Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
April 25th, 2012

Jesus in the Delivery Room

A doula's view of new life and the Paschal Mystery


I love to talk about birth. A lot.

I assume everyone wants to hear about birth, so at social gatherings, with people I’ve hardly met, I find myself telling birth stories, bodily fluids included. Half of the crowd listens politely before dismissing themselves to “get a refill” on a drink, often finding a more normal person to talk to on their way to the kitchen. The other half presses in, wide-eyed with fascination. What can I say? I’m a doula.

Doulas are an ever-growing presence in navigating the healthcare choices in today’s world. The word doula comes from the Greek word for female servant. Doulas provide physical and emotional support for laboring women. Many people will seek out a doula for an unmedicated birth — one without the use of an epidural or painkillers. However, doulas do not carry any sort of agenda, on principle, and will work with all moms simply to make sure they have the best chance at the birth experience they seek. Contrary to popular belief, unlike midwives, doulas are not medically certified and cannot deliver a baby.

Being a doula is very much a vocation for me, embedded in my personhood, hence the infectious house party conversations with whoever has the curiosity (or stomach) to listen. After I became a doula, I began to regularly note the themes of birth present not only in the milestone itself but also flowing throughout our human experience.

In the labor and delivery room, we talk a lot about stations. The medical meaning of station is how far the baby has descended into the pelvis. (This is where you might realize you are a refill person or a fascinated person.) I’m going to propose that just as we have Stations of the Cross leading up to the Easter holiday and season, there are various emotional stations on the road to birth and new life with direct ties to the Passion. As a Catholic, there is no better metaphor for the journey to new life than the Paschal Mystery.

Station #1: Carrying each other’s cross

Women are not the only ones who carry a cross on the road to new life. Oftentimes, people are unaware of just how tiring supporting a laboring mother can be — both mentally and physically. The large part of this can fall on the father or partner, hence why many people enlist the support of a doula.

First children are notorious for slow-going labors, typically 24 hours from the onset of contractions. Even with the best of intentions, a support person can tire out. For instance, in order to help alleviate back pain, doulas often use a hip squeeze, carefully positioning force on the pelvic bone. Having arm muscles the equivalent of wet noodles, I often struggle to hold this position for numerous contractions of up to ninety seconds each, facing my own physical exhaustion and usually having skipped a couple meals due to adrenaline. During these longs hours, the partner and I are Simon of Cyrene for one another: giving each other even fifteen minutes of reprieve. In the Gospel, Simon is plucked from the crowd to carry Jesus’ cross, since the soldiers feared he might not make it to his crucifixion. When we see this small moment on the road to Calvary, we are reminded that no one can carry a cross alone, even Christ. Likewise, no woman is meant to labor alone. She is surrounded with support, and those supporting her must also support each other on the road to new life.

Author performed her first doula services for this baby, mother and family.

Station #2: Surrender

Another marker on the way to new life is that of surrender. My favorite line of the entire Passion is, “Father, into Your hands, I commend my spirit.” I have never seen it as a line of defeat. In fact, I see it as a total surrender to the will of God, the last step necessary on the road to new life and salvation. Surrender is also present in labor. When I work with moms seeking an unmedicated birth, I can almost always gauge how far along she is, based on what she is saying. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this” and “I can’t do this much longer,” and finally, “I can’t do this anymore!” at which point I can see the desperation in her face.

Oftentimes, at this point, she weeps. She weeps because even though she has a choice to numb the pain, she is nonetheless on a trajectory toward birth — there’s no chance to turn back now. Knowing the road ahead is long and difficult, even the most desiring mother can feel like giving up. At this point, I touch her back gently and say, “Surrender to it.” I have never had to explain myself, she already knows. But, it is our natural human tendency to stiffen up, tense up, and clench our fists. What I’m asking of these women goes against our human nature. Eventually, she gives in. There is no fighting the pain anymore; instead, she begins to embrace it. Like these mothers, after weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus surrenders to God’s will and embraces the road ahead.

Station #3: Women as witness to new life

In my work, I have seen a number of awe-inspiring couples that have a tremendous dynamic during labor. However, even with the most committed male partner, laboring women still seek a doula. In fact, studies even show that a doula has positive effects on birth outcomes that hospital staff can’t always replicate. In the life and death of Jesus, women play an integral role or are present in new life. Mary, the most obvious example, is responsible for giving birth to the Son of God, bringing him into human existence. (And, believe me, after seeing many births I can’t imagine all of that, in a stable no less). In the Resurrection, interestingly, Jesus appears first not to the twelve male disciples but to the women who had come to mourn him. It is the women who proclaim the Risen Lord. Additionally, the presence of strong women continues with the early women leaders of the Church, namely Tabitha, Lydia, and Priscilla, mentioned in the Easter season’s weekday readings. While the Church was in its infancy, it relied on the presence and leadership of women. It’s almost as if women have a unique gift in the advent of new life and its rearing.

