prayers for childbirth: God as midwife

When I was pregnant with my first son, my newly-graduated-from-theological-school self wanted to compile a journal of prayers for childbirth. Given my fear of the pain and the unknown that lay ahead of me, I was convinced that having prayers to accompany me through labor and birth would keep me calm, centered, cool.

Then the kid showed up three weeks early, and my procrastinating self had barely gotten around to packing the hospital bag, let alone gathering a set of inspiring prayers.

(And believe me, when the triage nurse informed us that it was indeed my water that had broken, and we would indeed be having a baby that night, the words that flew out of my mouth had nothing holy or prayerful about them.)

Thereby paving the beginning of my road to parenthood with good intentions.

But the Spirit works in mysterious ways. So thanks to a playlist of Taize chant on the iPod in the delivery room, I was able to muster some meditative calm (at least in early labor, not that devil of a transition).

Thanks to my mother who texted me the prayer of St. Patrick’s breastplate – which I made my husband read to me over and over during one of the most difficult parts of labor – I was reminded of Christ’s presence with us, which helped to ease my pain and fear.

And thanks to my girlfriends from grad school who lit candles to hold me up in prayer the whole time I was laboring, I was strengthened by a far-flung circle of strong women whose love helped carry me through.

This time around, I let go of the illusions that I’d once again amass a perfect prayer for the pain of childbirth. But as I’ve been pouring through the Book of Psalms and the Gospels for a project I’m working on, I’ve been jotting down Scripture along the way that speaks to me of the experience of childbirth.

In particular, I’m struck by the imagery of God as midwife.

I’ve never been in the care of a midwife, but I was blessed with a wonderful doula for my first baby’s birth and plan to do the same this time around. When I think of our doula’s calming presence, her faith in my strength, her support of both my husband and me throughout the long day and night, I’m reminded of how God’s love carries us through the dark and painful moments to the bright burst of joy at labor’s end.

So when I came across these two psalms again, I was reminded of the power and presence of thinking of God as midwife, especially when we are in the midst of the overwhelming work and pain of labor.

This is God’s Mothering Spirit: watching us, tending us, keeping us safe, never leaving our side, whispering words of comfort and strength and hope that this, too, shall pass.

“Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me
you have been my God.”
(Ps 22:9-10)

“For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.”
(Ps 71: 5-6)

How beautiful to think of the midwives and doctors and nurses and doulas who attend to women and babies at birth as being God-like in their work.

And what a tender image of God as the wise and strong and loving woman who catches each of us upon our birth and places us into our parents’ arms.

From one great love to another.

Check out the other posts in this series:

11 thoughts on “prayers for childbirth: God as midwife

  1. Boy, this brings so many exhilarating memories from my own pregnancy with my son. I had the same type of desires (having a prayerful journey during labor) but with his arrival 2 1/2 weeks early, as well as trying to finish the remodeling of our 100 year old home prior to our moving, I didn’t have much time for the scriptures. A few weeks before, however, a close girl friend from Div school sent me the following prayer and I used it right away in prayer and journaling. Now I look back at that entry and realize that it was my time of preparation, even though it was so far before. I share it here with all of you in the hopes that it’s helpful to anyone interested.

    Psalm to the Midwife
    Antiphon: Be midwife to our hopes, Shaddai, make midwives of us all!
    You will know when it is time to bring to birth the new creation.
    The signs will be all around you, urging, insisting; now is the time.
    You will have to know just when to bear down and concentrate on one thing only.
    It takes labor, hard, hard labor to bring forth something new.

    Antiphon: Be midwife to our hopes, Shaddai, make midwives of us all!
    You have to know just when to push for something that is worth fighting for.
    If you push too soon, the dream, so close to fulfillment, may be stillborn.
    You have to know how hard to push when something new is about to happen.
    If you push too hard, you may be too exhausted or too discouraged to continue on,
    Or someone may step in to stop you, causing you to abort.

    Antiphon: Be midwife to our hopes, Shaddai, make midwives of us all!
    You have to know how to cut the cord and how to let go of what has been…
    For what will be will be different and it will take time to adjust.

    Antiphon: Be midwife to our hopes, Shaddai, make midwives of us all!
    You have to know how to wait for things to settle after the dream is born,
    and how to handle the consequences – clean up the mess and then move on.
    How good it is to bring to birth, or to help another bring to birth,
    and how good it is to deliver the dream, let us nurture it to fulfillment!!

    Antiphon: Be midwife to our hopes, Shaddai, make midwives of us all!

    1. Carrie, I would like to quote your antiphons for a sermon on July 21 when Psalm 71 is the appointed Psalm in the Common Lectionary for Presbyterians. However I want to give you credit and I cannot find your full name. My email is: glorysdad(at)gmail(dot)com. My name is Wayne McLaughlin, a Presbyterian minister in Birmingham, AL. Thanks.

      1. Wayne, the antiphons that Carrie quoted come from this source, to the best of my knowledge. So glad that they proved inspirational for your sermon writing!
        Woman Witness by Miriam Therese Winter, Crossroad Publishing Co. 1992.

  2. Gorgeous, Carrie! That brought tears to my eyes this morning. Thank you so much for sharing. I love how the psalm extends the metaphor of birthing so broadly – the labor and the pushing and the trusting in God’s time speaks to so much of our living and working, far beyond pregnancy or even parenting. This is a gem to share with others.

  3. Beautiful! I hope this time around will be so special for you! I had a similar reaction to the nurse when she told me it was my water leaking and that I would have to have pitocin! I was planning to go back home to finish watching our tv shows! Ha! Thankfully it all worked out in the end! We are so excited for you!! How many weeks now?

  4. Thanks, Amy! I’m 34 weeks now…so as you know, s/he could either be here in 3 weeks like S was, or it could be 6! (Groan – I cannot imagine getting 6 weeks bigger!) But I know this time will be special because it will be unique – I think that is the beauty of each birth. They are so different and they become the first chapter of our story. I still love when my parents tell me parts of my own birth story (like that my mom was at Mass and thought she was just having a “stomachache” every 5 minutes or so…) 🙂

  5. Thanks, Amy! I’m 34 weeks now…so as you know, s/he could either be here in 3 weeks like S was, or it could be 6! (Groan – I cannot imagine getting 6 weeks bigger!) But I know this time will be special because it will be unique – I think that is the beauty of each birth. They are each different and they become the first chapter of our story. I still love when my parents tell me parts of my own birth story (like that my mom was at Mass and thought she was just having a “stomachache” every 5 minutes or so…) 🙂

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