"Many women have described their experiences of childbirth as being associated with a spiritual uplifting, the power of which they have never previously been aware...To such a woman childbirth is a monument of joy within her memory. She turns to it in thought to seek again an ecstasy which passed too soon."

Grantly Dick-Read

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

the spirituality of birth

i am really curious to hear what my readers have to say about this subject...so please, please, please comment! it doesn't matter what "kind" of birth you've had...epidural, c-section, natural...please leave your thoughts.

i have been reflecting A LOT (i'm a birth junky now) about my birth experiences. something i have thought a lot about is the spirituality of each of my births.

my son's birth, in a hospital with an epidural, was a beautiful experience. HE made me a mother! it was overwhelming, surreal, peaceful, calm...incredible. but i would not say that the labor and delivery in and of itself was a deeply spiritual experience. it was spiritual, yes - because how could a birth not be spiritual on some level? with my belief that a baby is coming straight from being with our Heavenly Father, it would have to have some level of spirituality. but what i am trying to say i guess, is that it was not some incredibly deep spiritual experience that left me changed. the moments and days after his birth were actually incredibly and deeply spiritual for me - i looked at my tiny baby, swelled with love, and realized how much i was loved by my Heavenly Father. but again, the actual labor and delivery itself were not deeply spiritual - for me.

i contrast that with my daughter's birth, naturally at home in the same room in which she was conceived. i would use the same words about her birth as i did with my son's: overwhelming, surreal, peaceful, calm...incredible. but i would add - deeply spiritual. i believe that i was able to have such a deep spiritual experience with her birth because i gave birth naturally. i felt every emotion God intended a woman to feel as she birthed her baby and i feel that that experience connected me with Him, even more. the sacrifice that i made, physically, to birth her - can be contrasted with the Savior's Atonement - He gave His life that we may live. He shed blood, just as i shed blood. there was a moment everyone told me i would experience in a natural birth...a moment where you would "walk through the valley of the shadow of death." and when you reached that moment, it would be the end and be almost over. i truly experienced that moment - the moment where it was so intense, the tightening of my uterus so strong, that i almost felt like i could not do it anymore - that is when i relied on my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ - i knew they were with me and i knew i could do it. the next instant, my body felt an overwhelming urge to push and my daughter was delivered. i feel that the sacrifice i made - and the intensity that i felt in doing so, led me to have such a deeply spiritual experience with her birth. i did not come even close to feeling that intensity with my son's birth - it was quite literally numbed. for me, i felt the medicine numbed my ability to have that transforming experience.

i am interested in how you feel. what was your birth like? did you use medication or did you do it naturally? did you have a deeply spiritual experience? or, if you had medicine, were you sort of "numb" to the experience like i was? there is no right or wrong answer here. in fact, i just read about a woman who has had several children, all with epidurals, and feels that her children's births have been incredibly spiritual. i am just mostly curious to see how birth has been for you - i love to hear about other women's experiences and i think we can all learn something from each other, so please, please share! you will make my day :)

if you want to read a couple of blog posts that will sort of be "food for thought" on this subject, please read this, this, and this. the first link is especially for an LDS birther since it deals a lot with LDS theology, the second link is a beautiful insight on the pain of childbirth by a local (mesa) midwife, and the last link talks about ecstasy and transcendence in childbirth - i especially love the last two paragraphs.


  1. I'm happy to share!

    Before I received an epidural, I had a good two hours of INTENSE labor, steady and quick dilation, and no water to help absorb the strength of the contractions. I was SO glad I had practiced breathing techniques because it was the most total body, overwhelming, intense pain I have ever experienced in my life and deep breathing, vocalizing, and trying to mentally remove myself from the pain were the only things that got me through. But there did come a point where for about a half hour I really believed I couldn't do it anymore; It got so bad I spent the entire 2.5 minutes between contractions shaking and crying and begging Lee to make it stop-- there was no relaxation and I totally lost my ability to deal with the pain.

    It was at this point that I felt I was actually losing my ability to have a deeply spiritual connection with the birth of my baby. I wanted to focus on the sacrifice my body was making. I wanted to reflect on the atonement and the Savior's gift of death so I might have the gift of life. I wanted to ponder the power of creation that Lee and I had been given and joyfully welcome our first baby into our family and into the world. And for me, I couldn't do any of those things because I was so overwhelmed by the pain I was feeling.

    After I received my epidural and was able to regain control of myself and my body, my attitude immediately changed. The fear left me and I felt the spirit so strongly. Especially as I was pushing and ESPECIALLY as my baby entered the world. For me, because I didn't have to focus on the pain, I was able to focus while I was pushing on where my baby's spirit might have been just moments before. I was able to think about just how amazing my body is. I was able to ponder on sacrifice and on love.

    At one point while pushing, I found myself laughing about something (I don't remember what). My OB remarked that when I laughed my body actually pushed the baby out better than when I concentrated on pushing. So we decided I was going to 'laugh my baby into the world'. That instantly stuck with me and has stayed with me ever since. I've always had a very happy personality and smiling and laughing are as natural as breathing. So for me, there was no better, more spiritual way to welcome my baby to the world than to do it joyfully laughing and crying tears of happiness (as opposed to the tears of pain and fear I shed earlier).

    In the moments after she was born, Lee and I sat and marveled at her and at what we had just done. And every time she opened her eyes and stared into space, I wondered if she was communing with the angels.