All in all, whether it’s the Passion, birthing a baby, or another new thing, the road to new life is one of pain, surrender and support. The task ahead is one that we first fear, then fight, and ultimately embrace, against all our human nature. In that sense, it is a journey. However, it’s not a labor in vain. Not only do we bring new life into the world, we also transcend ourselves in the process. Most any new mom would say it’s all worth it. I have a good feeling Jesus would say that, too.

The Author : Christina Gebel
Christina Gebel holds B.A.’s in psychology and theology from Saint Louis University as well as a Master of Public Health in maternal and child health from Boston University. After college, she spent two years as a full-time volunteer at a faith-based organization in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys writing, photography, performing standup comedy, and serving as a doula and Lamaze childbirth educator. She currently resides in Boston, working in the field of public health and serving as co-chair of the executive committee for the Catholic Extension Young Professionals of Boston.
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  • Catholic

    God bless you, Christina! What a beautiful reflection. You are a joy to read, and your prayerful insights and lovely sense of humor absolutely sparkle.

  • Maria

    Currently pregnant with my third child and having had both my daughters at home I’m so grateful for that someone else found the same meaning in birth as I have. I found an amazing spirituality in laboring with my husband and delivering our children into his hands. Although I never thought to connect the experience to the passion, surrender to the process and the pain speaks volumes that every mother can empathize with. A beautiful reflection for everyone.

  • Christina

    I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s reflections on this topic. I also think the connection with the end stages of life and death is a strong one. The spiritual connectedness of all life’s stages is such a beautiful theme in life. It gives me joy and energy to see so many connections through your posts. Thanks for sharing your stories with me.

  • Helena

    How this resonated with me! I have also had that powerful experience of understanding the Stations of the Cross in a new way in relation to journeying through the death of my husband from leukaemia. After he died, I spent time in Lourdes and had an epiphany experience as I walked the Stations of the Cross there. The connection with new life is beautifully apt.

  • Susan

    Thanks for the reflection on birth. I am a doula, too. I am always amazed at how birthing and dying are so intimately connected. We have to surrender to each of these phases of our life. Just as the baby bursts into a totally unknown world so we will pass on to an unknown place at the end of our lives. God is there to assist us in birthing and passing on…

  • jenni

    When my time came to give birth, lying in the delivery ward with many people hustling and bustling around, I was never more aware of the fact that there were only really 3 of us in that room that really mattered, Jesus, my birthing child and myself.

  • Bonnie

    Christina, your article came to me at a time when I needed to read it most. I truly believe God sent this message to me through you. Thank you for heeding our Lord’s call for you to write it. Your story has touched me and I have grown.

  • Megan

    Wow!!! What a wonderful article! After giving birth, there are so many elements of the Gospel that are clearer and more meaningful to me. The Way of the Cross, as you say, means more to one who has struggled to bring forth life, and who has faced her own mortality in the surrender to the bone-opening, heart-rending, bloody, life-giving process of birth. It also opens up a new window on the Eucharist: “this is my body, broken for you, this is my blood, poured out so that you may have life” — NOBODY understands these ideas as well as a mother.

  • Ann Turner

    Cristina, I love this–both as a Catholic and as a mom of two almost grown “kids.” The whole metaphor of surrender is so crucial to our lives, not just in birth. R. Rohr talks a lot in his books about surrender and the gifts that come from it. We so hate to give up control in this culture. Thank you!

  • Keira Klein Anderson

    Christina, Thank you so much for sharing this unique exploration into your work as a doula. I am an aspiring doula, and I also feel that this work is a true calling for me. Since discovering this calling, I have felt that there was certainly a spiritual connection in all of this. Thank you for sharing such a meaningful depiction of how you see the integration of your faith into your service as a doula. What a delight to read! Keep up the wonderful work!

  • Lily Jean

    A beautifully crafted article that gave me new understanding of the role of the doula as well as the Stations of the Cross. Thank you!

  • Lisa

    This is beautiful and really has given me some “food for thought” as I will be getting ready to give birth in a couple of months. What a beautiful way to look at the pain and suffering of both our Lord and the art of Labor. What wonders God works through both!

  • me

    excellent. thank you.

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