On birthdays.


(I am not quite a baby in the above picture, but you get the idea. And, I am crying, so maybe that halfway counts?)

Tomorrow is my birthday, and while I have always loved such celebration-days (both mine and other people’s), lately I have come to love birth stories. Thus, I have spent each of my siblings birthdays this past year, begging my mom for details: What happened that day? How did she feel? How did my dad feel? And so forth.

Thus I learned that before my oldest brother was born in Hawaii, my parents asked all of their friends with vehicles if they could borrow their car on the day of delivery, because the hospital was very, very far away, and that all of their friends said yes, but were sadly away on the day of delivery, so my dad frantically knocked on neighbor’s doors until he found someone with a car. He also told my mom that he was excited to deliver my brother himself. My mom thinks he was serious, but now my dad claims he said it to try to calm her, in case it became necessary. After they brought my brother home, Hawaiian women knocked on their door, to see the “pretty haole baby” with shocks and shocks of red hair.

My second oldest brother was paid for with some of my dad’s stained glass, and that the way the trade ended up working out the doctor owed them money after.

I learned again that one sister was a kicker, and that mine was my mother’s “most spiritual birth,” in part because of her remembrance and reliance on the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” I heard again that my youngest brother was announced to my parents, not with, “It’s a boy!” (which would have been appropriate in the pre-ultra sound days in which they bore children) but “It’s Samuel!” because the doctor knew: she had been waiting for him for four births. My mom’s doctor also gave her a bouquet with one small flower for each of her children, and one very large, and very blue chrysanthemum.

My husband’s sisters told me a story that I had been told by my husband himself–how he was carried home in a Christmas stocking–but they told me something else too, that he couldn’t have shared, and that was exactly how excited they were to have a brother.

Now I want to know even more details about births in general and mine in particular: how did my mom feel the very first time she found out she was pregnant? How did she feel the subsequent times? How did she feel when it was me? (I was not the first nor the last–was she still excited?) Then what about the pain and the discomfort of pregnancy and birth? What was that like for her? Was she tired for me? Hungry? Did she get nauseous? How many times did she wake up in the middle of the night? Did she have trouble going back to sleep? How many times did she break into a grin when she remembered that she was pregnant? Were the hard parts later swallowed up in joy? Could that much joy be born without sorrow, or suffering? What about love?

How does this relate to Christ? Both to his birth and to his death. (I am always amazed at these two book ends of life. They are so radical, and disruptive, and changing.) How did Mary feel? Was it hard for her to keep it in her heart, and not tell anyone? Did she want to shout her good news from the rooftops? Hers was the child that so many had waited for, that so many had anticipated. Was the waiting greater for her? Did that first advent feel like a lifetime? How many people looked at her unkindly, because they didn’t understand? Who showed her kindness, still? I know Joseph, who was visited by an angel, but who else? Were her pregnancy pains like other pregnancy pains, her nausea and sleeplessness like regular nausea and sleeplessness? Or, perhaps might have it been more divine than human? (My intuition tells me that it was not.)


Oh that I could have heard Mary’s birth experience from her own mouth. Or at least from her own blog. (Too bad she couldn’t have been the first Jewish/Mormon mommy blogger.)

How much does birth make women like Christ? To me it seems like so very much. This is not to say that women (such as myself) who have not given birth cannot be like Christ, or that birthing children is the only Christ-like thing women can do, because I do not believe that at all. I simply think that birth is powerful, and even Godly.

(I love this statue below. To me it screams: Mother Goddess.)


For those who have given birth, what was your experience like?

How did it shape you? Was it a particularly spiritual experience? (It is okay if it wasn’t, I promise.)

For everyone, what is the relationship between women and Christ, or birth and Christ? 

(Also for everyone) how is birth celebrated in your house?


Rachel is a PhD student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. She co-edited _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ with Joanna Brooks and Hannah Wheelwright. She is also a lover of all things books and bikes.

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22 Responses

  1. Corrina says:

    I like the idea of collecting my sibling’s birth stories from my mom. Great idea!

    With my ODD I had a very long pushing stage–3 hours. I was utterly exhausted and wiped out. And oh so sweaty. When her heart rate started to decelerate very quickly and sharply, my midwife calmly but urgently said to me, “You need to push hard and deliver her NOW.” I thought I didn’t have any strength left in me, but in that moment, I felt a connection to all the women who had delivered babies in time’s history. I don’t know if I’d call it “spiritual”–I guess I could–but I just felt this strength in thinking of all these women. I drew from that strength, and she was born with the next push. I’ll never forget the connection I felt in that moment to women throughout the world. I credit that connection to finding the strength to deliver her.

