Labor and Redemption: Writhing

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24 NRSV).

I roll over with a groan. I’ve been in labor all day. I feel yet another contraction crest like a wave approaching the shore. The pain increases so slowly, this baby is taking her time. We try to sleep, but the aching contractions do not allow it. When I get up to walk and rock through each contraction Jamie rises to apply pressure to my back. I peer my immediate future to see only worsening pain. I hate this. I want it to be over. I want to meet my baby, but it is already taking so long. In a few hours we would head to the hospital. My midwife had concerns about my high blood pressure, and I was GBS+ requiring antibiotics before I birthed my daughter. I would arrive expecting only a few more hours of labor. Instead I would writhe for almost 24 more hours. Soon we would try different labor positions attempting to turn a stubborn baby, walk the halls trying to speed a slow labor, take a Benadryl encourage me to sleep for the first time in two days. I would cry in my husband’s arms asking him to help me, telling him I couldn’t do this much longer. I would look to him, as I so often do. He couldn’t help me, of course. Labor was not within his realm of power nor was it in mine. Childbirth neither waits nor hurries for us or for anyone. Try as I might, it is not in my control. So I writhe and I wait.

I will greatly increase your pain in childbearing, God warns Woman, in pain you will bring forth children.

What did Woman, her Man had not yet named her, think of this. What are children?, doubtful. Or what is childbirth?, maybe. Most likely, what is pain?

Pain. Her curse made my curse.  

Childbearing is the work of Woman, but no woman had every done it before this Woman. There was no one to teach her what would happen to her body and soul. She was the first to experience menstruation, the first to feel ill in pregnancy’s early weeks, the first to notice those little flutters accompanied by a strange, instinctive joy. She was the first to know the writhing of labor as her son descended her birth canal. When he was born, she was the first to know that elusive mother’s instinct as she pulled her rooting son to her breast. Dreadful pain; she knew it first and she knew it alone. Childbirth itself reminded her of the curse that ruled her. The curse of the Fall is not that she can feel hurt or will need healing from the destruction of pregnancy and childbirth. The curse of the Fall is death, whose symptom is pain. Though Woman conceived and bore three sons, childbirth is not her truest pain. Her firstborn taught her agony when he rose up to murder her secondborn. The prophet Simon poetically warned Mary, and all childbearers, about the newborn in her arms, a sword will pierce your soul.

Our children grow into awareness of a menacing world. My two treasures occupy a world that does not value them as I do. We thought darkness could be passive, abstract, but it enters our home, threatening to consume us. I rush to their sides, I hold them close willing my body to shield tender innocence, but I cannot remove fear, anger, confusion, sadness. At their deepest pain, my treasures resist my touch, my comfort, my love. I tell them my love can handle anger and rejection. I will not be moved. Though I am pierced, my love must persist.

I would gladly bear their pain in their place if only I could, but every hurt wounds my helpless hands and heart. A thousand tiny pierces, a thousand beyond what I think I can bear, yet bear it I must. I am so easily pierced because my soul breathes and walks outside of me. I flinch imagining the infinite scenarios in which harm could befall my daughters. My love is not strong enough to shield them from it all. Malice is a breath away from snatching them from my arms. Labor alone is not sufficient to teach the writhing of childbearing. Our children grow to become marked by their own signs of Death’s rule. This is the childbearer’s piercing.

Pain. My curse made her curse.

[1] Genesis 3:16; Luke 2:22-35

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