Four times now I’ve been through labor and birth. Labor, for me, is much more than just pain - it has a spiritual dimension to it that is difficult to describe. Four times now I’ve reflected on the connection to the cross during labor. The connection to the cross has been different each time, but always it is there.
For two of my births, I’ve consciously offered up the pain for others. So while in the throes of agony, I’d at least sometimes be mindful enough to offer it up for the sake of others, as St Paul says in Colossians 1:24, “It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church,” (NAB). Of course, I wasn’t exactly coherent enough to remember that verse during labor itself, nor to articulate coherent prayers beyond “please, God.” But I’d certainly remembered that Jesus’ suffering wasn’t meaningless, but was on my behalf. In a lesser way, I knew my own suffering wasn’t meaningless, but benefited others.
I’ve actively focused on the crucifix during labor. While in transition, screaming that I couldn’t do this any longer, I would look at the crucifix in desperation. In that moment, I understood Jesus’ pain and despair in crying out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Neither of us was ever abandoned, of course, but that feeling of being absolutely at my breaking point, of feeling like I was dying, was very real. Since no one could help bear that pain, that feeling of being completely reliant on God and yet also completely alone was also very real. My coping techniques no longer worked at that point, drugs wouldn’t matter at that point. It was just me and the cross.
Jesus’ story didn’t stop with the suffering of the cross, and neither did mine. At that point, when death felt near, when it felt like I couldn’t possibly continue, my own body was stretched and torn to make way for new life. Jesus’ suffering and death allowed me to have new life, and my own breaking and suffering allowed my babies to enter the world and have life. Labor felt like the cross and the tomb, but the moment of birth felt like Easter morning and the euphoria of discovering life in the midst of death. Just as we cannot have life without the cross, the agony, physical and spiritual, of labor also was necessary for me to go through to bring forth this new life. I’m humbled by being able to participate in Jesus’ own sufferings in this way.