    Tonight I’ve felt very sad as I miscarried 6 months ago and my baby would’ve been born right about now. I have rationalized my sadness over this by thinking of all the pain and heartache that so many women go through due to pregnancy and childbirth–by reminding myself that “it’s just party of life” and that it happens all the time. But tonight I’m feeling extra sad and empty, feelings which I know I’ve put away as part of life’s misery. Intellectually I know that pain and sadness are part of this existence, but emotionally I’m just mad. Not to be a Debbie Downer to this post…but just felt like I could say it here.

    • Rachel says:

      You can say that here. And I’m glad that you did. Miscarriages are a large part of so many women’s birth narratives but are not often talked about, which I believe has the result of making women feel even more alone in their pain. And while it is part of life, and does happen frequently (as you noted) that does not mean that it isn’t a real loss, or still a loss, each time it happens.

      One woman very close to me had two miscarriages, one with her very first pregnancy, the other after she had a few children. It still did not make it hurt less. With the first she told me how excited she had been to be pregnant, and how she had told everyone(!) not even thinking about it, and then she never told people early again. With the second, she had had to be on bed rest for a significant portion of the pregnancy and still lost the baby, so when her next pregnancy also required bed rest, she just wished she knew whether it would work or not. She felt it would be easy if she could be certain it would be helpful, but she had no guarantee.

      There is a post I love at BCC about a woman’s miscarriage that is equal parts holy and harrowing. I will try to track it down later…

    • Rachel says:

      Here is the (beautiful) post I mentioned, which you may or may not find helpful: http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/03/05/reaching-for-her/

    • EmilyCC says:

      I just want to echo Rachel. I’m sorry for your loss, Corrina, and I’m glad you shared it here.

  2. I know they arent as first-person as your mothers birth stories, but have you thought of asking for stories from your father as well? I know my own experiences pale next to the experiences of my childrens mothers, but each one is seared into my memory just the same.

    • Rachel says:

      Frank, you make an excellent point. And I believe that you would be happy to know that I Have asked my dad about some of his birth experiences. It is how I knew that recalls telling my mom that he was excited to deliver the baby himself to try to help her calm down (it didn’t work), and how I know that he had a dream about me before I was born, that I would be a great missionary, that I mention briefly in another post: http://www.the-exponent.com/its-not-easy-being-green-neither-is-it-easy-being-a-full-time-female-missionary-for-the-lds-church/

      With their first baby, he also chose to give up his dream to play college basketball, even though he made the team, because with his school and work and new baby it was too much.

      I should ask him even more questions though, because I don’t exactly know how he felt about being a father, etc.

      What were your experiences like?

      • Almost thou persuadest me to write a series of blogposts for it on my own blog.

        My first, I remember the hours and hours of an incredible feeling of helplessness while the woman I loved was in pain, to being able to be a more direct support for her in labour, to the first time holding him, being amazed at what had been entrusted to us. Then at 5 days sending him and his mother up to Primary Childrens on a plane over a minor heart defect. Worked out, but was hairy.

        Second, a month of living a month at the Ronald McDonald house to keep watch on my wife for eclampsia, finally getting to the labour and watching the contractions do nothing more than slow the babys heartrate, then an emergency c-section that didn’t get as far as cutting (he decided he’d had enough and just slipped right out, a month-early very skinny baby). Again, holding him for the first time, that sense of peace and wonder.

        Third, new wife and several years of tries and miscarriages, having one finally make it past three months. (Fertility workups are not fun for anyone involved.) Being able to be a more experienced support to my wife who was terrified of childbirth. Months of giving my wife shots int he stomach to help keep this one. Having plans change to a c-section because the baby decided to go breach the day before the scheduled induction. Crying with my wife when we first heard her cry, and the joy at finding her get full marks for health. My first daughter, who I’m sure will be as beautiful as her mother. Fun with trying to slip in a syringe tube with the nipple to try and get nourishment into the baby (my wife makes almost no milk).

        Fourth, more fertility work, but easier since we’ve got the problem figured out. More shots. Aside from the concern for eclampsia, moved like clockwork. Still that sense of wonder and honor to be entrusted with these.

