Although I don’t remember when I was born, I have seen deliveries and will never forget them. And, of course, Joice, my wife and the woman and mother who had experienced childbirth, was in a far superior and different category to remember.
When our son was born in a bush jungle hospital in Papua New Guinea, I was with Joice. It was a difficult forceps delivery, and Joice was exhausted. The doctor, a visiting expert in forceps deliveries “happened” to be there, and it was difficult for him, too. During the process of pulling, he said to me (I am not making this up) “It is a wonder his head doesn’t come right off.” It didn’t, but Kirk has some marks on his forehead that will back up my story.
We had two children, and in between, Joice had an ectopic pregnancy, almost died, and needed surgery, which is another story. We were told that we would probably not be able to have another child, but 6 years later Karol Joy was born. The middle name is significant because during the night before she was born, I had an “epiphany.” I had been awake, reading the Bible, and praying, and, when I read Psalm 30:5, the second half of the verse struck me: “weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
It was in a small government hospital in a coastal town, and I missed the birth by 15 minutes or so. Joice hemorrhaged, but with a blood transfusion, she was OK. I was not: I remembered our previous two experiences. I rushed to the hospital and told Joice, who was not interested at that moment, that I had the middle name (which we had debated) for our daughter and it was Joy. God had answered our prayers.
Many women in the world do not have access to hospitals during childbirth. We lived with the Kewa people in a remote area of the Southern Highlands, at a mile high altitude, and there were no hospitals. There were menstrual huts that women used as birthing huts, or sometimes the child was born at home or at a garden site.
Pregnant women would come to us for medications and about all we could give them was aspirin and advice. On one occasion, Joice gave a very pregnant woman two aspirins and told her that she was going to have a boy. Within an hour, she had a boy, and soon other women were coming to Joice, asking for the pill that made the baby come and to also tell them the sex of the forthcoming baby. Joice claimed quite truthfully that she did not know, but due to her one-time bit of lucky 50-50 guessing, she was seen as a prophetess. She not only had superior medication to promote quick childbirth but could also tell the mother whether she would have a boy or a girl (there was no in-between).
In Biblical times, women in the process of childbirth apparently either kneeled or sat on someone's knees. Many had midwives and servants to help them, and it would be rare for any woman to be alone during childbirth. There are no details given in the Bible about childbirth. However, in all the Christmas stories, Joseph led a donkey, with pregnant Mary riding on it, to Bethlehem. Although there are no details about the birth, except that Jesus was placed in a manger. That is all we read about Mary and her childbirth. The teaching of the Catholic church goes further and declares that Mary had no pain. Others say that Mary’s childbirth is a sign of the ultimate deliverance that awaits the Church.
I leave aside such questions and debates and return to the one vivid issue: the woman giving birth to a child in a natural way bears pain. This is made clear in the Bible in Genesis 3:16a: “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe with painful labor you will give birth to children.”
Thankfully, there are ways to eliminate or lesson such pain, but not in the Kewa society, where the woman would say, “The pain is eating me to death.”
I read recently that a boy failed a question in a class because he marked it false that a man could get pregnant. Men can, however, act like they are pregnant. Couvade syndrome, also called sympathetic pregnancy, is when a father exhibits some of the symptoms of his pregnant wife, including gaining weight, altered hormone levels, nausea, and disturbed sleep.
There is another kind of birth that we read about in the New Testament: the birth of the Spirit. Jesus revealed it to Nicodemus (in John 3) when he said: “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” This puzzled Nicodemus who associated it with natural physical childbirth and said, “Surely they [someone] cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus explained that natural childbirth produces humans but that rebirth by the Spirit produces a new spirit within us. Quite an outstanding birth!
We become children of God through the process of spiritual childbirth. Like in natural childbirth, it may also involve pain and suffering.
However, once born, no Christian should remain a spiritual infant: "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up…" (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). God has provided the “milk” of his Word to help us. However, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14).
We were born to grow.