Soon after we gave birth to our first kids, one of my dearest friends confided in me that pregnancy and childbirth made her feel closer to God than ever before.
Huh. Not me.
I tried to figure out why.
From early on in my pregnancy, I needed to see it to believe it. I waited until I saw the results of the home pregnancy test before embracing the possibility. I waited longer still for the first ultrasound to feel like it was actually happening. It wasn’t real until I had proof. Some have faith; I wanted certainty.
Childbirth also called my beliefs into question.
See, my friend had a natural, vaginal delivery outside of the hospital setting. Her water broke at home, she paced back and forth, took warm showers to help her body relax, and eventually, her daughter emerged.
I had a C-section. My son’s birth required the intervention of modern medicine, of doctors, of people. I labored for over 24 hours outside of the hospital, but ultimately, that baby was not coming out of this body on its own. My contractions never got close enough together; my son was posterior; I had back labor; my water did not break spontaneously, but only upon the nurse’s prodding–I was not physiologically capable of delivering my baby. But for doctors and their talents, tools, machines, and methods, either my child would not have been born or I would not have lived.
So no, my son’s birth did not feel like a natural event that was “meant to be.” It did not bring me closer to God, but made me more grateful for my fellow man. Left simply to God or nature, I’m not sure how things would’ve worked out.
My third son was born very early on a Saturday morning–another Shabbat baby. Soon after the birth, my brother shared that while I was in recovery, cradling my new little boy, he was having an aliyah to the Torah. It was the torah portion where we read about Rachel giving birth to Benjamin. The text describes it as a difficult labor, during which the midwife reassures her that she should have no fear, for another son will be born to her. All those boys…all so familiar. But Rachel didn’t make it. She died in childbirth.
Nearly 80 years ago, my great-grandmother Etka labored only to lose a baby–also a boy–during delivery. Desperately seeking a son, she delivered a stillborn on her kitchen table.
Rachel and Etka may have had God, but they probably needed C-sections.
Thankfully, Judaism embraces human intervention. We are encouraged to take an active part in caring for our bodies, prolonging our lives, and bettering their course. We do not believe everything is predetermined or should be left to God’s will. We do not believe only miracles save and only God heals.
When I went into labor, I put my faith in my body. And then I put my faith in my doctors–who told me my body wasn’t going to do this alone.
Did my birth experience make me feel closer to God? Maybe not. But I was overjoyed to deliver my son into a world where humans can do this for each other.
Now my son is no longer a baby, but a boy. And while I struggled to see God in his birth, I feel awe every day watching him grow. When he learned to ride a bike in five minutes flat, when he helps his younger brothers, when I hear how his inquisitive mind works, when he remembers every word of a song, or sounds out the words to a book at bedtime…he is my proof. Just like during his birth, I find my faith in man–and the man he is becoming.
The other day, out of nowhere, that baby boy, now 4, asked one of his characteristically challenging questions. This time, it was how does a baby come out of his mother’s body? I paused, thoughts racing about how to accurately, but appropriately, explain. Before I could answer, he followed with, Do they cut him out? Yes, yes they do. Just like an appendix (thanks Madeline). Being the son of a surgeon, this was a natural explanation. I can even show him my scar.
Thank God for C-sections.