    I had an extremely spiritual experience with her birth, and I know that that was only possible (for me) because of the epidural. The only thing that kept me from feeling like my experience wasn't 100% as spiritual as it could have been was my own worry as to how my body would personally react during labor (i.e. would I be one of those women who labor for 3 hours or 30, push for 3 minutes or 3 hours, etc.) Now that I know more of what to expect from my body, I have every hope that I will have a DEEPLY spiritual connection with the birth of our son. The only things I will change this time around are: I plan on asking for an epidural sooner and I plan on taking several birthing and Lamaze classes to better prepare myself in the event that the birth does not go as planned. (3 out of 4 times my mother birthed too quickly to even get an epidural and I do not want to come unprepared!)

    I have every confidence in my body and in my care provider and I know that if I needed to, I would be able to birth my baby without any pain medication. But I also feel that choosing an epidural is my path to the most personal, spiritual experience possible for me.

    Isn't it amazing that different women can seek the same thing and both find it it two totally different ways?!

  2. Sorry... did not realize my comment was going to be that long. :)

  3. jaclyn - what a beautiful experience! thank you so much for sharing. i like the laughing thing :) i can see how that would be really effective!

    i think you're wise to prepare yourself in the case that perhaps you couldn't get an epidural as quickly as you'd like. mental preparation is by far the best way to deal with the pain, i've found. it would definitely be a very overwhelming, possibly scary experience if you had to deal with the "pain" of natural childbirth and weren't prepared for it. i have found that the phrase "if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" is super applicable to natural childbirth - with preparation, i didn't fear the "pain" at all! i am working on a fear-tension-pain post that you might find helpful as you prepare!

  4. I've actually been looking forward to that post since I saw you were planning on writing about it on your sidebar!

    I thought I was prepared with my daughter, but I'd never done it before and I realize now how little I was prepared in case things didn't go as I'd planned.

    This time, I'd like to prepare as if I'm planning on not receiving an epidural. That way no matter what happens (barring unforeseen emergency complications) I'll be 100% prepared either way. I'm interested in how you prepared mentally and physically... For sake of blog space, I'll call you today and pick your brain. Thanks!

  5. Kami! Well, obviously I don't have anything to contribute to this subject yet, but I just wanted to comment and say that I'm reading and loving this blog! It is helping me look forward to the thought of pregnancy one day rather than fear it! : ) Keep up the good work!

  6. Kami-I have to say that many of my deeply spiritual experiences have come with working with women in labor. I feel the spirit so strongly as I breathe with them, look them in the face, tell them they are amazing, that they are doing it. Then to have them ask me to pray for them, to stay here, to watch the tears as a new baby is welcomed, to see amazing pain turn to amazing joy. I have never felt like I was so much a part of Heavenly Fathers work, as I do when I am with women in labor. While I serve women who have epidurals also, it is much more emotionally removed. I still work with them, and sometimes they still struggle with the birth, especially if it's a hard one, but it's different.

    Some of my favorite expereinces are from women whom I've connected to very personally because I have been right there with them, focusing with them. When a women looks at me afterwards and tells me she couldn't have done it without me, I feel a great sense of peace...not because it was me, but because there was an act of love, selflessness, and a hard won goal. We become a team.

    And then I think, man, if women could do this more with their husbands that would be even cooler. I try and help the husband to help his wife, but many are uncomfortable playing that role. It is very intimate...but I think it helps strengthen a relationship incredibly to have to work together like that.

    The only other thing I would add, is that my own births become more spiritual as I contemplate them afterwards. I didn't think about it during my labors. I didn't even try to, but I do remember feeling peaceful, happy and joyful, even with the pain. I actually did a lot of laughing too, in between contractions. Laughing is a great way to actually work through labor pains:)

  7. Kamille, I've found your posts to be very inspirational. I loved reading about your daughter's birth, although I have to admit I was initially shocked to read you had her at home. Shocked because I don't feel comfortable doing the same. I've been planning to have #2 at the hospital with an epidural, just like #1. I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience, but I believe it's mostly because I didn't let the "foreign-nesss" of the hospital get to me. I also didn't let the nurses boss me around. When they recommended that I wait an hour before pushing I told them no and to get the doctor up here too. When I felt concerned that my daughter hadn't been returned to my room after what I felt was plenty of time to do whatever test they needed to do, I got out of bed with my dressing gown clenched behind me and told them to bring her back! But in hindsight I do see how being in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by your things, and not by machines would only increase your comfort with the whole process. I don't know if it is because I lack the confidence or like to plan for the worst, by I guess I still prefer to go to the hospital. What if something did go wrong and I suddenly needed a C-section, ya know? The "what if" always gets me. Plus I really liked the epidural. I guess I also get worried that I'm taking the "easy way" because I can. The other reason I'm planning on another epidural is because I've had no preparation in a natural birth, no lamaze or anything else. I also feel lots of pressure from both sides of my family: my mother thinks epidural is a must...my mother-in-law and her daughter are all about home births. And I feel that those two sides are both judging me. I know I really shouldn't care what they think, that this is all about me and my child, but I still do. Maybe confidence is what I lack! Anyways, any feedback your have is great, and I'll keep reading your blog. Thanks a bunch, Katherine.

  8. Great post, Kamille! Do you think your friend, Jaclyn might be willing to share her spiritual birth experience for the LDS birth book? And did you submit your story yet, Kamille? :-)

  9. This is an interesting topic, and I do believe that births have the potential to be very spiritual depending on the circumstances.

    I had a c/s with my first pregnancy because my twins were breech. I feel there was a lack of spirituality in my birth experience due to my situation. When I look back at the birth I can see that same act of sacrifice that you refer to, the offering up of my body in order to bring life into the world. Offering more in ways then I had originally anticipated, both physically and emotionally. I was too drugged and exhausted to feel very much of anything when they were born.
    I'm confident that my vbac will provide a much better experience.