The following is a homily I delivered at my church during the first service of the year. It was one of three homilies by different speakers on the subjects of birth, love and death.
Birth – A Homily
I’ll try to spare you the gory details of my three labors and births. Innumerable mothers have written about the nitty-gritty of labor and delivery. Birth is a visceral event, messy and uncomfortable. Birth is emotional, painful, chaotic, ecstatic, and supremely uplifting. Instead, I want to tell you what I’ve learned from giving birth, what I’ve learned about losing control, an experience both frightening and wonderful.
As a child, teenager, and young adult, I was fond of being in control. I remember having fifty-six stuffed animals – fifty-six exactly. I remember because I counted them twice daily, when I made my bed before school. I lined them all up on my smooth bedspread, sometimes according to size, with the bigger ones in the back, sometimes by name, and sometimes by species. My room was impeccably clean. The books were neatly arranged on the shelf, the clothes hung in the closet. There were no toys left carelessly on the floor. At least that’s how I remember things – my mother may have a different story. I liked everything just so. I was in control. I liked activities in which the outcome was guaranteed. If you do your schoolwork correctly, you will get good grades. If you follow the recipe exactly, you will be rewarded with the perfect chocolate cake. I liked predictability, and I still do.
Childbirth is not predictable. A perfect pregnancy and delivery do not always result in a perfect baby. Child rearing is not a perfect science. Spur of the moment decisions are often the rule. Mistakes are made by the dozens, but time does not stop for you to be perfect. The babies grow and change by the minute. This morning my son’s pants fit. This afternoon, they are too short. Discipline strategies that worked last week probably won’t work ever again.
My husband and I, or maybe more correctly, I, planned our births according to the seasons and the astrological sun signs. I didn’t want a Summer baby. I didn’t want to sweat through a Texas summer eternally uncomfortable and round. My mother had spoken of this often, as I am a September baby. Moreover, and rather selfishly, I wanted Pisces or Aquarius babies because I was convinced that I, a Virgo, could not possibly get along with or live with any other sun signs. After all, my mother is an Aquarius, my father, my stepfather, and my husband are all Pisces, and, so far, I had managed to get along well with all of them. I was in control.
Giving birth and raising children means letting go of a great deal of control. First, there’s the mess. Labor and delivery are messy – the sheets, the towels, the blood. Birth is loud – both mother and baby make noises that I was sure no human has ever uttered. Then comes the mess of a mother nursing, feeding, bathing, and changing an infant, not having time to wash dishes, vacuum, or do laundry. I was always relieved when my husband said, “Don’t worry about the mess. It proves we have children.” I still have to be told this from time to time. Sometimes the messes are emotional, as when I referee arguments among my three boys, or take their behavior personally. Now my kids are older, and our house is often messy and lived in. It proves we have children.
With my firstborn, especially, I was really afraid of what was to happen to my body in the process of giving birth. At the end of my first (or was it my second?) trimester, my midwife advised me to put aside all of the books on childbirth I had been devouring and trust nature instead. She assured me that my body instinctively knew what to do. It did, but nature herself had other plans. My first delivery held many surprises and there were many times that we all – I, my husband, the two midwives, the obstetrician, and the pediatrician – had to make sudden decisions. But in the end, it all turned out OK. My eldest is about to turn thirteen.
With my second child, I already knew that my body was physically capable of giving birth. I didn’t have to wonder what was coming, and I was able to surrender to the process more. This birth proved to me that I was capable of having a totally normal pregnancy and delivery. I let nature tell me what to do. My body knew exactly how to proceed. My toddler slept through the whole thing. By moonrise, our house was quiet and dark and calm, as if nothing unusual had happened that day. My middle boy will soon be ten.
With my third birth, my midwife referred me to the obstetrician’s care in my thirty-sixth week because of abnormalities in the pregnancy. I ended up having to surrender myself to Dr. Love (yes, that was his name), while still feeling like I had some say in the matter. During labor, the umbilical cord prolapsed, coming out before the baby. I ended up having an emergency C-section, my eyes closing to the anesthesia on the way to the delivery room. When I awoke, my husband and midwife were by my side, cradling the sweet baby that was the root of all the activity and concern. My youngest will soon be seven.
In all three births, I had to let go of the control that I so dearly loved. I learned that to grow and to help my children grow, I have to let go. If I always do things for them, because, of course, I can do things better and faster, they will not be able to do for themselves. I am proud to say that all three of my boys can and do clothe themselves, feed themselves, and, for the most part, clean up after themselves.
To this day, I still feel most comfortable when I’m in control. It’s still hard to let the floors have sticky, dirty spots, to let the beds go unmade, to allow my boys to make their own mistakes, and to let them make questionable decisions. But I have grown with them. Letting go has allowed me to take on more things to nurture myself and feed my own soul. Letting go has allowed part of me to become a child again. I can sit back and watch my dear boys as they grow and appreciate their individuality. By relinquishing control, I can relax and enjoy the happiness they bring and dream of the bright future that is theirs.