        Fifth (and last), our surprise baby – no fertility treatments, earlier than planned. Wife can finally give herself the shots needed to keep the baby. I spent much of the time worried I might lose her beacuse of the blood thinners, or from coming off them afterward. Getting confirmation of my wife’s impression that this was the last. Kind of sad, in its own way, but happy at the same time. More concerns over eclampsia, but otherwise a textbook c-section. Holding the baby while my wife was rushed out with a nurse on top of her holding the incision closed, because it wasnt closing right and decided to squirt blood. That should have been my point of most concern with the blood thinners she’d been on, but I got my own impression that it would be all right, and it was.

        Amazing experiences, all. Every one of them has a blazing memory of holding them for the first time. In some ways, I am a little jealous of birthing, but I don’t think I could trade the memories of what I could do for anything.

        See what you did? Now I’m going to have to srite a full post for each one. 😉

      • Rachel says:

        Frank, I’m so glad you shared your stories here. They are powerful.

  3. Emily U says:

    I love birth stories!

    I’m also aware that for every birth story there is also a story of a miscarriage or a hoped-for pregnancy that never happened, and those are important, too. I’m sorry for your loss, Corrina.

    Intellectually, I like the idea of birth being Christ-like in the sense that it is sacrifice on another’s behalf. But personally I didn’t find giving birth to be a particularly spiritual experience. Although I did feel lots of instant love for my second baby (but not my first – that took a little longer), and love is a spiritual feeling.

    But giving birth did change me. It made me value human life in a whole new way. Before experiencing the discomforts of pregnancy, delivery, postpartum healing, breast and bottle feeding, and then the months and years of nurturing, I did not appreciate how much it takes to nurture a human life into existence! All the sweat, work, and tears that parents shed on behalf of their little ones sanctify that life. Now, when someone annoys me, I try to remember what their mothers (and hopefully fathers) did to make their life possible, and think – well, even if he’s a jerk, I want to honor the work someone did to raise this person!

    Also, I find my parenting to be a constant reminder of how much I need Christ, rather than ways in which I’m like him. I’ve got a looooong way to go on that.

  4. meagan says:

    Birth stories are so peculiar because you’d think after thousands of years of billions of women giving birth it would become “same ole same ole” but it doesn’t! Every woman has her own story. I did find myself coming very close to Christ because having a baby was not like anything I had expected. For me, it was harder and more horrible than anything I had imagined, but therein lies a formula to coming close to Christ. Because I was experiencing something I didn’t think I could handle, and had no “Escape” button to click when I realized this, I needed help. Emotionally, physically, mentally I was shocked into a state of paralysis and the only way I carried through it was pleading with my Savior for help. I was helped, and have been helped and healed and strengthened day after day since then.
    On a lighter note 🙂 One of my baby boys was born right after Christmas, I have never been the same. Mary became so real to me. The infant Jesus, became so real to me. I would rock my newborn and sing songs like “Mary’s Lullaby” over and over to him. It was a wonderful experience that I still think on every Christmas.
    Thanks for asking, it’s always nice to remember.

    • Rachel says:

      I love that first point too, about how birth stories (and really most stories) seem like they could be the same, but are always new, and always exciting. I think one of the things too, is that while such experiences can tie us all together, when they happen to us, they are also all our own.

      Both of your stories are very moving. Of the first, I am so glad that you were helped in your moment of (great) need. Of the second, I love thinking of your Christmas baby.

      You are very welcome. Thank you for remembering. 🙂

  5. Rixa says:

    The processes of pregnancy and birth have a huge potential for spiritual growth and experiences. I wouldn’t say that they’re inherently spiritual (or not), any more than life in general is always (or always not) spiritual. I have had particularly intense spiritual experiences as I’ve gestated and brought my children into the world. Some through blessings, some through meditation, some through prayer. I found myself drawing very close to Heavenly Mother my first pregnancy. I don’t have time to type everything out here, but if anyone is interested, they should check out my blog. I have my birth stories on the right sidebar.

    I’m also going to put in a plug for the book “The Gift of Giving Life.” I was involved with it a bit, and it has collections of birth stories and essays on mothering, pregnancy, and breastfeeding from LDS women.

    • Rachel says:

      Rixa, thanks for reminding me of that book. Mraynes wrote a beautiful book review of it awhile ago (http://www.the-exponent.com/?s=%22the+gift+of+giving+life%22&x=0&y=0), and I have been meaning to read it.

