Birth/Rebirth: Bring Them Home

Posted by on January 14, 2014 in women | 15 comments

By Liz Johnson, a wife, mother of four, and a birth doula in Northern Indiana.

As a birth doula, I see birth metaphors everywhere I go.  I’ll be driving down the street and find myself pondering how much that distant tree looks like a healthy placenta.  I hear a story of an airline pilot safely bringing a plane to land and I think of strong women and their guides, safely bringing children in the world.  I see ducks and ducklings crossing the pond and I find myself ruminating over whether human birth or poultry birth would be less comfortable.  And so it’s no wonder that when I read the story (and hear the beautiful music) of “Les Miserables,” I think of birth.

In this story, Jean Valjean is a recently paroled criminal with few resources and a hardened soul.  When he finds refuge with M. Myriel, the kindly bishop of Digne, he repays him by stealing his silver and fleeing into the night.  When he’s caught with this silver, Myriel doesn’t just pardon him, but covers for him and gifts him the silver, admonishing him to use it to become an honest man.  Valjean goes on to live a life of service and compassion, having been transformed by the love shown to him earlier.  At the end of the story, Valjean intercedes to save the life of the man his daughter loves, taking the wounded man from the battlefield and asking God to save this man’s life, even offering his own life in place.

God on High,
hear my prayer.
In my need,
You have always been there.

Giving birth has almost always been revered as a sacred time, one to be protected and honored.  It is also a historically dangerous time – there are still places in the world today where a woman has a 1 in 8 chance of dying in childbirth during her lifetime.  And while modern medicine and public health standards have helped lower maternal mortality rates in most countries, childbirth is still a tenuous time in a woman’s life.  Historically in the LDS church, women were sometimes anointed and given blessings by other women to protect them during childbirth, and today, many women are given priesthood blessings and are prayed for prior to (and during) childbirth.

She is young,
She’s afraid
Let her rest,
Heaven blessed.


As a doula, one of my many roles is to protect the sanctity of the experience for the mother and her family and to help guide her through this vulnerable experience.  Especially when a mother is giving birth for the first time, there is a lot of fear and uncertainty that can come into play – childbirth is an all-encompassing physical experience that can be frightening and overwhelming.  I have a role similar to that that was occupied by a woman’s mother, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and other close friends historically – I am there to help her, guide her, buoy her, and reassure her.

Bring him home
Bring her home
Bring them home.

I would argue that childbirth is not only sacred, but a sanctifying experience.  It is one of many life experiences in which we dedicate ourselves to a higher purpose, and to God.  We set ourselves apart and consecrate our bodies to the creation of another person, putting ourselves at risk for the sake of another being.  It is a very tangible symbol of Christ’s atonement for us – as He spilled blood, so we spill blood.  As he endured pain for the sake of others, so we endure pain for the sake of others.

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let her live.

It is no coincidence in my mind that the scriptures are heavy with birth metaphors to describe Christ’s atonement, and its relationship to us.  In John, Christ himself relates his upcoming death and resurrection to childbirth, saying “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”  And how can we forget the phrase “born again,” usually used to suggest that a person has developed a relationship with (and perhaps a growing similitude to) Christ?   As such, when a woman carries a child and submits to the uncertainty and inherent selflessness of pregnancy and childbirth, she becomes, in some small way, a symbol of Christ.  She endures the discomforts, the pains, the fear – all for the higher purpose of bringing new life into the world.  It is often the first sanctifying experience of many in which a mother sets aside her will for the well-being of another.  Truly, as we give birth to another, we are ourselves in some ways, born again.

If I die,
Let me die
Let him live
Bring her home.

In “Les Miserables,” Jean Valjean endures his own travail of being born again – he is broken, abused, and disenchanted by his circumstances, but the love shown to him by the kindly bishop sets him on a path of love and forgiveness.  Yet I would argue that he’s born again in the story.  When his daughter’s young love, Marius, is preparing to battle at the barricade, Jean Valjean has every incentive to let the man go to fight.  Valjean could stay hidden, with his young daughter to care for him in his old age, and his longtime pursuer (Javert) will remain captive at the barricade and unable to arrest him.  Instead, he puts his own life on the line for both his daughter and Marius, mercifully freeing Javert and rescuing Marius from certain death.  He could have been arrested, wounded, or killed, but as he sings in the musical adaptation of the novel, he is willing to set aside his own needs, and even die, for those he loves.

