There’s a danger in becoming too attached to an “ideal birth.” Instead, we should expect that things probably won’t go as we expected—and then look for God in that imperfect experience.
by Susan Windley-Daoust
This article is adapted from chapter fifteen of The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust: “Final Thoughts on Giving Birth.” Read other chapters as they become available by clicking on the chapter links in the sidebar. Get the whole book in print or ebook formats at the Gracewatch Media store.
Read a review of The Gift of Birth in Church Life magazine.
At least two potential dangers face you in reading Part II of this book.
One is that you have not given birth, and now have set in your mind what your birth will look like, down to the details. You have an ornately framed picture in your head of the perfect birth. This can be spiritually fatal because the perfectly patterned birth is only a figment of the imagination. Worse, you could spend your entire birthing experience comparing your real birth to your imagined perfect birth.
Remember Ignatius’s first foundation:
. . . We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better
leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.
There is a lot going on every time you give birth. These chapters are meant to be a help in recognizing that God wants to draw you to himself by giving you signs of grace and love within the process of gestation and birth. If the birth begins to go in a direction that you do not expect, look for God, lean on God, and remember (perhaps afterward) that everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
When I was typing this book, at one point I meant to type “Be the birdwatcher,” and accidentally typed “Be the birthwatcher.” But slip of the fingers or not, this is what you are called to do, during birthing if you can, or afterward as you process the landscape of your birthing experience. Signs are meant to lead us in the right direction. Birth can be the sign that leads us to a fuller relationship with God. But put away any specific expectations about what the birth will look like. It could be very different from what you expect.
The second potential danger is that you have already given birth, and are reading this book to process your birth. You are struggling because your birth did not look like what is described here; instead, you were miserable, or disappointed, or even abused.
I am deeply sorry, and all I can say is at least one of my births fit that category, even as I absolutely loved the child we received. You are not alone in this; in fact, it is quite common. But our God is a God of healing. The next chapters are for you.
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Susan Windley-Daoust is a Catholic theologian, spiritual director, and award-winning author of Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying. She teaches theology at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and five children.