Birth, Faith, and Feeling It All

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On February 3, we welcomed James Robert Steere into our family. He was himself from the very first moment: wide-eyed, curious, expressive. Six weeks later, we’re still getting to know him and finding joy in his little personality. We’re exhausted, of course, and I’ve been too hands-full to blog, but life is also incredibly sweet with James now in it.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about his birth and how that winter morning changed everything for me. I knew early on in my pregnancy that I wanted a natural birth. I was well-read on the benefits of unmedicated labor for both mom and baby, but there was also a part of me that simply wanted to be present for the process, even if it meant experiencing pain.

Looking back, I’m so thankful I chose to feel it.

I’ve heard so many horror stories about childbirth, but after experiencing it myself, I have a hard time even using the word “pain” to describe it. Don’t get me wrong, it was definitely uncomfortable, intense, and even scary at times, but it wasn’t the same as everyday pain. It followed a different logic, releasing as I surrendered to it, guiding me towards the best positions and pushes to bring my baby into the world.

The sensations of labor didn’t just happen to me, they taught me how to do the work of birth. It was like climbing a mountain: exhausting and gut-twisting, but also challenging and purposeful. Each pain coaxed me to take another step, dig in just a little more. When I did, my body would relax, and I knew I was that much closer to the final payoff.

When James came out, he looked straight at me, and it was the most surreal, transcendent moment of my life. As I held his tiny body to my chest, I knew exactly what it took to bring him there. I had felt every turn of his body inside mine, to the final push. I’ve never felt prouder of what my body could do.

I’ve always loved Brene Brown‘s metaphor that faith is more like a midwife than an epidural:

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.”  

Having gone the midwife route, I can attest that labor and faith are the same this way: the discomfort is useful. It leads you, step by aching step, to the mountaintop experience. When you finally drop the cross you’ve carried to the top, the lightness is ever so sweet.

In our culture, it’s become increasingly easy to numb ourselves or try to avoid discomfort, be it physical, relational, or spiritual. But more often than not, this leads to other problems, or simply delays the pain. One of the reasons I chose not to have an epidural is that it often lengthens labor and increases the mother’s chances of having major tears or a c-section. The intensity of labor is lessened, but postpartum recovery is far more difficult.

In the same way, when we numb ourselves to relational or spiritual pain, we ignore the signals that say, “Hey, something needs to change here!” and let the problem drag on. Instead of growing, we wallow in the half-felt pain for longer than necessary.

But faith—that bold midwife—whispers to us: You can do this. 

And the women who’ve gone before say: If I can, you can. 

And we all lean in a little bit more. And we all push and breathe, believing the end will come. We remember that it’s good to feel, that pain can teach us and guide us in ways that comfort never could. We remember that we were built to do incredible, difficult things.

And then, miraculously, something new—or someone new—is born.

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5 thoughts on “Birth, Faith, and Feeling It All

  1. So glad you are writing again – what an awesome article. So happy for your experience as I know that is really the way you wanted it to be. Love you.

  2. Elizabeth, this is a lovely article and I’m so glad that you and Sam are enjoying your first, exhausting weeks with this new life. As one who was completely prepared for and committed to natural childbirth, but ended up with an unexpected medical situation that required a Cesarean section, I am very grateful for the wonderful doctors and nurses who allowed for a safe birth and healthy baby and mom.

    1. Me too. I had some postpartum bleeding issues, and I was very thankful for intervening medicine then. I think you just do the best you can to prepare for the birth, and then adjust accordingly when new circumstances arise.

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