Bring them home.
Bring them home.

And so, it is no wonder that when I come upon a woman heavy with child, perhaps uncertain with fear of what will be required of her to bring forth new life, or struggling through the more difficult parts of birth, I can’t help but relate these brave women to the courageous Jean Valjean.  They are putting themselves at risk for the love of another person, and what could be more Christlike?  And so, in my work with them, I pray - God on high, hear my prayer.  Bring this child home to its mother.  Bring this mother closer to God.  Bring them both safely home, a new mother with a new babe tucked safely in her arms.

Bring them home.

Liz 1

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15 Comments

  1. This is so powerful, Liz Johnson! Thank you for sharing it. I looked into becoming a doula briefly at one stage, but I didn’t feel like I would be very good at it. Partly fear, partly a sense of inadequacy. This was when I was not active in the church, so had no concept of LDS doulas– probably because of my introduction with doulas in my “less active” LDS state. In this, I love the connections you have made in “bring them home.” I believe I always felt like home was meant to be with Heavenly Parents somewhere in the sky; but in truth, this life is a home for all of us– one that we sought and fought for. I love this grounding sense that you introduced– it is new for me, and I like it. I like it very much. Thank you!!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Spunky!

  2. I was so grateful to have had a doula there for my first delivery. She got me through natural childbirth and I know I wouldn’t have died without her, but I would have felt much more stress. In a hospital they’re expertly equipped to deal with problems, but not so much to help you through labor.

    I’ve always loved the story of Les Miserables, I have to believe in redemption and rebirth or life is just too bleak. Thanks for this post, Liz.

    • As you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of doulas for exactly that reason. I’m so glad you had a good experience with yours!

    • I am so grateful that I had a doula with me, too. Her care felt invaluable.

  3. Thank you for this, Liz.

    After I gave birth to Cora, I was trying to explain to Spencer what it was like for me, and the best way I knew how to put it, was to say that it was the closest to “descending below all things” that I have ever been. What I didn’t say then, is that finishing what was required of me, and holding my daughter afterward was likely the closest I have ever been to “ascending above all things.”

    I did feel close to Christ in the many sacrifices required, and I agree that it is both sacred and sanctifying.

    I also really love the words and metaphor you chose from the French classic. My great hope in birth was to bring Cora home.

    • Thank you for these kind words, Rachel. I felt very unexpectedly sanctified after having my baby, feeling almost like I had transcended something (despite it being a rather traumatic experience overall). I definitely don’t feel like it’s the only sacred/sanctifying experience of motherhood (or womanhood), or that it’s the “best” one – but it surely is a big one for many women.

  4. What a beautiful post, Liz. I love the way you wove Val Jean’s story into your thoughts about being a doula. (Les Miserables is one of my all time favorite stories.) I myself chose to get epidurals and have the regular hospital birth experience — and I’m ok with that — but I do feel sad that I missed out on the doula and midwife experience. That would have been amazing and sacred, to be helped along so intimately and lovingly by a woman like you along the way.

    • Thanks, Caroline. I also had hospital births (and three with epidurals – no judgment here, they were awesome!). :)

  5. This is lovely, Liz. You are so blessed to have found this call to help other women through childbirth. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Liz, this is so beautiful and just what I had in mind for our Sacred Music series (http://www.the-exponent.com/sacred-music-a-new-series-on-the-exponent/)–if you wanted to submit something else :)

    Thank you for serving in this sacred calling.

  7. Thank you, this is so beautiful. I had very similar thoughts after giving birth to my first child, and you have expressed them so profoundly. I felt like I had a much more tangible feeling for the greatness of the worth of souls, and I love the expression of mothers as a type for the Savior.

    I also had the assistance of a fantastic doula. She was like an angel to our family- it’s amazing work that you do!

  8. Thanks for these insights. I am forwarding onto a doula client right now. :)
    Have you read The Gift of Giving Life? There are great spiritual comparisons regarding birth in there as well.
    I love how you tied it all together with the song from Les Miserable.

    • Sheridan – I have! I bought it when it first came out and have recommended it to so many friends and clients. It’s a wonderful book!

  9. Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss and would really
    like to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would value your work.
    If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

    my blog; go here (Ashly)

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