For Valentine’s Day: a love story between a boy and a tree

This is the sermon I gave on Sunday at my church, while filling in for my not-quite-here-yet pastor.  It had been a while (about 5 years, in fact) since I had full-on led a worship service.  I enjoyed it tremendously, but I am also not itching to do it every Sunday again.  I’m happily sticking to my doula/chaplain/mom job for the now.

In case you haven’t seen a commercial, or set foot in a store in the past month, Valentine’s Day is coming up.

I spent too many years single (I didn’t get married until I was 33, and most of my life up until then I had not been in a serious romantic relationship) to really care about Valentine’s Day, but I thought it might be a good excuse to tell you a different kind of love story.  A love story about a boy…and a tree.




{At this point I read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to the congregation.  In case you do not have a copy handy, you can read the text here. If you want to go seriously nostalgic, you can watch the recording of the filmstrip from the 70’s (!!) below.}



There’s a lot that could be said about this simple little book.  It is a love story, but what kind of love story?  How do you interpret this story?

I think for as many of us who are here today, there are as many opinions and interpretations on this book, which is what makes it so awesome.  Some of you may love it, and remember it fondly from your own childhood or from your children’s or grandchildren’s.  Some of you may hate it and think it is in no way appropriate for children.

The problem for many people is the way in which the tree “loves” the boy, giving and giving and giving of herself until she is all used up.  Some people see this as codependence, or as bordering on abusive behavior on the part of the boy.  Did you notice that the boy not only never once says “thank you”, but also doesn’t seem to have a problem with essentially destroying this being who loves him, just to serve his own whims?

I have to admit that I do not find the boy to be a likeable character.  And that the tree’s way of giving beyond what seems rational or healthy makes me uncomfortable.

But, what can we make of this story from a theological point of view?  Does this story have anything to teach us about God, and if so, what?

I think that the way the tree loves the boy is the way God loves us.  I also think, perhaps more often than any of us would like to admit, even to ourselves, we are the boy.  Ok, I’ll say it: I am the boy.  I take the gifts which God so freely and abundantly offers me, and I use them to serve my own ends, often not even saying thank you to God, or spending any more time with Her than is needed to get what I want.  It’s uncomfortable for me to say it, but it is true.

And God is the tree.  She gives and gives, and loves without considering the cost, and according to Christian belief: God gives even to the point of the ultimate self-sacrifice, that is, submitting to death, as Christ did on the cross.

This is how God loves us, but is this how God wants it to be?  Well, no.  Remember in the story, after the boy cut down the tree’s trunk to make a boat, it says, “And the tree was happy….but not really.”

I think this is what the Old Testament passage for today is getting at:

Isaiah chapter 58 tells us that the people have been calling it in, not really trying, not really taking the time and energy necessary to maintain a relationship with God.  They were taking one day to fast, and then going back to their exploitative ways the other six.  God says to them through the prophet that one day out of six is not enough, that putting on sackcloth on the Sabbath is not going to erase a week’s worth of greed.  God speaks these words to the people:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

I don’t care about your going through the motions of religious piety, says God.  I care about your giving, and giving, and giving some more.  And only when you give without limit, only then will I hear your voice calling to me, and only then will I bless you with abundance.

Ack. That’s hard to hear.

Does this mean that God only loves us when we are doing right?  No.  But God can still love us and not be too happy with us, at the same time.

It’s like how I remind my daughter often that I love her always, even when I am angry with her, even when she makes terrible decisions.  I will always love her.  And I want her to hear and remember that, even through my anger.

The boy makes some rotten decisions, but the tree always loves him, and is always overjoyed to see him when he returns.  That bit kind of reminds me of the story of the Prodigal Son, which is also a difficult parable to hear, particularly from the older brother’s point of view.


I think that what is really, really troubling about hearing The Giving Tree as parable for divine love, is not only that it gives us a window into how unconditionally God loves us, no matter how bratty and greedy and self-centered we are, but it also illustrates for us the way in which God asks US to love one another.

