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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Mercy Triumphs Over Justice

call the midwife 2In Season One, Episode 2 of Call the Midwife, we have an overwhelming picture of love and mercy.

The beginning of the show has us at a clinic watching women come in for their regular maternity check ups. A couple walks in, he – older, she – clearly uncomfortable. The midwives check her and give her a perfect bill of health, but they are uneasy and intuitively know something is not right.

Throughout the show we are taken to the home of the couple, privy to the conversations between midwife and patient. But still we don’t find out much – just that she is surprised she is pregnant and worried about something.

Toward the end of the show the woman is in labor. And it is while in labor that we find out why she is worried. She is worried that the baby will be black –  the husband we have met is white. And we are suddenly part of her story, part of the drama unfolding onscreen. What is going to happen? The birth is imminent – what will the outcome be?

The midwife with complete authority reminds the woman that there is a baby coming whether she likes it or not: “I don’t care if it’s green, red, or orange. Your child’s heart rate is dropping, and I need you to start pushing. Now.”

In all the pain and work that is childbirth, the baby is birthed….and the baby is black. It’s obvious that the husband, so excited by this pregnancy, so zealous for the welfare of his wife, so ready to welcome his son into the world, is not the father.

And we don’t know what is going to happen. Will he rage and accuse? Will he leave or throw her out? Will he demean and demand?

At this point there are two midwives, a doctor, the mom, and the perfectly formed, healthy newborn in the bedroom together. The husband is outside, taking a much-needed cigarette. The doctor heads outside and stands silently with him, revealing nothing, just waiting alongside. And finally the midwife comes to tell the husband he can come see her, come see the baby.

And so the dad rushes in.

All is silent as he looks at his son. None of us can breathe as he takes in the obvious. All of life hangs on this moment.

The man takes the baby in his arms. “I don’t reckon to know much about babies” pause “But I can see how this is the most beautiful baby in the world.”   

And so we breathe. For a moment we were the pregnant woman – would he accept or reject? Would we see mercy, or would we see justice? In that instant mercy and love triumphed. Sacrificial love, love that bears a cost, takes a stand; love that would forgive and move forward.

And we respond the only way we know how, with tears, relief, and a small sigh of gratitude escaping our lips.