Thursday, December 6, 2012

Childbirth as sign: Childbirth "teaches" receptivity to seeing God's work

So much of whether childbirth is an event to survive or an experience that brings you closer to God through your vocation to motherhood involves our response to fear.  Fear of danger is a legitimate reaction, and it can be protective in a helpful way.  Fear of pain is understandable, because it hurts.  But pain does not necessarily mean something is wrong with the birth: it could mean that something is wrong in the way the mother is giving birth (through physical position, or her psychological approach to it).  The key to embracing the present moment is to not be afraid of the typical processes of childbirth.

Comforting a contractionThe opposite of fear is not so much courage, but trust: trust that God is present and will give you what you need in the moment.  De Caussade illustrates this trust—this ceding of control to fully cooperate with God’s will--in evocative language:

"In the state of abandonment the only rule is the duty of the present moment.  In this the soul is light as a feather, liquid as water, simple as a child, active as a ball in receiving and following the inspirations of grace.  Such souls have no more consistence and rigidity than molten metal…so these souls are pliant and easily receptive of any form that God chooses to give them.[1]"

These images are, interestingly, some of the same images used in the Bradley method for relaxing the muscles and allowing the uterus to contract and do its work, unimpeded: imagine yourself as liquid, imagine riding a wave, receive the birth of your child and allow it to happen.  In addition, there is at least one other person there helping you focus on accepting and relaxing  through the contractions: your husband (or birth coach).  His (or her) role in this present moment is to attend to your process of opening up: caressing a brow to release tension, checking the laboring mother for relaxed positioning, maybe physically supporting the woman during contractions if she is laboring standing up, and lots of encouragement. 

To be fully present at the time of giving birth is to move into mystery.  And that does take courage.  But more, it takes trust: trust in someone outside of oneself.  And since our primal relationships--body and soul, mother and child, human to creation--have suffered a felt dissociation as a consequence of original sin, trust requires a radical move to embracing God’s will.  Fear is a potent distraction from the call to trust.

As I said in the first chapter, receptivity in prayer is hard to explain and hard to teach.  But giving birth in this manner “teaches” receptivity to the work of God beautifully.  It is a gift, fiery indeed, but a gift nonetheless: it calls our attention to God.  Childbirth as a bodily sign presents the “law of the gift” in an exquisitely designed manner.

[1] De Caussade, ch 6.  

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