      Thank you too for sharing a bit about your own experience. I am VERY interested, and plan to check out your blog/fuller account soon. When I was researching Heavenly Mother a few years back for a BYU professor, I read one lovely article about a Mormon woman who did oral histories of 8 LDS women about their experiences with birth/tied to their religion. One or two felt pressure from our faith, to either have children when they weren’t ready, or to have more than they were ready, but most had positive experiences, and several talked about that same connection to Heavenly Mother.

  6. Amber says:

    I love this. I recently gave birth to my first baby and I love her birth story! I didn’t feel that it was the most spiritual experience at the time, but in reflecting on it, it has taught me a great deal about the Savior. The great work that it takes to give life demonstrates to me the worth of each soul. I was pushed to my limits to bring my daughter into the world, and what a precious result! Birth (or gaining earthly life) is such a difficult yet rewarding experience, and the process of salvation (or gaining eternal life) is also harrowing but with great reward. Like you, Rachel, I don’t think you need to give birth to have this type of knowledge, but for me it has been instructive. It amazes me that this was the most profound experience for me, yet each of us has come into the world in similar fashion. Also, during my pregnancy, my stake president (who is also an OB/GYN) gave an address on how mothers are a type and shadow of Christ. I found it fascinating.

  7. Deja says:

    I really love this, and you ask so many good questions that it’s hard to pick which to answer. But I’ll tell a smidge of my story: My baby is four months old, and I was on bed rest for a good bit of my pregnancy with her. The doctors were certain she’d come early, and quite possibly too early to make it. They gave us a tour of the NICU and told us not to buy a crib. It was terrifying, and fantastically uncomfortable as well. Against all predictions, she arrived only a week early. She was stubbornly breech, after all that trouble, so we had an emergency c-section when I went into labor. Mostly I was surprised. I tried to pray or prepare myself in some way, but all my husband and I could do was stare at each other, jaws dropped, until they wheeled me back. I remember her cry. And that it seemed like the most distinctive sound I had ever heard. But mostly birth and those early days were disorienting. It’s only now, months in, that I really feel like I’m getting to know her, and that we’re in this together and it’s very very sweet. Better than I could have imagined.

    • Rachel says:

      Thank you for the smidge. This part is particularly beautiful: “I remember her cry. and that it seemed like the most distinctive sound I had ever heard.”

      I am so glad that she made it and that you made it, and that you’re in it together.

      I wonder too if you might be the writer Deja who lives in Boston, that I have not met, but that all of my Massachusetts friends love. (If you are not, it is okay too. I love your comment either way. 🙂 )

  8. lmzbooklvr says:

    I have to say I felt a pang at this since I don’t have a birth story for myself. Instead I have an adoption story, and it’s a story I do cherish. I think with adoption rather than birth stories we see many additional parallels to Christ but unfortunately for many years they were stories that were covered up and denied or washed over, maybe moreso than other women’s birth stories.
    I do love my daughter’s birth stories and my sister’s and my husband and his sibling’s.

    • Rachel says:

      LMZBOOKLVR, I am sorry for the (unintentional) pang my post may have caused you, and I am sincerely grateful for your (and Frank’s) comments that helped me remember that birth stories are broad, and that the right to tell them extends well beyond the particular individual who gave birth. Husbands also have birth stories. As do doulas and midwives (whether or not they have given birth themselves.) As do you, because an adoption story is a special kind of birth story, but it is a birth story nonetheless. As do many others. Like EmilyCC I would love to read and learn more about the parallels between adoption and Christ, because I can already sense that there are many. Thank you again for sharing a bit about your story.

  9. EmilyCC says:

    I so enjoy everyone’s stories, and Lmzbooklvr, thank you for bringing up adoption. I’d love to hear more from someone who has been through the experience about those parallels to Christ–I think that would make for some excellent theology.

    I had my babies at teaching hospitals. When #3 came along, I suppose there was a new teaching rotation in place because I had two medavac nurses-in-training ask if they could watch me give birth. I guess word got out because by the time I delivered there were 14 student nurses (all women, which I didn’t expect) crowded around my legs in stir-ups watching.

    They cheered me on while I pushed and ooed and ahhed as my daughter crowned, so impressed by what they had witnessed. Though it was crowded, I love the image I still have of my daughter born before this appreciate choir of women.

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