God expects US to loose the bonds of injustice, the oppression that we enact on one another.  God expect US to share our bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into our own houses, to clothe the naked, and to take responsibility for others–even (and perhaps especially?) those with whom we are related.

In short, God expects US to be the tree.

I gotta tell you, I do not want to be the tree.

I do not want to give and give and give without limit.  I do not want to expend myself in service to others to the point of being completely used up.

So, what’s a person who wants to be faithful, but who would like to continue living through life, and still have some working parts left over by the end, to do?

Sometimes we’re the tree.
Sometimes we’re the boy.

One strategy comes to mind, that of a former pastor of mine, the lovely Julie Pennington-Russell, who once explained to me her system of calendar-keeping.  Next to every person’s name in her datebook, she would write either an F or a D.  F was for “fills me” and D was for “drains me”, and she said that she would try to have more or less a balance of each in any given week.  It was her way of avoiding burnout as a pastor of a large and thriving congregation.

She taught me that we have got to have a balance between people who fill us and people who drain us, or we ourselves become unbalanced, and can no longer give and serve others as God calls us to do.

I suppose that we could adapt my pastor’s system, and put a T for Tree, next to people who give to us, and a B for Boy next to those who take from us.

Sometimes we’re the tree.
Sometimes we’re the boy.

In my lines of work, as a doula, and as a chaplain, I see both: the selfless giving of parents to their newborns, often to the point of utter exhaustion.  I also see the giving of children to their dying parents, also to the point of utter exhaustion.  And of course, there is a whole life in between, in which there is give and there is take, and hopefully, it all evens out in the end.

God is perfect, and loves perfectly.  God is always the tree.

We, on the other hand…well.

Sometimes we’re the tree.
Sometimes we’re the boy.

As we walk through this imperfect life, may we find ways to balance our giving and taking, our treeness and our boyness, as we seek to live and love faithfully in relationship with others.


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Happy New Year!

2013 was an incredible year for me as a doula-turned-business-startup, and I wanted to take a moment to share with you where I have been and where I hope to go in the new year.  First of all, thank you to the moms and partners who invited me to witness the sacred moments of their labor and birth.  I am humbled and honored that I was able to provide support in some way along the journey through the pregnancy and the birth of these precious babies.

As my youngest child transitioned into more-or-less full time school at the beginning of the year, I was able to become fully available to be on call 24/7 as a birth doula.  This year I attended 22 births!  Amazing!  In between, I gained new training, worked on my website, and earned new certifications.  It has been a busy year, and I am excited to see what 2014 has in store.


A quick wrap-up of the many birth-related events of 2013:

  • attended 22 births in total!
  • volunteered at 7 births for GALS(Giving Austin Labor Support)
  • earned DONA Birth Doula certification
  • trained as a DONA postpartum doula
  • earned Stillbirthday Birth and Bereavement Doula certification
  • created a seminar on birtheology, a topic I blog on as often as I can


Hopes for the new year:

  • become certified as a CLC (Certified Lactation Counselor)
  • become certified as a DONA postpartum doula
  • host a monthly “Breastfeeding Brunch”
  • train as an abortion doula
  • blog more often (these are hopes, after all)
  • attend more births!


Thanks for reading!  My best to you and yours in the coming year!

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the curse of eve

Back on track with my birtheology notes…let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

Is it really all Eve’s fault?

I think I have to start here with any kind of semi-organized analysis of birth and the biblical narrative, ’cause doesn’t it seem as though everybody likes to pile on Eve and blame her for EVERYTHING BAD THAT IS?  It’s like Bob Marley sings, “Woman is the root of all evil.”

In this post I’m going to leave aside the question of  whether or not Eve deserves all the blame for everything that has ever gone wrong, and focus rather on the so-called “curse of Eve,” which is the notion that women experience pain in childbirth because Eve took a bite of forbidden fruit.  We’ve all heard this explanation for the existence of labor pain, but what exactly does the Bible say?

