I’m not big on straight-up reading the Bible. I use it more as a reference text, since I’m already familiar enough with the stories, evidence, and goings-on to get by on a daily basis. Occasionally I’ll go back and read favorite bits, but it’s when I need something from it.
One of the pieces of “homework” we had for our childbirth class series was to write up a list of “birth affirmations” to help orient ourselves, boost confidence, give comfort, and generally be useful or strengthening things to keep in mind during pregnancy and labor. I tried to think of some on my own, but they were pretty lame, and when I went online to find out what other sorts of birth affirmations there are out there that other people use, a lot of it was pretty hippy, birthing in the ocean at sunrise with dolphins stuff. Oh well, it’s the nature of the beast. So I figured, what the heck, people always find inspirational stuff in the Bible and plaster it all over greeting cards, posters, notepads, picture frames, wall plaques, garden stones, etc. Normally I think that sort of thing is simplistic and kinda twee, but people wouldn’t go to the Bible if it didn’t help.
So first I just started reading through Proverbs because those are short, pithy, and cover a wide range of topics, but I wasn’t finding anything that really fit so I decided to change tactics. Conservative Protestants have this kind of Bible verse plucking thing in the bag, so I hitched up my evil man pants and looked for the most crunchy-Christian Providentialist forum I could find, stumbled across a “What Bible verse did God send to you while you were pregnant/laboring” type thread and was instantly submerged in Bible verses. Pig in clover. These women were amazing. There was one lady who just posted HUGE strings of book, chapter, and verse. I had a list of over 100 selections to look up at the end, and they weren’t all single verses; some of them were paragraphs and a few were entire Psalms. I went through and crossed off the ones which didn’t really resonate with me or which seemed like a stretch (but if someone else found them inspiring, more power to them, they just weren’t for me) and came up with these results:
1 Samuel 1:27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request.
Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
John 16:21 When a women is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.
Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Psalm 127:3 Children too are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward.
Psalm 139: 13 You formed my inmost being; You knit me in my mother’s womb.
Isaiah 40:31 They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint.
Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed, I am your God. I will strengthen you, and help you, and uphold you with My right hand of justice.
Isaiah 66:9 Shall I bring a mother to the point of birth, and yet not let her child be born? says the Lord; or shall I who allow her to conceive, yet close her womb? says your God.
Philippians 4:6-7 Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guide your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:13 I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.
Joshua 1:9 I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear or be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.
II Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control.
I know the first part of this post sounds pretty flippant, like I was just “using” the Bible to fill in some superficial feel-good assignment. Well, I hate to admit it, but I was out of my comfort zone when I began this project, so in my mind I was keeping it somewhat at arm’s length. I felt like it was cheating to take verses out of context and reinterpret them to fit childbirth – especially the ones about preparing for battle, surviving attempts at cultural genocide, resisting temptations to sin, and standing for the truth when other people want to stone you to death. I felt like I was cheapening these verses, turning them into some kind of sentimental Footprints in the Sand or Thomas Kinkade thing.
But I kept reading, and letting the words rumble around in my brain. And eventually I realized that this is exactly the kind of language that resounds with me. Pregnancy and birth are already saturated in femininity – also the nature of the beast, since it’s females who do it – and to read all these verses written by men, using masculine language, getting that masculine perspective (all right, the one from Samuel is a quote from his mother Hannah) on matters of importance which – yes! – can be applied to childbirth without compromising their integrity. I think God in His wisdom allowed much of the Bible to be worded in such a way that it is both clearly rooted to its concrete context, but also is deeper than that, has more layers than that, and can be applied to many different situations. What I’m trying to say is that God didn’t limit Himself to talking about the matter at hand. He really does talk about all aspects of the human condition for everyone everywhere (maybe in more general terms than they’d like, which is why I think it’s weird when people consult the Bible to find out things like what car they should buy, as though the Bible is some kind of oracle) through a very old collection of documents written by Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish men about things which largely pertained to their people and, later, their converts. To some extent I already knew that – Catholics aren’t literalists, after all – but this project really drove it home. I wasn’t co-opting the traditions of someone very different from me and forcing them to mean what I want them to mean – they’re written there for me too, to come across and adopt for myself.
I need battle language because I’m fighting an environment that tells me to call it off, get the drugs, and obey the nurses and doctor without question or concern. I need battle language because I’m fighting my own fears, insecurities, dislike of pain, impatience, and desire for control. I need survival language because I need to be able to last through a contraction, shake it off, and brace myself for the next one. I need survival language to hang in there while there’s bone pushing against bone, and then the baby’s crowning and my perineum’s suffering skid marks or tearing. I need resistance language not to give up, call myself a failure, tell myself I’m not going to be able to do this, or just plain whine and complain the whole time. I need strengthening language to know that I am not doing this alone, I am not working with merely human assistance, and that I do not have to rely solely on my own efforts.
So God said, “Hey, I want to talk to you; I have some things to say that you need to hear.” He just happened to say them thousands of years ago.
Well, I’m listening.