Thoughts on Childbirth: Death and then Life

As the tears spilled hot down my face, and onto my wife’s bare shoulder, it was not clear to me the source of my deep-hearted and unstoppable emotion. Was it the squirming, gasping-for-the-first-breaths-of-life baby boy that had just been thrust to her breast by our team of midwives? Or was it the almost immediate dissolve of tumultuous pain and distress which flowed like spring after winter from my precious wife’s fingers, hands, and arms? She had gone in one terrific instant from staring death in the face to peering into the eyes of new life.

The moment defined “mixed emotions.”

As much as I want to blame the tears on the joy of our new son entering the world, I can’t deny that just as heart wrenching and tear producing, was the gripping experience of clinging to my best friend and soul companion as she labored to the edge of the shadow of the valley of death and back to return with this man child.

It was fear. It was sorrow. It was hopelessness. It was anguish. These all came pouring out—resolved, but bubbling up—in the form of the silent, hot tears down my face. They had been hedged inside my soul growing wilder and more frantic as the labor progressed. For the purpose of standing strong in support of my sweetheart throughout the ordeal, they were camouflaged and out of sight, but now they were erupting even while they were transforming to joy, gladness, and celebration.

This is baby number three for us. And normally, I spend my Daddy time postpartum reflecting on the beauty of new life and the artistry of God’s design of this little new soul. But in this particular hour, my thoughts are on that moment of weeping because I had come to the brink of no hope, and then hope was realized. I had come to the end of myself, the fear that my precious wife had come to the end of herself, and all was lost. And then all was renewed.

Medically speaking, she was in no grave danger. There were no complications. I’m certain many a woman has greater labor and delivery horror stories to tell. And yet, as I’m sure is common to most childbirth narratives, the fatigue and excruciating pain and exhaustion brought both she and I near to breaking (me in a much lesser way as a supporter instead of a doer, no doubt).

I think there is value in not forgetting the tempest before the birthday hour. Just before the baby was finally, joyfully born, the hopelessness was most severe. The feeling of being at the bottom of the well, and the stone cap being rolled into place to trap you forever was tangible. One prophet described it as being “so bewildered I cannot hear, so terrified I cannot see” (Isaiah 21:3). It’s the bloody, gasping, “this is my final ounce of life being poured out” moment, followed by the shock of being delivered and the return of Aslan.

I think as I hurt with my wife and pained with her and wept inside as she labored, I tasted just a teaspoon of the ocean of disequilibrium that God the Father chose for Himself when He sent the Son to the cross to ransom sinners. Knowing that death will not be the final word does not alleviate the anguish of watching your Love flounder in the midst of the battle. And yet when resurrection comes bounding, it eclipses the grisly gauntlet just passed. Joy is greater than the previous sorrow, even muffling it.

And maybe an even greater parallel than watching my wife come near death as the Father watched the Son actually pursue death is the parallel of the Gospel which is built right into the very earthy experience of childbirth.

Think of it.

God designed childbirth from the start to be painless, or so I surmise from the Genesis account, but sin creeped in, and childbirth was cursed with pain (Genesis 3:16). Yet God in his sovereignty has bound up in the curse of painful childbirth a shadow of the reality of a dying and rising Savior. Scripture regularly compares the coming of God’s redemption both at the cross and the parousia or arrival of victorious Jesus in the future to the labor and delivery of a newborn (Isaiah 26:17-18; Micah 4:10; Matthew 24:8; Romans 8:22; Galatians 4:19; Revelation 12:2). I’ve said this before, and I mentioned it here in a recent sermon, but there is no romance in childbirth. It’s a wretched, horrible experience. And yet herein is the portrait of crucifixion which brings resurrection and redemption.

Only through death will life come. Only through horrendous, terrifying emptying of self will new life be experienced and enjoyed. Only through painful rending of flesh will the triumph of God over sin be displayed.

I can’t help but see the Gospel reality when I peer at the childbirth shadow. Though the tears spilled hot, joy is here.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Jesus to his disciples, John 16:20-22
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