By Katey Zeh
In most instances when U.S. media portrays the birth of a baby, the storyline typically goes something like this: The woman’s water breaks in the grocery store. Her awestruck partner starts panicking that they need to rush to the hospital immediately. When they arrive the woman screams obscenities as she is wheeled into the delivery room where a doctor shouts like a drill sergeant for her to push a few times before the baby is born. It’s loud, exciting, and kind of terrifying.
The birth of my daughter was nothing like this. In fact, as it turns out very few women I know have had experiences like the ones we see in movies and on TV. But our consumption of this Hollywood narrative of childbirth—excruciatingly painful, lightening fast, always with a happy ending—shapes our collective imagination about childbirth in powerful ways. If the only births we ever see are fictionalized, sensationalized, and sanitized representations of the experience, what else do we have to go on?
There are consequences to this. I spent a good portion of my pregnancy trying to unlearn the culture’s explicit and implicit messages about childbirth that taught me to be afraid of it, to discount my physical and mental stamina; that told me to entrust my birth experience to medical professionals without complaint or question. I was shocked when a friend of mine shared that her OB, who entered the delivery room groggy from a nap, answered her cell phone and talked casually as my friend begged to push her baby out. Even as her daughter was crowning, the doctor said to my friend, “Hold on another minute.”
As a person of faith, I hold to the sacred truth that as children of God, all women and girls have innate sacred worth. No woman should have to beg for compassionate, respectful maternal health care.
In my advocacy for global maternal health, I am passionate about lifting up and honoring the stories of women’s births that we find in our ancient scriptures and connecting them with what is happening in today’s world. Even though these women lived thousands of years ago, their experiences are not unlike those of many women today. I’ve written about Mary as a young, poor teenager with an unexpected, high-risk pregnancy. I’ve shared about the story of Rachel in Genesis who died in childbirth, not unlike the more than 800 women this very day who will lose their lives bringing new life into our world.
This year on April 11th organizations and advocates who care about maternal health are calling for the day to be recognized as the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. Communities of faith have a real opportunity to reclaim our collective stories, both past and present, to ensure that the sacred worth and dignity of every woman–no matter where she lives, no matter the circumstances of her pregnancy, no matter what access to resources she has—are honored during pregnancy, childbirth, and throughout her life. If you are looking for a way to get started, I invite you to take a look at our resources for how to get your congregation involved in the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project.
Birth is sacred. Let’s make sure it’s treated that way.
This was originally posted on the United Methodist Church’s Healthy Families, Healthy Planet website. Reprinted with permission from the author.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is an advocate, organizer, and writer for global maternal health and family planning. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she currently serves as the Director of the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. Katey has written about maternal health for the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, and Feminist Studies in Religion. She lives in Cary, North Carolina with her husband Matt and their daughter Samantha.