spiritual midwives re-dux

blog spiritual midwivesi stumbled on this post the other day (i sometimes forget what i have written) and i decided to re-post it.  new people have joined the conversation here in the past two years and are in this wild and beautiful and how-in-the-world-did-i-end-up-here spiritual transformation process.  i thought it might be helpful.  have a great weekend!

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a lot of you already know that i have more kids than the average person–5 lovely little bunnies, ranging from my oldest who is a junior in college down to twins that are 12.  one thing that i always get to use when i play the game “two truths & a lie” is that i delivered all 5 of my kids naturally, no epidurals, no demerol, no nothing (and just to go out with a bang, the twins were 6 1/2 pounds each!).  i am not opposed to pain medicine (and trust me, i cried out for it more than once) but i had midwives in the hospital for 3 of the 4 deliveries and just ended up making it through without ever getting any drugs.   if i compare my midwife births to the one with a doctor, there really is no comparison in terms of the love, care, nurturing and support that i got through the entire process.

they were gentle, strong, nurturing, challenging, present, wise, compassionate, and patient in a time of a lot of pain.

several years ago a friend told me that she was really thankful that i had been her “spiritual midwife” during a season of spiritual shifting and big pain & change in her life.   i have since often reflected on these words & how this metaphor is a very important one with so many people experiencing huge spiritual shifts or moving to new places in their life & story for a variety of reasons.  we need patient guides, people to hold our hands and remind us to breathe, people who recognize and respect the birthing-something-new process who don’t try to rush it or numb it out.

yeah, i think we need more spiritual midwives.

the typical-western-doctor-medical-model seems to kind of fit with so many of our christian experiences.  the you-just-need-to-take-this-do this-stop-doing-that-believe this-work-toward-that mantra is the response that so many people get when they start to question, doubt, shift, or end up in some weird fork in the road of their spiritual journey.  what ends up happening to some is the pain gets too great & they end up numbing themselves out and migrating back to what’s comfortable & familiar even though it doesn’t bring life or hope anymore. or for others, they may gut it out alone & end up never getting the joy of holding “the baby” because the process stripped everything instead of just the stuff that needed to be stripped.  and i know for many of us we just long for a c-section, a please-get-to-the-end-of-this-now, instead of having to go through the pain of an unknown & scary process.

midwives understand the process of giving birth.  they understand that it takes time.  that it’s going to hurt.  and that there are certain things we can do to hang on through the pain, but that there’s no way around it.  natural & present is better than artificial & checked out.

so many people i know are shifting in their faith, longing to give birth to something new but not knowing what’s going to emerge.  there’s so much fear & confusion & loneliness & pain in that season, and while no one can do the work for us it is so much better when there are others along the way who can help guide, nurture, and remind that it won’t be like this forever and that something beautiful & wonderful can, indeed, emerge from the pain.

we need spiritual midwives who:

  • remind us not to rush the process. i have seen many people who want to move quickly through the pain of a shifting faith or a hard story & get to a new high too quick.  it just doesn’t seem to work that way for most people.  it can be long, agonizing, tiring.  we need midwives who tell us we can’t hurry the process.
  • let us express our pain instead of numb it. they will listen to our anger, our fear, our venting, our hurt, our angst and not expect it to go away right away.  they understand that raw honesty is helpful instead of pretending or numbing out and losing touch with what’s really going on inside.  they trust at some point we’ll stop yelling and crying.
  • hold our hand and tell us to breathe. i have some amazing friends in my life who really have stuck with me through all the nuttiness of my journey.  they won’t let go of me.  they return my phone calls and hold me when i cry.  they gently point me toward what’s good, what’s beautiful, what’s hopeful but without telling me what i should do and how i should do it.
  • help us see the beauty in the process even when we aren’t looking so beautiful. to me, giving birth, while beautiful in so many ways, can also sometimes be rough & hard & ugly.  it doesn’t seem like it’s us at our best, although maybe it actually really is. when it comes to the spiritual things being born & re-born in us, we need midwives who help celebrate the beauty of the moment, of what’s emerging, of what God is doing us in the midst regardless of how nuts we might look like at the moment.
  • know if we hang on long enough & see the process through, a “baby” will be born that will need nurturing, love & care.  there is a point in the spiritual shifting where a baby emerges.  some of the pushing is over, it doesn’t hurt anymore.  new hope is somehow born.  however, like a newborn baby, our renewed faith needs lots of food & care & love and can’t survive without it.   the new things surfacing in us spiritually need tending to so that they can be healthy & strong over time.

this metaphor has so many facets to it, but that’s a start. i like to think that when Jesus tells nicodemus in john 3 that we must be “born again” that there’s much more to it than just eternal salvation.  our faith will need to be re-born again and again over the course of our journey.

it’s why we need companions & guides along the way who will help us see the beauty, hope, light, the possibility that can emerge if we bravely stay with it–who help us trust that something new, something good, is coming even when we can’t believe it.  

