I have gone through birth personally two times and accompanied women and their partners through birth as a doula several more. There is nothing like it — the expectancy, the hope, the excitement, the joy, the pain, the grit and hard work — birth defies categorization and each woman’s experience is as unique as the woman herself. But most women, me included, hold a special place in our hearts for those who accompany us during these hours — sometimes days — of transition into motherhood — whether for the first time or the 10th. Especially the presence of other women as doctor, nurse, midwife, doula, friend, mother, sister — women who guide, steady and strengthen us as we maneuver the rocky swells of labor and birth.
You don’t forget these women. Still today, 8 years later, when I see the doctor who attended the birth of my twin daughters it’s like seeing a long lost friend. This woman saw me safely through the most monumental, harrowing, and joyful experience of my life — becoming a mother. And though I know she’s caught hundreds, maybe thousands of babies, I still steer my girls in her direction at the grocery store or the park to say, “Do you remember Dr. Valentine? She was the first person to hold you in her hands when you were born.” I honestly don’t know how she gets through public places in a timely manner.
The birth of my son, three years later, was attended by a midwife in our home. It was very different, while being completely the same as with the girls. There was the excitement, the support of those around me and the ultimate moment of truth, where I understood no one could save me or do this for me. I was the one who needed to find the courage to have this baby. A few minutes before Jackson was born, I remember making eye contact with Debbie, my midwife, and saying “I’m scared.” Taking my hand in hers, she looked at me and asked, “What are you scared of?”
Today we celebrate motherhood in all its guts and glory. In the Gospel of Luke, when the Angel Gabriel comes to ask Mary to be the mother of Jesus, he tells her, “do not be afraid.” Every mother who has born a living being within her own body, cradled a fragile newborn in her arms, or stayed up late waiting for a teenager to come home knows the aptness of these words, and the impossibility of always abiding by them. There is an awesome responsibility in bearing, birthing and caring for a child and the angel was right in cautioning Mary in the beginning, “Do not be afraid.” Even though your body, your life, your capability to love and cope will be stretched seemingly beyond their limits, do not be afraid. Don’t fear as you experience the power of childbirth, or on the many sleepless nights when your infant will cry and do what you might, you won’t be able to comfort him. Don’t weary as you wipe innumerable tears, and change countless diapers. Don’t fear even when you sometimes think you can’t go on. Do not be afraid. The Creator, the Divine Mother of all, is with you.
In the 22nd Psalm, the one that begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the image of God, the midwife: “Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast” (Psalm 22:9). This is the God who stays by us in our greatest joys and our greatest struggles, the God who reassures us through life’s labor pains. The God who safeguards the space we need to become the people we are called to be, to fight the battles we need to fight.
God is my midwife, of what should I fear?
• Katy Beedle Rice is the Director of Religious Education at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.