06 September 2010

What Pregnancy, Labor, and the Birth of My Son Taught Me About Christ

In celebration of Labor Day, I'm sharing some thoughts on my son's birth and linking up with The Finer Things in Life.

Being a woman and having kids is hard, and Eve seems to take the blame for every unpleasant part. Sometimes I think we look at Adam and Eve and it seems that God was saying, "Eve, you really messed up. So for your punishment, you have to have babies, and boy is it ever going to hurt! Adam, you messed up, too. But since you only did it because Eve said so, I'm going to make you the boss of her."

As I've reflected on the Fall, it seems that God is really saying, not just to Adam and Eve, but to each of us, "Now that you've transgressed, there is only one way to be in my presence again, and that is through my Son, Jesus Christ. So I have specific roles and responsibilities for each of you that will help you know Him better.

"Adam, you will have the responsibility and stewardship over your wife and family. As you learn to love and lead them, think of Christ's perfect leadership of the Church." Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25).

"Eve, you will have the responsibility to bring new life into the world. As you carry, deliver, and give life to a child, you will learn about how Christ carries, delivers, and gives life to His children. Your body will be a symbol of Christ's sacrifice. Like Him, you will give new life through pain, suffering, water, and blood."

These ideas about my body's fertility being a testament of Christ came late in the pregnancy of my first child. I was reading about Christ's Atonement in a talk by Merrill J. Bateman:

The prophet Abinadi . . . states that "when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed" (Mosiah 15:10). Abinadi then identifies the Savior's seed as the prophets and those who follow them. For many years I thought of the Savior's experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. Through the words of Alma, Abinadi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt "our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15), "[bore] our griefs, . . . carried our sorrows . . . [and] was bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:4-5).

The Atonement was an intimate, personal experience in which Jesus came to know how to help each of us.

The following Sunday I sat during the Sacrament pondering these words. "Did Christ really suffer so personally for me?" My hands then rested on my bulging belly, and I thought about the baby boy inside. I already loved him so much. I was already willing to make incredible sacrifices for him.

It was in that moment that I realized Christ's suffering for me was very personal. It was not just as if He spent a few moments of His Atonement just on my sins and sorrows. It was as if He carried me for a full nine months and with great pain gave me life, so I would be his "seed."

My eyes fell to the hymnbook in my lap, and I read these words:

Oh, love effulgent, love divine!
What debt of gratitude is mine,
That in his off'ring I have part
And hold a place within his heart.

A few weeks later I was lying on a hospital bed, silently breathing through increasingly difficult contractions. I began to pray instinctively, without really even thinking, "Heavenly Father. This is really starting to hurt. Could you please make this go away?" Then I realized, Of course it's not going away! It's going to get worse! That epidural was really starting to sound good. But I thought of Christ's prayer, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). For Christ, there was no epidural! There was no other way. But He was willing.

Another half hour brought me through an intense transition and I was already pushing when my epidural showed up, so I chose to go on without it. Pushing took all my strength and concentration, and I felt everything that was happening.

I remember the moment my baby entered this world. I remember the gush of blood and water that came after his body slipped out. (John 19:34) I remember the sense of accomplishment and joy I felt.

I could hear my son crying as the nurses cleaned him and wrapped him up on the other side of the room. My husband stood beside him and spoke softly. "It's okay, Baby. You're okay. Daddy's here. Don't cry. You're okay." Our son stopped crying and turned his head toward the sound. His eyes blinked slowly and he was calm. Not only had I give my baby life, I had brought him into the presence of his father. And he knew, recognized, listened to and obeyed his father's voice.

I am amazed at the privilege I have to participate, with God, in the creation of life. I am amazed at the ways my body reminds me of Christ's pain and suffering, whether I'm expecting or giving birth to a baby, or even during my cycle. Cramping pain, fatigue, and bleeding can all be reminders to me of the way Christ suffered. My body retains water as part of its process to give life, and Christ is the "Living Water" (see John 4:10, 14). My mood swings or hormonal depression feel like sadness that came from outside of myself and yet become a part of me, and I remember that "surely [Christ] hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4).

It feels impossible to comprehend all that Christ suffered for me and for each of us. But I am grateful that I could bleed and suffer to a small extent to bring life to my child. It makes me love Him better, to want to depend on Him as much as my infant babies depend on me, and to be more like Him. How wonderful it is that I have been "born again" of Him and that He has given me new life (John 3:3).

8 comments:

  1. How beautiful! There are so many times where childbirth is used in simile in Scripture (Rom. 8:22 comes to mind) that have new meaning to me now that I've experienced it for myself, but I never thought of these things. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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  2. Joanna--so true! My mom (who gave birth to 6...5 of which w/no epidural!) has said several times that childbirth reminds her of Jesus' experience...esp where the Bible says that "for the joy set before Him He endured the cross." Because after birth, you so quickly forget the pain because it is surpassed by joy!

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  3. @Amy & Alicia: I hadn't thought of those scriptures. Wonderful ideas!

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  4. Not that long ago I learned to view sexuality and the Fall in a new way--the idea that all division between the sexes came about *because* of it--that in God's plan, we were all supposed to be equal partners and helpmates, with complementary roles, in the first place. It was (and remains) sin that messed/messes it up.

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  5. Joanna, your post just gave me goosebumps...and made me think. Birth really is a great analogy of the cross in many ways. So much pain must be endured...but the result is pure joy. The "suffering" is more than worth it.

    After both of my [drug-free] births, I thought, "That was horrible! But I would do it again in a heartbeat for this sweet baby in my arms!"

    stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

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  6. Joanna,

    This was so beautiful. I love how you perceived the pains of childbirth as a sacrifice for God and your child. I had two natural births and i hadn't even considered it as an act for God, only my children. Thanks for that fresh perspective!

    Amy

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  7. Beautiful, Joanna. Beautiful. :)

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