Below I will excerpt the passage in question (because I hate it when I read commentaries that make ME look up what passage they are referring to), but first a note on the translation used: it is from Robert Alter’s translation of the book of Genesis.  Alter is a scholar of Hebrew and comparative literature, who strives to produce a close literal rendering, while also capturing the poetry and wordplay of the Hebrew text.  And now, the text, Genesis 3:14-19.

And the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

Cursed be you
of all cattle and all beasts of the field.
On your belly shall you go
and dust shall you eat all the days of your life.
Enmity will I set between you and the woman,
between your seed and hers.
He will boot your head
and you will bite his heel.”

To the woman He said,

“I will terribly sharpen your birth pangs,
in pain shall you bear children.
And for your man shall be your longing,
And he shall rule over you.”

And to the human He said, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree that I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat from it,’

Cursed be the soil for your sake,
with pangs shall you eat from it all the days of your life.
Thorn and thistle shall it sprout for you
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread
till you return to the soil,
for from there were you taken,
for dust you are
and to dust shall you return.”

First of all, did you notice that Eve is not cursed at all.  Only the snake and the ground are actually cursed.  (What did the ground do?  Alas, that is another question for another day.)  So the whole “curse of Eve” thing is a total misnomer.

But more to the point of the story, this episode, like much of the Bible and particularly the first 11 chapters of Genesis, is meant to help us understand why things are the way they are.  So, the question we are asking today is, “Why do women experience pain in childbirth?”

Genesis’s answer is this: Humans go their own way/rebel against God/sin/whatever you want to call it.  Anyone who looks around and pays attention to human nature can see that.  The consequence (not curse) of that distance between humanity and God is that we have to work.  We are no longer able to live a childlike existence in the Garden where our every need is provided for us.  Our lives are not easy because we are so unruly–in other words, we brought this trouble on ourselves because of our own poor choices.  Any parents out there to whom this sounds familiar?  In this worldview, God is our parent, and like any conscientious parent, God allows us to live out the consequences of our actions.

What is really interesting, and also totally missed in most translations of this passage, is that the text shows a parallel description of that consequence for both men and women—even using the same word to describe how both sexes will suffer equally.  Read again verse 16:

To the woman He said,

“I will terribly sharpen your birth pangs,
in pain shall you bear children.
And for your man shall be your longing,
And he shall rule over you.”

and then in the very next verse (17) we see the parallel consequence for the man:

And to the human He said, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife and ate from the tree that I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat from it,’

Cursed be the soil for your sake,
with pangs shall you eat from it all the days of your life.

In the time and place Genesis was written (and in plenty of places even now), woman’s work=childbearing, while man’s work=providing food. Both types of work are described with the word ‘pangs’.  In this reckoning, both man and woman are equally pained.  They have equal punishment because they share equal blame.  So stop blaming it all on Eve, people.  God didn’t.

OK, so that’s the rotten news.  But, God is a good parent, one who lets her children face their own consequences, but who does not give us up for lost.  Even though both Eve and Adam disobeyed God, he does not abandon them.  If you read further, you will see that God helps them find clothes and then goes with them out from the garden.  Remember, this is just the beginning of God’s story of being in relationship with humans.  The whole rest of the Bible is about how God continues to be present with us, continues to provide for us, continues to love us and to give us another chance.  And another.  And another.

And the human called his woman’s name Eve, for she was the mother of all that lives. (Genesis 3:20)

But wait, there is even more good news!  Despite this decidedly downbeat beginning, throughout the Hebrew Bible, over and over again childbirth is seen as a blessing, not a curse.  And Eve, for all the poop everyone gives her, still gets crowned with a title: she is forever remembered as The Mother of All Living.  Which is pretty dang cool, in my opinion.

And just a bit further in Genesis, we get to hear out of Eve’s own mouth just how cool she thought becoming a mother was:

And the human knew Eve his woman, and she conceived and bore Cain, and she said,

I have made a man with the help of the Lord!” (Genesis 4:1)

Ok, so I added the exclamation point.  But honestly, who can read this exclamation of Eve’s without hearing an exclamation point?