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ps: if you need some spiritual midwife referrals from afar, i have a few..  email me and i’ll pass on their info. every situation is different and i know some pretty awesome guides.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

9 Comments

  • I’m so glad you reposted this! I’m one of the relative newbies to your online community, so I hadn’t seen this. Ever since I gave birth (also naturally! woot! but with no midwife…boo!) three years ago, I have compared almost every difficult season in my life with labor. There are many correlations between it and our daily lives, but even more with our spiritual lives. Is it any wonder there are so many references to labor pains in scripture? Oddly, though, I’d never thought of the midwife this way. It’s really spot on.

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    • thank, lindsay. sorry i am just now responding to this, i started to and then got distracted. i had a feeling there were some of you who are new around here who might not have. yeah, it definitely is a metaphor that works for so many things, doesn’t it? thanks for sharing and have fun with that little one. 3 is awesome.

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  • A few months ago, my wife and I watched in awe as we encouraged a friend to tell God what was really on her mind. After a long string of screaming colorful cussing, she collapsed in a pool of tears into our arms, sobbing. Then a new joy arose within and around her. She started to see who she was in a new light. I see, now, that what she went through was very much like a rebirth. Perfect metaphor. Tx.

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    • you always have such awesome stories. a sacred and safe place for these real feelings is so healing and helps us make it to the other side…you are such a good midwife!

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      • Kathy, that made me laugh. I DO feel like a midwife at times … and, as you know, I am not the least bit offended by a reference to a small part of my (HUGE) X-chromosome.

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  • This was the first post I ever read by you. Miss Sarah Bessey sent me over based on a comment I made on her blog to the same affect. I had midwives for both my births and I’m a labour and delivery nurse so I can fully appreciate the comparison and I agree the typical church following much more of a medical model….”don’t fall off the curve or we’ll intervene.” Midwives are a whole other world of patience and trust. They aren’t functioning on a mentality of fear. Thanks for re-sharing, it has a special place in my heart since it let me to you and this sacred place and so much more.

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    • somehow i do think of you and this post, too. i’m so glad you found your way here and that our paths crossed. you really get this metaphor, more than so many because you see this process over and over in your job. love from colorado….

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  • I read this passage in your book “Faith Shift,” just a few days after spending all night helping a young patient of mine deliver her first baby. I am a family physician in a rural area, and many of us are also “gentle, strong, nurturing, challenging, present, wise, compassionate, and patient in a time of a lot of pain.” In general, physicians attend women who have more complicated pregnancies than midwives, due to our training. This does mean that we tend to be very vigilant for potential problems during a delivery. This does not necessarily mean that we are more interventionalist.

    Having had only one birth experience with a physician, do you really want to generalize? (Your physician was perhaps an OB/gyn – they tend to have a more surgical mindset. Your physician may have just had a terrible complication with her last delivery and not had time to process that yet. There may have looked like there were complications arising with your delivery, and your physician was trying to not allow her stress to show through as she planned her upcoming actions. Your physician may have just had a personal crisis, and you interpreted her cooler attitude to her profession. Your physician might also have been an outlier, with a poor bedside manner.) The medical model is most distinctly not to inappropriately rush processes, nor is it to inappropriately numb pain – whether emotional or physical pain — and both physicians and midwives use whirlpool baths and birthing balls during labor, as well as IV medications and epidurals.

    That night, I could have let the on-call physician be with the patient, but knowing that it is typically better for the patient to have continuity, I went in to be with her despite having a full day planned the next day. With nursing turnover, many of our nurses do not have much OB experience, and so we physicians are present with the patient throughout more of the labor process than perhaps is typical for a physician in an urban area. Both because of my training and my character, I was present with the patient in her pain. I respected her choices. I encouraged her. I waited with her.

    And then, still not having quite caught up on sleep a few days later, I picked up your book and came to this passage and was very discouraged. I’m sure that wasn’t your intent, but there it was. This blog post and your book passage would be just as effective if you wrote that most of your “births were attended to by a midwife, and they were gentle, strong….” and “The midwife model is typically….” No negative comments about physicians or the “medical model” need to be included.

    Reply
    • thanks so much, elizabeth, for taking time to write. you are so right! and this is good feedback and i really appreciate it. in no way would i want to diminish the beautiful work you are doing to care for others.

      Reply

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