I like theology. I like it a lot. As fun as theology is to read and to write, how one applies their theology is the “proof in the pudding,” as they say. That’s tough.
This is one reason why watching my wife have our son was a deeply impacting experience. Sure, you cry because you see your baby for the first time. Sure, it’s beautiful and spiritual and all that mumbo jumbo. And, of course, it is as Chandler Bing so eloquently put it: “One disgusting miracle.” But, my wife, who impresses me daily with her character and integrity, managed to wow me with her applied theology.
A theology of child birth.
She studied for months. She prayed over and meditated on what she learned. She recited beautiful liturgy. She thought critically through what she had been taught (good and bad) and what she had learned that called into question what she had been taught (good and bad).
On the heels of the massively influential Grantly Dick-Read work, Child Birth Without Fear, my wife explained to me how she had laid down each of the old horror tropes hopelessly tethered to labor and childbirth for centuries. Excruciating pain and agony, terror, turmoil… My wife had come to believe that none of these things belonged in her paradigm for what it meant to deliver a child.
For Abi, labor was to be understood as hard work. Toil, even. But not as agony. Not as anything to be afraid of.
And on November 28th, 2013, I watched with my own eyes and heard with my own ears my wife apply her theology of childbirth. Her application was steadfast. Unflinching. No drugs, no intervention. It was nothing short of beautiful to behold.
Abi did not scream or panic. There was no grimace of torment. There were no yelps of anxiety or fretful murmuring. I can only assume many women have resigned themselves to the supposed inevitability of suffering in labor, and in their resignation and their fear, created for themselves the very physical pain and mental anguish they feared. In the same way, my wife resigned herself to hard work without pain, and thusly made it so. (Abi's note: Not entirely. I definitely did experience pain in labor but the point here is how it is dealt with. Embracing it as a means to a beautiful end as opposed to a punishment or just pointless pain.)
Don’t get me wrong, often things go awry in birth. Sometimes all the right thinking in the world cannot spare one from a painful complication when delivering a child. But my wife did not believe pain was an inevitability, and I watched as she carried her belief into reality.
Calm, collected, serene. She smiled and laughed through contractions, nurse after nurse asking with genuine disbelief, “are you sure you’re feeling these?” One physician calling her “the poster girl for natural childbirth.” At one point, someone leaned over to me and asked, “did she take hypno-birthing classes or something?”
No, she didn’t. She’s applying her theology of childbirth.
A doctor joked to me (with, I think, an edge of sincerity), “maybe don’t tell too many women about your wife. They’ll all think it’s as easy as she makes it look.”
What a disservice it would be not to tell Abi’s story! She never said it was easy, in fact, she said it was hard work. But if Abi was able to throw off the shackles of fear and agony, I have to believe others can follow in her example just as she walks in the example of those to do the same before her.
At the heart of this whole “childbirth theology” thing are beautiful concepts like the fact that children are blessings and that love involves risk. Cliché, I know, but there they are nonetheless. It was only in the last hour of Abi’s labor that I realized how deep these truths resonated with her, how profoundly they had formed her thinking and her practice.
Waiting between pushes for a coming contraction, I could hear her whispering to herself. Barely audible, but there. And when I leaned toward her, I discovered no whimper, no lament.
Over and over again, to herself she whispered: “He’s worth it. He’s worth it. He’s worth it.”
And when, moments later I held Beck Henson Porter in my own arms, I could see what Abi knew before me. He was worth it.