Thirty-two years ago today, our first child was born, a son we called Matthew. His name in Hebrew means gift from God, and that is exactly what he has been and still is to us. Thirty-two years ago, natural childbirth was all the rage, to such a degree that a woman was nearly compelled to resist even the mildest form of medicinal assistance to prove herself faithful to everything natural and unmitigated. Pain, we were told, was natural; gravity was natural. As one who harbors instinctive but paranoia-level fears of all manner of pharmaceuticals, I was all too willing to join the ranks as a fast dévotée of natural childbirth.
What I only barely understood, however, was the fact that childbirth is an innately supernatural experience. In the wake of childbirth classes and discussions of back labor, breathing patterns, and pushing techniques, I was aware that, by all rights, I should never even have been able to conceive a child. Somehow I knew that God, by His grace, had allowed me to get pregnant in spite of the abuse to which I had been subjecting my body. My female cycle had been out of whack for quite some time, as I was both anorexic and bulimic. The anorexia would have been evident to a discerning eye, but I had managed to keep the bulimia well-hidden. My husband and I truly wanted children, and I had personally vowed to myself that I would curtail my secret cycles of binging and purging if God would only allow me to get pregnant. Miraculously, I conceived. Predictably, I found myself unable to stop the binges and subsequent episodes of self-induced vomiting.
My sense of guilt and fear increased exponentially as the months of my pregnancy progressed toward the due date. In spite of my efforts to remain a toothpick, my body relentlessly packed on the pounds. The fear of being fat tormented me, yet the fear that I could be damaging my baby also began to haunt me. I feared this child would be born missing one or more limbs, or mentally retarded due to malnutrition. The nine months dragged on, and my emotions vacillated between excitement and dread.
Suddenly, one evening, little twinges of the first contractions began. I knew that something different was happening and chose to focus on the anticipation of meeting our child. In those days, ultrasound was in its infancy, and I had never heard of anyone having such a procedure. We headed for the hospital with no knowledge of what lay in store, apart from what we had learned in our childbirth classes and the fact that I was determined to navigate the birth process with no IV and no medicinal aid.
After a minor altercation with an old-fashioned nurse, I set about the breathing routines we had learned in our classes. Mercifully and miraculously, everything went according to every description of the ideal birth we had ever read: no IV was needed, and our firstborn son arrived with no medical intervention other than the doctor’s instruction to push at the proper moment. To my relief and joy, Matthew had two arms and two legs and a beautiful, lusty cry upon being expelled into this strange world.
A tidal wave of love and wonder engulfed me as I watched my husband cradle this new life in his arms. I knew that I had done nothing to deserve this gift, and I was in awe that God had given us this beautiful, healthy baby boy. God’s grace and goodness were so very evident.
Thirty-two years later, I am still in awe. Since February 2, 1980, God has been busier in my life than I can express. He is still laboring to birth new life (although not necessarily in baby form!) and work miracles in me. Four more children were delivered to us, different from one another but equally amazing expressions of His love and grace to us. Over the course of those childbirth years, Jesus set me free from the destructive bondage of those eating disorders and the snare of self-hate and rejection. These many years later, He continues to shower undeserved mercy and grace on us. As we have practiced parenting over three decades, God has used our children to expand our understanding of His love for us. Each one is a breathtaking combination of qualities, quirks, and talents that God Himself put together completely on His own, without our direction. We are amazed and delighted at the young adults they have become, in spite of our ignorance and inexperience in the art of parenting.
Our children have been powerful examples of the fact that God loves us when we are least deserving of His mercy and kindness. He has set His heart on us. He made us for His glory, and He delights in us. It is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32) and to reveal Himself to us (I Corinthians 2:9-10). What a grand process God initiated in our lives when “we decided” (ha!) to start a family. How self-sufficient and full of import we thought we were in making that decision, when, in reality, it was all God’s doing! He worked His purposes in us in this department in spite of the fact that we initially had little to no understanding of the role He intended to play in our lives, a role of glory, goodness, and redemption of the broken places in our hearts and minds. In the ensuing years, God has often used our children to speak truth and life to us and to tenderly teach us about Himself.
God is clearly in the birthing business, whether we understand it, deserve it, or not. His business is LIFE — creating it, giving it away, redeeming it, resurrecting it. Now, when I contemplate the births of our children, I am also keenly aware of a multitude of other things God has supernaturally birthed in my life besides our five babies. I deserved none of those things. God’s love for me was His reason for birthing His life into my own. I am grateful to my children, as well, for helping God to show me His goodness and grace.
I continue to ask Him to birth and grow Himself in a greater way in and through me — may His character, His hope, His love, and His life be more real to me and to those around me every day! (And to you, too!)
P.S. Happy Birthday, Matthew! And thanks!