What a counterpoint to the downside of childbearing shown in Gen 3:16!   This is not the voice of a woman ashamed.  She is proud of being a co-creator of life!  And clearly, the pangs she experienced in the process of bringing forth her son did nothing to diminish her sense of wonder and fulfillment and joy at meeting him.

Yes, labor is painful.  Maybe we can blame Eve for that, maybe not.  But we can absolutely follow her lead and do the work of childbearing with pride, reveling in the wonder that, with the help of the Lord, we are creating and bringing forth life.


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back to the blog

It’s been awhile, folks.  I’ve missed y’all.

I’ll indulge in a quick recap of what I’ve been doing instead of blogging.  Then, I’ll get back to blogging.

  • My doula business picked up. (YAY!)  There were some lean months there, I’m not going to lie.  I kept telling myself what other experienced doulas (and other self-employed, start your own service business from scratch folks) told me: It will be slow at first, but then it will snowball.  And it did!  So that was true after all, and not just some lie people tell you so they won’t have to just helplessly sit by and watch you feel sad about how your business is totally stagnant.0902131045b-1
  • I am working through an online doula training course offered by an organization called Stillbirthday, whose tagline is “A pregnancy loss is still a birthday.”  I signed up for this training because I have experience as a chaplain in supporting pregnancy loss, but I always felt that I really wasn’t very well prepared to provide such support.  I’m not really sure where this training will lead me or how I will incorporate it into my doula work.  Right now I’m simply learning and waiting to see what opportunities arise.
  • I’ve been spending time with the family, even doing a spot of advocacy (see photo).  V  helped to paint our sign, which was seen by tourists as they lined up to view the capitol building on Labor Day.  Perhaps not the most effective measure of civil action, but it was a fun day downtown for the fam.  D is not in this photo, as he was too busy climbing on the CANNONS that exist outside our statehouse.
  • I did a lot of preparation for the birtheology seminar held at my church in early September.  But then, the ONE client I was on call for that day went into labor.  So, I missed my own seminar.  I figured–this woman will only have her first baby once, and she really wants me to be there.  The people who will show up for the seminar will have attended in the past and will in the future attend many seminars.  They can do without me.  However, they were not left alone, either!  My wonderful husband wins the partner of the year award, as he presented my material in my place.

I was planning on doing this anyway, but especially since I missed the seminar myself, I am going to write a series of posts here using the material I prepared.  So, stay tuned!  I promise it won’t be months before I write again.

No, really.  It won’t.

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FAQ: Why *reverend* + doula?

Every now and then, I go back and forth with myself on whether it was a good idea to market myself as both reverend and doula.  I always come back to “yes”, mainly because it feels authentic.  It’s who I am.  I also think there are some good reasons why my training as a chaplain makes me a better doula.  Here is my take on the question, “Why reverend + doula?

I decided to include reverend in my doula business name because I am both: I am a reverend and a doula.  I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC).  I currently work as a part-time chaplain at a local hospital.  I’m also a DONA -certified birth doula.

I’m really interested in the ways these two roles intersect—I’m developing a theology of birth (what I call birtheology).  I blog on this regularly, if you’re interested in reading more.  One of my goals with birtheology is to give families some tools to reflect on the process of pregnancy and birth as a spiritual experience.  I write specifically from a Christian perspective, as that is my own faith tradition.

It may be that because I have reverend in my business name, you might be wondering whether if I am your doula, am I going to go all Jesus-y on you?  And the answer is no.  That is, unless Jesus is a meaningful part of your own practice of spirituality.  In my doula work and even in my chaplain work, I don’t bring up God unless the person I am working with does so first. Because my faith informs who I am, that doesn’t mean I expect faith to be a part of who you are.  I do my best to meet people where they are, and provide emotional and spiritual support that is responsive to who they are as individuals.

Obviously, I have my own religious beliefs.  But a huge part of my chaplain training involved learning how to put my own beliefs aside to be able to be fully present and responsive to the person I am serving.  The same skill is necessary in doula work.  Of course, I have my own preferences and beliefs about birth.  I have twice given birth myself, so I have personal experience with the process!  But my birth is not your birth.  My choices may or may not coincide with your choices.  I strive to put my own beliefs aside to be able to be fully present and responsive to the person I am serving, whether I do so as a chaplain or as a doula.

