Blog

labor

Note: I wrote this post yesterday, before the tragic events in Connecticut. I don't know if this is right thing to say now, still, but I hope it's ok.



“When childbirth is normal, the pain is not a sign of injury; rather, as Sheila Kitzinger has said, it is ‘pain with a purpose.’ By acknowledging your pain, working in suggested ways with your body during childbirth, and remembering that the pain will soon end, you will be more likely to put the pain in perspective and to prevent it from overwhelming you...”  
(Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Penny Simpkin)

72 hours after my water broke, 36 hours after the heavy labor had begun, 3 hours after I started pushing, Rosemary was born. I had fought, alongside my husband, my mother, my midwife, my sister in law, and a bevy of nurses, for her her arrival, and when my screams finally quieted, after midnight, snow was falling outside the hospital. She was born, and Jack (they tell me) looked awestruck, said with wonderment, "She's perfect."

Weeks later, after processing my labor and delivery experience, I realized I might have been fighting the wrong way. Instinctually, I fought the pain, like any normal person would; but for the contractions to do their work, I should have tried to accept each one; I needed to welcome the pain.

I wonder if Mary, in that extra room in the house where they brought the animals in for the night, with maybe a local midwife and some of Joseph's relatives, I wonder if she embraced the pain of it all? I wonder if her labor lasted for three days, like mine did? I wonder if she understood that when her groaning finally fell silent, the whole earth continued groaning for its deliverance, too?

//

Mary's labor was to deliver the baby whose birth ushered in a new kingdom, a kingdom of good news for the poor, sight for the blind, and deliverance for the oppressed. Though Jesus' birth heralded the dawn of this new kingdom, two thousand years later we are still awaiting its full arrival. The pains of labor have not ended for us as we await delivery:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)

In Advent, we are waiting for redemption to reign in our world and in our individual lives. The labor pains all creation endures, waiting, are "pain with a purpose," even when we may not be able to discern how such pain is being used for good.


So if all this pain is purposeful, how can we embrace it, rather than fight it? I don't mean that we should embrace what is clearly wrong in the world, pretending as if everything is alright; but if this eons-long labor is part of God's plan, his chosen method of birthing his new kingdom, his holy mysterious timetable, how do we work with the pain, rather than reject it?

In the prosperous West, we've found the epidural of materialism, and made ourselves comfortable for the duration.

How, instead, to consider it pure joy, when we face trials, because we know that they produce endurance, and endurance must finish its work, so that we can become mature and complete, not lacking anything? How to believe that, these thousands of years later, God is still at work, that the long labor will end, that the new kingdom will truly be born, when everyday the news is filled with death too horrible to comprehend?

"Labor cannot be controlled," Penny Simpkin warns. So, too, God's new kingdom cannot be controlled; it is being born, all around us, whether we fight for it or against it, whether we can see it or not. God's kingdom will be born on earth. 

And we will be awestruck at its perfection.