Contractions and Calvinism

Adelaide Christie was born on an early Tuesday morning. We had been watching and waiting and waiting and watching. Monday morning I woke up with contractions and saw the doctor. All was well, but I was not in any way in "active" labor. I love all the medical jargon. What kind of labor is inactive? Anyway, my doctor scheduled an induction for Friday if those contractions didn't get active. All the inactive contractions decided to take a break. I had the rest of the day to rest on the couch and try to get these inactive, slothful contractions into active and intense contractions. Well, they eventually heard my plea and did their job.

Please note: do not read on if the words "labor, delivery, or childbirth" make you queasy. Otherwise, I have a pretty good story to tell. By about 9pm, after a nutritious vanilla McDonald's milkshake, the contractions started getting very close together. Because with our first child, Elias, this never happened without the help of our friendly drug, Pitocin, I didn't quite believe it. Finally, I realized it was time to call our neighbor and our doula. Our neighbor made it here in time to tell us to stop cleaning up the kitchen and worrying about clean sheets. I got in the car and paged our doula. We were on our way in the dark of night and it felt just like you see in the movies. Breathe, quiet, breathe, quiet. We reached the hospital and quickly climbed into the elevator. Unfortunately, when we got to the specified "after hours" entrance it was boarded up and under construction. My husband, Adam, took us through a dark alley of sawdust and hanging wires and we walked around the perimeter of the hospital to the ER. I could tell he was a bit more stressed than I because he violated the privacy of the people right in front of us and said, "We need to get into the hospital." The woman at the desk asked him kindly to wait. We waited and then they brought me a wheelchair to be rolled up to labor and triage. I tell you it's hard to make small talk and be nice to the hospital volunteer when you have already labored through construction and had contractions down the center aisle of the hospital.

All I remember of triage is the lack of privacy. We know how much hospitals put into HIPAA and not leaving messages on your answering machine. Well, how ironic is it that the whole triage center knew they didn't have my medical file yet? They also knew that I was 6cm dilated and I'm sure they heard my whole ob/gyn history. Adam was distracted by the blaring of the show "Family Guy" on the TV next to us. Not the best way to get your husband to be fully available to you as you breathe your way through another contraction. We both remember hearing the patient next to us musing why anyone would take Britney Spears' kids away. After all, aren't these people raised by nannies anyway? Finally, we got a room and I almost left my underwear behind in triage as a departing gift. I'm sure it would not have been the first time that happened.

When we got to our room, we realized that I must have paged somebody–but not our doula. So, we waited for her to arrive and began to work with the birthing ball and the couch and the chairs for those contractions. I was very glad to see her. She was such a calming and warm presence. I eventually got to 8cm and was helped into the tub. There I sat with warm water and the monks from the Society of St John the Evangelist singing simple Anglican chant. It really helped me for a while; then I told Adam, "Turn those monks off–they have no idea." I must have been going through transition and anything was hard, especially placid and calm monks. Pushing came and after three hours later we were still without a baby. So, instead, Adelaide was born by c-section at 5:53 am.

As a priest and somebody who likes to think theologically I have often applied various theologies to the whole issue of labor. I wondered if , and to what extent, God would intervene in something as specific (and, in some ways, minuscule) as my own labor. I know God is not some distant watchmaker who puts things in motion and then walks away–that is deism. Is God as obsessed with every contraction as He is with each hair on my head? Was I predestined to have a c-section at the end of both of my labors? (Just a wee bit of Calvinism here.) You see, I used to have this image that labor would be a very spiritual experience where I would focus on this icon I have of Mary and Elizabeth as expectant mothers. The closest I got to that was my time listening to the monks.

I've been thinking a lot about Mother Theresa and her book Come be my Light. In that book, Mother Theresa reveals her sense of spiritual emptiness. She expresses through letters to her spiritual director a feeling of void when it came to actually feeling the presence of God. This has troubled Christians and secularists alike. For those of us who know that Christianity is not contingent on our feelings, this is not a shock. My night and day of labor did not always feel like God was right there with me. However, through my husband, doula, the nurses, doctors, and a mantra a friend gave me that "saints and angels were with me," I did know the presence of God, and the flesh and blood of Adelaide Christie is the true incarnation of that presence of Christ. Calvin or not, God seems to be my light in the looking back, but not always clearly luminous in the present moment.

3 replies
  1. Rev.J
    Rev.J says:

    Thanks for sharing this. My favorite part: “Turn those monks off– they have no idea.”
    When studying all the labor pangs imagery in Paul (and others_)while pregnant with my second child during seminary, I remember thinking the same thing… they really have no idea. 🙂


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