Really, what I do as a doula and what I do as a chaplain have a lot in common. Obviously, the situations will differ, but the care I provide for families facing major transition moments in life together involves:

  • listening carefully to their hopes and their fears,
  • naming and helping them to address the fears that are keeping them from finding hope,
  • and helping them to embrace the moment they are in, whatever that may be.


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pregnant in worship: thoughts on liturgy and birth

I was SO going to post this week on the Curse of Eve (doesn’t that sound like a B-list horror film? spoiler: It’s not.), but then another idea came crashing in.  Maybe next week I’ll take us back to the Garden of Eden, but today I want to go inside Christian worship and look for birtheology there.

Vivian's baptism

Note the preggo belly–I was determined to get this one sprinkled before the next one came along.

It seems to me that the church doesn’t offer much in the way of ritual or spiritual support for families in the childbearing year.  It seems that most churches do a really good job of helping with the practical considerations of having a baby–chiefly, organizing a baby shower before birth and a care calendar afterward.  And when my church did these things for me, I felt loved and knew that this was a way for people to show that they care about me and my family.  But, I wanted more.  I wanted ritual–words and symbol used as a way for my church to acknowledge and support the spiritual journey my growing little family was on.

Dory's baptism

Clearly I did not learn from my experience the first time around. My apologies to the pastor who had to chase after my son’s head as he did his best to duck and dodge.

Of course, there is baptism (or baby dedication, depending on one’s tradition), but this happens well after the birth (and if you are like me, you don’t get around to doing this until your baby is a toddler (note the photos of my own family’s experiences) and MUCH less open to the idea of a semi-stranger coming at them with wet fingers). Plus, the baptism or baby dedication ritual is much more about starting the baby off on a solid theological grounding in life than about acknowledging what the parents and  older siblings have just experienced.


Credit to Barb Nunn, a wonderful Dallas-based photographer and friend.

This kind of ritual acknowledgement of the incredibly transformative spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth was something I actively searched for when I was pregnant.  There are two moments when I felt my pregnancy acknowledged in church that stand out in my memory.  One was at my friend and colleague Chantel’s ordination.  During the celebration of Communion, I walked up the aisle to her beaming face, and as she offered the bread to me she gestured to my belly and said, “May this nourish both you and your baby.”  I returned to my pew with tears in my eyes.

My other moment came a bit later in my first pregnancy, at Holy Trinity, the Anglican church I attended in Utrecht, the Netherlands.  They hold a healing service every few months in which people are invited to come forward to the altar rail and receive a blessing.  I went forward as I approached the end of my pregnancy in order to have the minister pray over me and my baby for a healthy birth.  That moment of having hands laid on my shoulders, oil anointing my forehead, and words of blessing spoken over me as I kneeled in church did much to allay some of my anxiety and to remind me that God would be with me in the physical act of delivering my child.

While I treasure both these memories, I did sort of happen upon them by accident.  Neither communion nor a healing service are particularly designed to support pregnancy.  So where are the rituals for pregnancy and birth?  Why does the church, and its vast store of language and symbol regarding advent, and hope, and fear, and creation, and journey, and, well–LOTS of themes which easily relate to pregnancy and birth, remain silent?

I can’t answer that one.  I have lots of thoughts, but of course no real answers.

But if the church, or even a church, (hey, what about your church?) wanted to start acknowledging and supporting the spiritual journey expecting families are on, here are some ideas:

  • A blessing for a pregnant woman, as well as for her partner and other children.  What I’m suggesting is something that would happen within the context of worship, with the whole congregation present and participating.  (As opposed to what is known as a “blessing way“, or “mother blessing”: a home-based ritual meant to provide emotional and spiritual support for a woman in her pregnancy.  This is fodder for a whole other post entirely.  Stay tuned.) This blessing could be short and simple, but the pledge of spiritual support from her congregation would be quite meaningful to a woman and her family journeying through pregnancy.


