The Sacrament of Childbirth

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leslie verner -the sacrament of childbirth-3

I was shocked by how similar childbirth was to watching my father-in-law die. There is the pacing, the patience, the impatience, the watching for signs of death—or life. The living room transforms into a tunnel where the outside world is fuzzy and out of focus and inside, all senses are heightened. As the time for birth—or death—nears, erratic breathing ushers a soul into another world. There is pain. There is relief. There is hope. There is life in death.

Death and birth are undeniably spiritual for the person who’s spent time in that sacred space. Something, Someone, is invisibly present in the room with you at the gate. I’ve stood at that gate—a portal to the other world—four times now. Once, as a soul went on to the next world, and three other times, as my body welcomed three souls to this world.

Childbirth is natural and supernatural, real and ephemeral, earthy and otherworldly, you are lost forever, and find yourself anew. Birthing is raw, primitive, immodest. You abandon propriety, trusting the process. An imprint of Eden, you are naked again—and unashamed. As a woman in labor, you follow a script written thousands of years ago that billions of women have followed. You are not the first, but that does not diminish, but rather enlarges the sacred space you are given permission to occupy.

Heaven heaves spirit breath beneath the thin veil of the natural world, sending reality floating up as you tenderly hold the edge of the sheet, gasping at what lies beneath.

You glimpse the divine, who weaves numinous tendrils of time, matter, rhythm and grace to draw this new being out of your body and into the world. You are not alone. The Creator is coaching, whispering, caressing your sweaty hair, kneading your tense shoulders, clothing you in the timeless mystery of mothers who have entered this transcendence.

The pain crashes in violent, ripping waves. Slow, intense, rhythmic, unruly. You begin to feel it on one edge of your body—on your back or the edges of your abdominals, and then it begins to take over your middle, pulling it all in like a tightening fish net. You allow your body to work, moving your baby down and out, down and out. You attempt to relax face, shoulders, arms, legs, hands and even your toes. Breathe. Sing. Sway. Move. Bathe. Moan.

Let go. Don’t fight the pain, but surrender. Though you are used to being in control, it is to your advantage to be a passive bystander to your body as it takes over and leads the way. Trust your fantastic female body to know what to do. You are stronger than you know. You share with earth’s tribe of females in the grand metaphor of childbirth.

You are the first Eve.

And when the fog is wiped from the glass, and your soft baby is on your chest, still christened from the fluids from your womb, you find that not only are you still alive, but you are changed. This little one snagged your heart, so that if it is torn away suddenly, a part of you dies, too.

You are exposed and vulnerable, like an open wound that will never heal. But this is where the love grows: in the vulnerability, the openness, the loss of control. In the death to all you once knew, the rawness of life dazzles like never before.

In the car on the way home from the hospital, you marvel that time has not stood still. Teenagers in hoodies lead golden retrievers on leashes, commuters plugged into ear buds walk home, and couples push strollers down the sidewalk. You want to yell at them. Don’t they know the world has changed? That a sacred scene transpired just 63 hours and 22 minutes ago? That the divine burst through and let you watch? Driving has never felt so terrifying, so risky. You have cargo from another world. You urge your husband to drive slowly, to heed stop signs and beware of unseen threats. A piece of you sleeps, strapped in a five-point harness in the back of the Toyota Corolla. You take another look, close your eyes, and mourn the seconds, then minutes that take you away from that holy experience.

 

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Leslie Verner
I am a goer who is learning how to stay. I’ve traveled all over the world and lived in northwest China for five years before God U-turned my life and brought me back to the U.S. to get married to an actor in Chicago. I’m a former middle school teacher, mama to three little ones and like American cuisine the least. I currently live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and write regularly about faith, justice, family and cross-cultural issues at Scraping Raisins.
Leslie Verner
Leslie Verner

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Comments

  1. Rachel says:

    What a beautiful piece. We lost my son Aaron 100 minutes after birth in June 2016. I can tell you that your sentence “This little one snagged your heart, so that if it is torn away suddenly, a part of you dies, too.” really resonated with me. My husband and I held him for the time that he would spend on this earth. We loved him, kissed him and sang to him as his soul departed this world. It was heartbreaking but beautiful. Future births will be challenging given this experience but will also be different now that I have experienced birth and death in the same day.

  2. Lynn Morrissey says:

    Leslie,
    Without doubt, this is one of the most gory and most *glorious* pieces of truth-telling that I have ever read about childbirth. In fact, I don’t think I have ever read the work of anyone (except a short line or two from Christian author-pillar Elisabeth Elliot) admitting that birth is a going down into death for the mother. Yes, I have read about the beauty of childbirth and that captivating pregnancy glow that some women exhibit. Or, conversely, about women barely existing with their heads face-down in vitreous china for months, spewing forth their guts . . . or hearing the unearthly wails in a TV drama of women giving birth. I’ve never read a piece like yours which so rawly and regally portrays birth. This is a magnificent, life-and-death honoring piece, and I am sitting here in awe and wonder. Sacred wonder and beauty often come with the price of pain (in God’s mysterious ways) and, admittedly, I don’t fully comprehend why there must be pain so often attached to the significant. I simply know it to be true, experientially (and, as you point out so well, it is best not to fight it but grow through it). I also look to Christ on the Cross, and then His bursting forth from the tomb-become-womb, and I know that death was necessary to birth life. I can’t thank you enough for your honesty and profound understanding of mystery. I’m hardly articulating my stunned wonder at your post in a way to equal it, so I will simply stop, and with great gratitude.
    Lynn

    • Lynn, thank you so much for your comment. It is a sacred mystery and I was afraid to even attempt to write about it, so if any of the sacredness came across, then I’m humbled.

  3. Oh Leslie!
    You did it. You gave voice to so much of what we feel and experience and barely dare to utter even in hushed tones because it’s just so holy, but want to shout to everyone because it’s just so holy.
    I’ve often tried to explain how part of each of my birth journeys felt like walking through the valley of the shadow of death in some way. I’m delighted to find shared experience in your words.
    Thank you.

    • Hannah, I was afraid to even try and kept this piece a secret for a long time. I think it helps that I wrote of it in the midst of it all before the magic wore off. The mystery was still fresh.

  4. This is one of the most beautiful pieces on childbirth I have ever read. Dang it.

  5. Leslie, this is just a glorious observation.
    My husband’s parents were in the process of leaving the world during the season in which my children were all entering, and I can remember becoming confused about the meaning of a ringing phone. Although, clearly, it could bring news only of a change of status in the dying, I half-expected an update on my baby’s arrival. The waiting and the uncertainty that surround both birth and death reminded me that I am not in control of the most important things.

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