On Midwives and Breathing Through the Pain

faith journey brene brown

“I thought faith would say ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort’. But what it ended up saying was ‘I’ll sit with you in it.'” Brené Brown in Jesus Wept

My first baby was born with a midwife by my side. I had labored all night and the baby was posterior. My labor had to reposition the baby in order to give birth — and it hurt. The contractions became harder and more difficult. They were in ‘couplets’ – I would have a strong and long contraction and then almost immediately a short, not as difficult contraction. It is an inefficient way to labor.

And it hurt.

But my midwife and my husband were there by my side — all the way through 12 plus hours of intensive labor. I didn’t have an epidural. I didn’t have any medication. I had something that was ultimately better– a midwife sitting beside me coaching me to the finish line. And that finish line was the birth of a baby. A midwife helping me to breathe through the pain and come out on the other side; a midwife who told me when to push, when to stop pushing; a husband who held my hand, watching the monitor that showed the strength of the contractions.

They call it labor for a reason. I had never worked so hard in my life – nor been rewarded so well.

But it hurt.

So when I recently heard Brené Brown talk about faith – how it’s like a midwife – I knew she was on to something.

“I wanted faith to work like an epidural; to numb the pain of vulnerability. As it turned out, my faith ended up being more like a midwife – a nurturing partner who leans into the discomfort with me and whispers “push” and “breathe….Faith didn’t make my life less vulnerable or comfortable, it simply offered to travel with me through the uncertainty.” ~ Brené Brown 

Because that’s what faith has been like for me. It sits with me through the hard, encourages me to push harder, reminds me that the reward is so much bigger, so much greater than the difficulty of the now. Sometimes this journey of life is a complete joy, full of sun and peace. Other times it’s a grey fog of doubt or a sea of fear, still more times it’s a step in the dark.

And I want it to be easy – oh how I want it to be easy. I want it to be easy for me and I want it to be easy for those I love.

I don’t want the struggles and the doubts. I don’t want the painful self-reflection and the recognition of wrong. I don’t want the work of faith. I want an epidural. Me. who birthed 5 children with no pain medication, no epidurals. When it comes to my journey of faith – just give me the epidural, let me numb the pain, let me have it easy. 

Because it hurts. 

But I know this – no where was I ever promised a life free of discomfort and distress. At no time was I told it would be easy. Never was I given a false expectation that life would be absent of pain. That is true for child-birth, that is true for faith.

Through labor I learned what it’s like to put forth intense effort and think you can’t go on, only to be encouraged that you can and you will continue to do what you have to do until that baby is born. Through labor I learned what it was to have a trained midwife by my side who knew what was going on, who knew when I was supposed to push and when I was supposed to breathe. Through life I learn the same thing; that I will continue to do what I have to do, faith by my side encouraging me on, through words of truth, through the people of God, through the Church.

What about you? How has faith been like a midwife to you? Or maybe it hasn’t – maybe instead faith has been like a doctor that pushes their own agenda and doesn’t let you breathe. I would love for you to join the conversation in the comments.

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13 thoughts on “On Midwives and Breathing Through the Pain

  1. Hi Elizabeth. I don’t believe you know me, but I have followed your blog via mutual friends. I too have spent a fair amount of time in Pakistan over the last 21 years and have a deep love for the country. I am also a midwife. And recently, I have seen more pain than I have thought my heart could handle. I truly believe I was meant to see today’s post. Thank you for your faithfulness in posting about God’s heart and your own. It has been a blessing to me.

    Just a comment, please note that I have many wonderful physician colleagues who are fabulous birth attendants and their patients are blessed to be in their care.


    1. Hi Teralee- so glad you commented today. My name is actually Marilyn — Elizabeth wrote the wonderful comment so not sure if this was intended for me or her or both of us but I am encouraged to read it. So great to share a mutual love and prayer for Pakistan. I cannot imagine some of the pain you must see. This week was a week for me when it all feels too much to bear. My heart has felt broken and I sense yours has too. May God be with the broken hearts and the situations that break them. And I totally agree with you about physicians so that was probably an unfair example.


      1. So sorry Marilyn! I know your name, but was just caught up in what I had read and addressed it to Elizabeth. Oh the moments….


      2. no worries!! I’m just glad you came by. And my guess is that we know a lot of the same people so I would love to sit down with you over a cup of steaming hot chai or cold mango lassi.


    2. Hi Teralee, so sorry I confused you with my name. And I just want to second what you said, there are so many wonderful MDs out there! Two of my babies were delivered by a family doc who was amazing in his patience and support and non-pushiness, and my teammate here on the field is an OBGYN who had a great, low cesarean rate in the States due to her refusal to push unnecessary inductions on her patients. They are both amazing examples of docs who are loving and supportive in their maternity care. I am sorry my analogy was offensive. Truly, I have had many amazing, compassionate physicians, and modern medicine saved my life in a couple births/postpartums, so I have utmost respect for that profession. I just really appreciate the generally emotionally supportive approach that most midwives take to birth. And thanks for pointing out my inconsistency. :)


    3. Oh and just to clarify again, I didn’t write the post, Marilyn did, but we both used birth analogies. I realized later my comment above may have added to the confusion, not subtracted. Sorry. But as you said, “oh the moments.” Ha!


  2. Oh you know I love this Marilyn. I love that Brene Brown video! And it’s so true — community is not an anesthetic, but it certainly is miraculous. When it’s healthy, anyway. When my family got out of the Army, we were part of a very legalistic church environment, and it was definitely like a pushy doctor with an agenda. “Believe this, believe that, no, not like that, like this. Or you’ll lose your salvation.” Three years later, we entered a very loving, healing community, and it was there where I first started to really experience God in my life.

    So, church can be wonderful like a midwife, but it can also be like an induction on an unripe cervix, with no access to painkillers. Sometimes I forget this. For most of my life, church has been a place of healing and growth (besides those 3 years fresh out of the Army, ouch, what bad timing for encountering oppressive legalism!). But for so many people, church has been a place of crippling pain for too much of their lives. No wonder some people don’t have as high or happy of a view of the church as I do. I want people to, but just wishing it doesn’t make it true.

    What we need is more communities that act like midwives. And how to make that happen?? I think it’s one at a time, one life at a time, loved people who love other people, who love other people, who love other people. Just like a midwife can impact an intervention-heavy hospital, one birth at a time. News of the midwife’s loving touch spreads by word of mouth. If we as the church can provide the kind of community that Brene is talking about, that can bring people to faith much better than fire and brimstone preaching.


    1. Love this Elizabeth! I hear you about church. For years I have felt the hurt of being in a church community. Felt like I would never fit in and desperately wanted a ‘faith’ community to walk beside me in my pain and for whatever reasons it couldn’t. It was only a few years ago that I began to heal. And I love the picture of a midwife affecting a community one person at a time. Thanks for making the post so much better with your thoughts.


      1. Your words are always so kind, Marilyn. Full of love and understanding, so I know you have received love and healing from somewhere, to be able to pass it on the way you do. But I am so, so sorry for years and years of not fitting in, of wanting community yet not receiving it. That’s awful. And at the same time I am thankful to hear you say that you have begun to find the healing you need. I think that is just what Jesus would want. Sometimes, though, I think He must look down on us wondering why we can’t be a healing place more often, the way He intended us to be.


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