    I love this image, but I think it is sad that this woman is all alone.
    Where is her community?

  • A blessing for the mother and her family after the birth.  There used to be such a  ritual, and it still survives in some Christian traditions.  It is known as the “Churching of Women“,  and for many people it carries negative connotations about the impurity of women following childbirth.  However, I am proposing that we move beyond any such connotation, reformulating and reclaiming this ritual as needed in order to focus on welcoming a new mother back into worship, acknowledging the enormity of what she has just done, and lending support to her and her family as they move into a new way of being.
  • Always in the back of my mind when I am working with this concept of birtheology is the knowledge that pregnancy and birth are not always simple or even accessible to all.  Of course, considerable discretion would need to be used, but I believe that offering a means of  acknowledging the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth and praying for and with the parents who have experienced this within the context of their community of faith could be a powerful means of supporting their grief.
  • Along these same lines, there are those in the pews who silently struggle with infertility.  I have no idea what this might look like, but perhaps there is a way to break the silence and shame on this subject as well.  What is the church for, anyway, but to support one another in faith through life’s journey, whatever that journey might hold?

These are just preliminary ideas, and I could write a whole post on any of the points above.  What I would really love is to hear your thoughts and experience.  Is there a way in which you found spiritual support in the childbearing year within the context of worship, or do you have suggestions for how that could happen?  Or have you felt excluded within worship as one who has struggled with fertility issues?  How would you suggest the church address people in this situation?

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FAQ: –But I’ll have my partner with me.

OK, so this is more of a Frequent Rebuttal than a Frequently Asked Question.  But still, it comes up a lot: “Why do I need a doula if my partner will be there to support me?”  This is why:

One reason a woman may not be sure she needs a doula is that her partner will be present at the birth to provide emotional support.  Or perhaps she and/or the partner worry that a doula will come between them in this precious moment of bringing their child into the world.

Photo courtesy of Shelley Moon Photography

The truth is that labor can be a very long, tiring process for the partner as well as the woman giving birth.  It can also emotionally be quite intense to watch one’s partner endure (perhaps quite a lot of) pain and to be faced with unforeseen obstacles in the impossible-to-predict process of labor and birth. It is really quite a lot to ask of someone who has little or no experience with birth to remain emotionally engaged during such a stressful event.  The good news is that research shows that when a doula is there to provide support, partners tend to stay more engaged in the birth process and are less likely to pull away from the laboring woman when things become stressful.

I believe that most partners want very much to be involved during labor and birth.  However, in the moment of truth, they find it difficult to remember all the things they read, heard in their childbirth class, and practiced at home before the big day.   With the assistance of a doula, the partner can engage in the birth in a way that feels comfortable.  Simply by bringing a nonanxious presence into the room, a doula can set a more confident and relaxed tone for everyone.  A doula also helps by reminding the partner about physical comfort techniques to try and by giving assurance when things are progressing normally.

A doula cannot replace a loving partner, who can provide a level of security and comfort that a comparative stranger could never do.  This is not a zero-sum game–the choice is not one or the other.  Rather, by having both a doula and a partner working as a team to provide support for the laboring woman, everybody wins.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s the way a partner of one of my clients described the experience of having me as their doula:

When Jordan first told me she wanted a doula, I wasn’t sure what a doula was! When I found out, I wasn’t immediately agreeable. I had imagined just her, me, and the hospital staff. I was sure we (read: I) could handle everything on our own, and I expected it to be really awkward to have another person there. But in the end, I was very glad to have you. You were reassuring, kept Jordan confident, and were her voice and sanity when she didn’t have her own! I felt like you were part of my team. I know you kept her sane throughout the process. I know you helped keep her as physically comfortable as possible. You were able to relate with her throughout the experience, something I could never have done. Thank you also for keeping me confident. I knew that if I forgot any of our techniques, you would be there to assist me. You kept me confident that the delivery would go how Jordan wanted it to go (at least what we had control over). We had taken a birthing class, but you initiated a lot of the techniques we had learned about. It was great to have an extra pair of massaging hands and your confident voice in the room.

