken away from yet another patriarchal stronghold. Birth was beautiful, and I was eager to experience it.
When I felt my first contraction on the morning of June 25, I was invigorated for the journey ahead, and I trusted my body. The contractions increased in intensity but my spirit remained strong. I implemented in textbook fashion the skills I learned from my Hypnobirthing instructor. I hummed through each contraction, fully embracing each moment as it came. By the time I reached the hospital, I was six centimeters dilated and 100% effaced.
But then, after a few hours of smooth sailing, it happened: my body froze. Fear and confusion overtook me; I saw myself as a trapped animal, eyes wide and panicked. I looked from my husband to my doula to my mother and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” They patted my hand, tried to reassure me, but as the contractions rolled over me, I only felt more fear.
Finally, I looked over and saw my older sister, a veteran mom of four, and without hesitation I knew what I needed: a powerful prayer. I had left God outside of the delivery room, and I suddenly realized that if I was to achieve the beautiful birth I had imagined, I needed to invite him in.
Transformative childbirth doesn’t just happen; it requires physical, emotional, and spiritual training.
I had spent weeks learning to relax amidst the intensity of labor, but what I needed during those terrifying minutes of transition was the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” I beckoned and my sister came near.
None of us remember the words she spoke, but we recall the peace that entered the room. Eyes welled with tears. Prayer refocused me when my own strength and preparation fell short. In that moment, my labor became a physical, mental and spiritual endeavor; in that moment, my labor became as empowering as I’d hoped.
After the haze of postpartum hormones and sleepless nights wore off, I began to share my story. Many of my Christian friends were confused when I explained how hypnosis had helped my body relax. And my non-Christian friends nodded politely when I told them about the power of my sister’s prayer. Despite this general confusion, the more I shared, the more I realized how beautifully my Christian faith and childbirth preparation had overlapped. Why weren’t they brought together more?
Other moms agreed. We agreed that our childbirths had been some of the most empowering experiences of our lives. We wondered if the church could do more to prepare women to engage both spiritually and physically during delivery.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame for the church to miss out on this?” one of my friends asked.
I’m no theologian, but I believe we must reframe how we talk about childbirth. Women have been gifted with capable bodies that can bring new life into the world — what joy! And as Christians, we hold this scripture as truth: “. . . if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” Why should our theology about birth be limited to Genesis?
I recently co-founded a blog called cord. Each week, we share birth stories and photographs from women in Colorado. Through reading and editing these stories, my beliefs about the beauty and power of birth have only been strengthened. Our bodies can birth peacefully, and our souls long to join in the progression from conception to delivery.
Christian communities do women a disservice by not encouraging a rich spiritual tradition in the delivery room and physical preparation in the weeks leading up to birth. Transformative childbirth doesn’t just happen; it requires physical, emotional, and spiritual training. We need to empower each other to reclaim the delivery room and enter joyfully into our births. I’m so grateful I did.
Photography by www.upinthesycamore.