“With all my births, I’ve experienced birth as a sort of “thin space,” a place where time seems to stand still …” (Made for This, 27)
Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, the Celtic saying goes, but in thin places that distance is even shorter. The concept of the “thin place” is found in many cultures—a place or experience that draws you closer into contact with God. For many women, one such “thin place” is the act of giving birth—and now a new book sheds light on how mothers can unite their spiritual faith with childbirth.
In Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth, Mary Haseltine, a theology graduate and certified birth doula, applies the theology of the body and Church teaching on human dignity to pregnancy and childbirth. One of the most powerful (and practical) parts of her book is the chapter on “Grace-filled Birth: Inviting God into the Birth Room.”
For most women, some part of childbirth will not go exactly as planned—but in this sometimes disappointing reality, women can find peace in accepting God’s will. Haseltine assures her readers that a mother need not feel “warm and fuzzy” to have God be present at her birth. All she needs to do is make an act of will, uniting her birth to Christ on the cross. Beyond that, she offers the following strategies for keeping a prayerful focus during labor:
“Imagine the incredible fruit for the world if every mother intentionally united those powerful moments of birth to the sufferings of Christ!” Haseltine writes. Some women make a list of prayer intentions, even asking friends and family how they can pray for them. The fruits of these prayers can be powerful: Long-awaited conversions of heart, physical and spiritual healing, and other stunning acts of grace have come about after mothers offered their births for these intentions.
For mothers who give birth via cesarean section, Haseltine writes, “A doula or your husband can read your intentions before and during the surgery, and you can have the list close by, referring to it during extra moments of pain and recovery that a cesarean entails.” As a mother who’s had three c-sections, I found that focusing on prayer intentions gave me strength to endure grueling recoveries.
2Praying the Scriptures
Christians draw strength from the Word of God, and many verses from Scripture offer powerful encouragement and words of thanksgiving throughout every part of the birth process. Haseltine has thoughtfully compiled in an appendix a list of verses that are especially relevant to childbirth. One moving example is “They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their children with them” (Isaiah 65:23).
3Calling upon the Saints
Our brothers and sisters in Heaven always are with us when we pray, and the many saints who bore children have special significance for laboring mothers. Mothers might even ask prayers from deceased friends and family members, uniting with these beloved dead during a time when many women feel a profound connection to all the mothers who have gone before them.
4The Rosary and Other Sacramentals
Praying the Rosary can be a powerful aid to a laboring mother, or holding the rosary or listening to an audio Rosary once labor has become too intense for her to speak. “The nice thing about the Rosary and other memorized prayers during labor,” Haseltine writes, “is that you don’t have to think much about what you are going to say. Your heart and soul can mean the prayers, and the words still have meaning while your physical energy is absorbed in the work of labor.”
Holding a prayer card, looking at a crucifix, or using other sacramentals like holy water can also strengthen a laboring mother and recall her mind to uniting her suffering with Christ on the cross.
Music has power to change the environment and move our souls; it’s no wonder so many mothers choose to listen to music during labor, even making a “labor playlist.” In particular, sacred music or praise and worship music can be a vehicle for prayer.
With the help of these tips, hopefully more women can experience birth as a “thin place” where they feel close to God. For much more profound and helpful information, check out Made for This: The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth, available at Amazon, Our Sunday Visitor, and Barnes & Noble.
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