And here’s yet another great account from a partner’s perspective: 5 Reasons Dads Should Demand a Doula.  My favorite quote of the article:

When I first heard about doulas, I thought of them as birth interlopers.  Now I don’t know how anyone could manage to give birth without one.

Well, that does take things a bit too far.  Of course, one could manage to give birth without a doula.  But the experience would certainly be different.

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FAQ: Why do I need a doula?

Third in the series of Frequently Asked Questions: Why do I need a doula?

Or, put another way, “How will making the investment of hiring a doula benefit me (or my pregnant friend/family member)?”  There are many, many benefits.  Read on.  And comment if I’ve left something out, or not explained something clearly.  Thanks for reading!

”If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” – – John H. Kennell,  MD

There have been several clinical studies done to evaluate the effect of having continuous support during labor and birth.  These have shown that women who received such support were more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births (that is, they were more likely to go into labor without the use of labor inducing drugs or techniques, and they delivered without the use of instruments such as forceps or vacuum extraction or by c-section).  These women were less likely to request any pain medication or an epidural, and their labors were shortened.  They had more positive feelings overall about childbirth, and their babies had higher Apgar scores at birth.

The best results were shown when women were continuously supported in labor by a doula who was neither a staff member of the hospital nor a friend or family member of the woman giving birth.   Still not convinced?  Let me throw down some statistics.  When women were given continuous emotional support in labor, they experienced:

  • 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
  • 28% decrease in the risk of c-section
  • 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
  • 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
  • 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

How can the presence of a doula make such a difference?  Put simply, fear wreaks havoc  on the process of birth.  Fear initiates a physical response in our bodies which can increase pain, slow down labor, and lead to abnormal heart rate patterns in baby.  Having a  knowledgeable birth professional providing continuous emotional, physical and informational support throughout labor reduces fear.

Another way to think about this is to say that a doula “mothers the mother.”  This reduces the amount of stress experienced by the whole family, which in turn allows the new parents to put their energy and attention toward welcoming and bonding with their new baby.  Research shows that having a doula’s support can lead to parents who feel more secure, self-confident and are more successful in adapting to their new lives with a baby.  Parents supported by a doula are also less likely to experience postpartum depression and have a lower incidence of abuse.

But wait–there’s more!  There is also evidence that having a doula at one’s birth improves breastfeeding outcomes in the immediate postpartum period and for weeks afterward.  Birth doulas have training in supporting breastfeeding, and they also reduce the chances of having a whole slew of interventions which can interfere with establishing breastfeeding.

So, back to the quote at top.  Now that you know all the potential benefits, if a doula were a pill you could take, or a technique you could practice, or a procedure you could undergo, why would you choose not to use one?

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meeting the Theotokos in the hospital

I was doin’ my chaplain thing this week, sitting with a patient’s family while they waited for news about their loved one, and I happened to mention to one of them (let’s call him Hank, which is not his real name)  that I’m also a doula and a blogger on things birtheology-related.  A couple of days later, I had a chance to swing by and check on this family, and Hank stopped me and said that he had googled my blog (“It’s an internet world,” he said), and he had a suggestion for me.  Turns out Hank is Eastern Orthodox, and when he saw my blog, he immediately thought of this:

Our Lady of the SignOr something a lot like this, as this is what I found when I googled what he described to me.  It is an icon, which (put simply) is a religious work of art, often used in worship, but not as an object of worship.  Eastern Orthodox Christians venerate (that is, regard with reverence or respect) icons, but this veneration, as Bishop Auxentios explains,

must be understood as a veneration rendered not to a thing (or person), in and of itself, but through the thing to that which sanctifies it—ultimately, of course, to God. We honor the Cross, therefore, because of the One crucified on it. We honor a Saint because of Him whose friend the Saint is.

