I really enjoyed sharing my work on birth and spirituality at the Call to Action conference in Memphis this past weekend. A Catholic Church reform group founded in the 1970s, Call to Action draws hundreds of regulars as well as many newcomers for speakers and workshops over three days each year.
My name tag with its “speaker” ribbon attached attracted notice in casual chatting with other attendees, and I heard myself declare numerous times with increasing confidence: “I’m giving a workshop on the spirituality of childbirth on Saturday” Later I began to add, “At 10:00 am in Room L-12.” Having now presented variations of this talk a few times, I feel the message is better honed and delivered. Though attendance was not large, the level of engagement with the topic was quite meaningful, which has been my experience in other settings as well, and it’s very gratifying.
Several workshop attendees were grandmothers, and at various points stories were shared of our children’s or grandchildren’s births. The discussion of bodily transitions as spiritual rites of passage was greatly enhanced by the participation of a hospice nurse who, at a prior crossroads in life, chose between that field and a career in midwifery. Coincidentally, as I shared in the talk, my interest in the connections between birth and faith originally sprung from an encounter with hospice care, because it reminded me of the midwives who attended us in birth. Another woman spoke of how moved she had been to witness her daughter-in-law’s labor in a pool of water, and this story led us to connect the sacramental qualities of water more explicitly with birth.
I’m also grateful for a chance conversation Sunday on the shuttle back to the airport, with a woman whose name I didn’t even find out. She has two grown stepchildren but never physically gave birth, so while she was drawn in by the workshop description, she wasn’t sure if she would feel comfortable or even be welcome. Tears lurked in the corners of her eyes as she said this. I thanked her for her feedback that would help me in the future. Because, as I went on to explain, I hope to persuade both women and men that birth matters to everyone, not just women in a particular age bracket or life experience.
Most people encounter birth somehow in their lives through family and friends if not directly as a birthing mother. Because our culture regards childbirth only as a medical event and mostly religion disregards it altogether, we have an impoverished understanding. A real appreciation of childbirth as holy and sacred in its bodily aspects (whether you’ve actually given birth or not) will allow the metaphor of birthing to become more resonant in other areas of life for everybody. Then we will more naturally reach for birth as a symbol to talk about our creative endeavors or advocacy projects or movement through life transitions.
By this time her eyes held a thoughtful expression, and she nodded her head.