The Sacrament of Childbirth


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.