David-Goa175x248This icon in particular is of Mary who is here depicted as the Theotokos, which is a Greek term most precisely translated as birth-giver of God.  In this rendering, Mary is pictured facing the viewer with her hands raised in a position that is both a posture of prayer and a reminder of the posture Christ took on the cross, here reflected by the tiny fully formed Jesus in her womb.  This icon is meant to capture Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, when she gave her Great Yes to God, submitting to her role of God-bearer.  Veneration of the Theotokos is a big part of Eastern Orthodox Christian practice.  According to Dr. David J. Goa (who by the way, looks like THIS!!→)

When Orthodox Christians around the world enter the church, they bring a candle to this icon and, bowing in a prayer of gratitude to God who clothed them in flesh, ask that they, too, like the Theotokos, may be open to be a birth giver of divine love in a fractured and suffering world.

This is a prayer uttered by all Orthodox Christians regardless of gender or age, because this vocation to give birth to divine love is one that all Christians share.  It’s like the good Dr. Goa says:

The mystery of the Incarnation of God in Christ is our mystery, a revelation of our created nature and a call to its fullness, . . . [thus] the Icon of the Virgin and Child is . . . the Icon of the Human Vocation. It reveals to us our capacity as persons, as women, men and children.

I believe that the Incarnation is not only something Jesus did once, but something that every Christian is called to do daily: to bring God into this world of flesh and blood.  We are to say Yes to God, and allow Christ to be born in us,  just like Mary did.  This reminds me of the sermon Julie Pennington-Russell preached at my ordination, in which she stated that this woman who became the mother of Jesus was “no Milquetoast Mary,” but instead an incredibly brave and faithful person.  Each of us who are serious about bearing Christ within us and bringing forth the light of God into the world ought to take her for a model of faith.

When Hank was telling me about the Theotokos and the significance this icon has for him and for his fellow Orthodox Christians, I lamented that Protestants lost so much when we decided to stop really paying any attention to Mary.  He replied that we “threw out the baby with the bath water–no pun intended!”

I couldn’t agree more.


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a liturgical calendar pop quiz

What are the three main Christian feast days? (hint: a feast day is a high point of religious observance and celebration in the life of the church)

Did you even know there are three?  You can name two, anyway, even if you haven’t been to church in a while, or didn’t pay too much attention even when you were there.

There’s Christmas.

And Easter.

Those are the two everyone knows. But the third major feast day, the only one not completely co-opted by popular culture, and therefore known only to die-hard liturgical calendar fans (yes, we do exist) is: Pentecost.  Now you know.

Pentecost was celebrated this past Sunday.  It is observed 50 days (7 weeks) after Easter and commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ apostles.  As my three-year-old learned in her Sunday school class, “It’s the Church’s birthday!”

That got me to thinking.  ALL THREE of the main Christian feast days are about birth.  No really.  Christmas is obviously about birth.  The actual, physical birth of Jesus, to be precise.  The other two are metaphorically about birth.  Easter commemorates Jesus’ return to life, or re-birth, you might say.  Plenty of people have already made connections between the tomb and the womb. (Though I think that is the stuff of another post entirely.)   And now Pentecost is another metaphorical birth, this time of the church, as it begins to move from being a loose group of Jesus-followers to an organized religion.

So–if the three high points of Christian life are about birth, then it follows that birtheology is not just for mommies and babies (in case anyone out there was thinking that).   Christmas, the actual birth of Jesus; Easter, the metaphorical rebirth of Jesus; and Pentecost, the metaphorical birth of the church: these three events are central to the Christian faith.

Birth is central to the Christian faith.  

And if birth is central to the faith, then we’ve got some work to do in uncovering a theology of birth.  This means examining what birth is, how it affects those who participate in it (both women and men, both those actually giving birth and those who support them), what it teaches us about the life of the body, soul and spirit.  This is true even if we are “only” regarding birth as a metaphor, since to understand a metaphor one must first thoroughly examine what it refers to.

For whatever reason, we as Christians have largely neglected to give serious thought to this central element of our own faith.    But that’s all about to change, y’all.  Keep reading, and keep commenting–there will be more birtheology to come!

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