The most painful route isn't always more valuable to God.
With my first birth, I went into the hospital hoping I could handle the pain well enough on my own to get through to the end “naturally,” but the longer my labor went on, the more daunting that idea became. Finally, I asked for the epidural. It was a relief not to be in pain, and even more of a relief that I’d stopped panicking, but for a moment, I was sad. Sad that I was going to have a nice, modern, medicated birth, instead of the kind of birth that, so many women had told me, had been a spiritual experience for them.
Because there would be no pain, there would also be no moment of surrender, no realization that all I can do is hang on and trust God, no pain-driven sensation of death followed by rebirth. I’d wanted those feelings, but I was grateful I had the option to chicken out. God and I would just have to connect another day, another way.
It’s tempting, isn’t it, to think that the harder something is, the more valuable it is to God? That would be simple enough. But in preparing for my third birth, I’m realizing that pleasing God isn’t as simple as picking the biggest sacrifice.
My second birth went about the same as the first one, but now, during my third pregnancy, I wish I could go back and tell myself a few things. I wish I could say:
“Make whatever choice you want, but know that while offering pain up to God is valuable, pain relief doesn’t reduce the spiritual value of your labor and delivery, because pain isn’t what makes a prayer worthwhile. After all, connection with God isn’t a transactional thing, where the more hardship you give him, the closer He comes to you. God is so, so much more generous than that.”
I can’t go say it to my past self, so I’ll say it to you:
First of all, dear, beautiful, daunted mother-to-be, you already are pleasing God.You’re giving birth to one of his children! You’ve sacrificed your body already, to give this baby everything she needs! Whether that journey has felt blissful or terrifying, or both, you have been doing God’s will for nine months already, just by carrying this child.
You are already pleasing God. And pleasing God is actually much simpler than I used to think.
It was Catherine Doherty, a candidate for sainthood, who helped me understand this. She said, “The duty of the moment is the duty of God.” Doing God’s will is a kind of prayer, and whatever task is in front of you to do, that’s what God is asking you to do. That’s your prayer.
When a woman is in labor, she has a task in front of her — to give birth to her baby. That is God’s will in the moment. Giving birth is a prayer, because it is doing God’s will. How she will give birth is less important than her choice to offer the moment, whatever it brings, to God.
Catherine wrote, “As this duty of the moment is the will of the Father, we must give our whole self to that. When we do so, we can be certain that we are living in the truth, and hence in love, and hence in Christ. Doing the duty of the moment means focusing our whole person—heart, soul, body, emotions, intellect, memory, imagination — on the job at hand.”
What she’s describing is something every laboring woman can do, regardless of how she chooses to manage her pain. It’s the duty of the moment, in the end, that is all God asks of us. It’s all we can do, but it’s also the very best we have to give. What that will look like is different for every person — and that’s okay. God knows that our lives and our needs are different.
I’m not sure yet what kind of childbirth experience I’m going to choose, this third time around. I’m so much more peaceful though, knowing that I’m not choosing between the spiritual and the mundane, between my will and God’s will. It’s giving birth that matters most, and how that happens may not be as important as I used to think.
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