By Christina Gebel, MPH, LCCE, Birth Doula
Today's post is written by Christina Gebel, MPH, LCCE, Birth Doula and examines what it is like to welcome families seeking childbirth classes that nurture their strong Catholic faith. Christina has designed a curriculum that combines evidence-based information and a spiritual component to meet this unique niche. Learn more about what the research shows about the impact of faith on pain and birth, as well as what families say about this offering. To read all the Welcoming All Families posts in the series, follow this link. - Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.
“You got a guide; the Lord is with you, and you have a guide. You have somebody to teach you […] And the Lord would put some light in my mind to do. I thank the Lord; every time I turn around, I’m thankful. He’s been good to me.”(Susie, 2009)
At first glance, these words may seem a recitation during a Christian worship service; however, they are words of Mrs. Jones, a Black Granny midwife who began practice in the 1940s. In this excerpt, she is speaking of the Lord not in general, but in regards to her work in pregnancy, as a teacher and guide.
The Black Granny midwives and their strong sense of spirituality, which was ignored and discouraged under efforts of the public health community to regulate the midwives in the name of high infant mortality in the deep South, are just one example of how faith, spirituality, and pregnancy go hand in hand. For Black Granny midwives, they did not have a job, they had a vocation.
Women today may also feel a sense of vocation when becoming mothers and confide stories, thoughts, and reflections of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting as a spiritual or faith-filled experience.
A small but growing body of evidence suggests there’s reason to believe this mindset is helpful. Effects include the positive effect of spirituality on pregnancy-related stress,(Dolatian, Mahmoodi, Dilgony, Shams, & Zaeri, 2017), religion and spirituality as an option for non-pharmacologic pain management and reduction of pain after cesarean,(Beiranvand, Noparast, Eslamizade, & Saeedikia, 2014) spiritual care enhancing a woman’s birth experience,(Crowther & Hall, 2015) (Moloney & Gair, 2015) and the need for providers to provide an enabling environment for women to practice their faith in birth,(Aziato, Ohemeng, & Omenyo, 2016), understand the religious needs of patients in pregnancy and labor,(Aziato, Odai, & Omenyo, 2016), especially in times of loss.(Nuzum, Meaney, & O’Donoghue, 2017)
However, whether women have the opportunity to reflect on their faith and spirituality during pregnancy and childbirth is less clear. More recently, ceremonies such as a blessingway,(Burns, 2015) which fosters a spiritual experience for the mother and invited guests through ritual, have become more popular or as important as or are replacing a traditional baby shower.
For women in organized religions, opportunities for ritual and reflection vary widely. In the Catholic tradition, which I come from, experiences can range between a blessing of expectant mothers at weekly Mass to focused faith-sharing or prayer groups for mothers or parents. Yet, pregnancy is not regularly engaged by the Catholic community as a particularly special and spiritually salient time in a woman’s life. The resulting baptism of a child, for instance, seems to be more future-focused, neglecting the journey to get there.
This led me to develop a program called Before Bethlehem (a twist on the widespread program of Pre-Cana, required for couples intending to marry in the Catholic church). On a surface level, Before Bethlehem looks much like a traditional childbirth education program, as it can be paired with common models, such as Lamaze. Once the traditional childbirth education topics have been covered in the session, the class transitions into a spiritual, reflective time where mothers or couples reflect on tenets of faith as they relate to family and participants are invited to share reflections on how pregnancy has been a spiritual or faith-filled experience for them by way of journal entries, prayers, songs, poems, or artistic expression.
The addition of this complementary curriculum allows expectant parents to engage the spiritual or religious part of their identity and to reflect with hope and wonder as to how that identity will grow and change not only in the next nine months but in the years to come, as well.
Reactions to this opportunity have been overwhelmingly positive, with many women of all ages wishing they had had this type of opportunity when they were pregnant. Particularly for parents who experience loss or complications, their desire to have a spiritual support is strong, particularly if their birthing institution fell short of meeting this critical need.
In the early 1900s, the public health department did wrong by the Black Granny midwives in not understanding many of their strengths, abilities, and supports in their local communities. Perhaps one of the most tragic was to deny or ignore their calling to midwifery as a spiritual vocation.
Today, it is important that we learn the lesson from this time period, acknowledge and heal the rupture and its resulting legacy, and ensure that all childbearing women are cared for in a way that meets every aspect of their full identity.
Do you incorporate faith-based activities as part of your childbirth classes or birth practice? How has this been received by participants? How and why did you decide that this was an important part of what you wanted to offer? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post. - SM
Aziato, L., Odai, P. N. A., & Omenyo, C. N. (2016). Religious beliefs and practices in pregnancy and labour: an inductive qualitative study among post-partum women in Ghana. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16(1), 138. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-0920-1
Aziato, L., Ohemeng, H. A., & Omenyo, C. N. (2016). Experiences and perceptions of Ghanaian midwives on labour pain and religious beliefs and practices influencing their care of women in labour. Reproductive Health, 13(1), 136. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-016-0252-7
Beiranvand, S., Noparast, M., Eslamizade, N., & Saeedikia, S. (2014). The effects of religion and spirituality on postoperative pain, hemodynamic functioning and anxiety after cesarean section. Acta Medica Iranica, 52(12), 909–915.
Burns, E. (2015). The blessingway ceremony: ritual, nostalgic imagination and feminist spirituality. Journal of Religion and Health, 54(2), 783–797. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-014-9991-3
Crowther, S., & Hall, J. (2015). Spirituality and spiritual care in and around childbirth. Women and Birth: Journal of the Australian College of Midwives, 28(2), 173–178. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2015.01.001
Dolatian, M., Mahmoodi, Z., Dilgony, T., Shams, J., & Zaeri, F. (2017). The Structural Model of Spirituality and Psychological Well-Being for Pregnancy-Specific Stress. Journal of Religion and Health. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-017-0395-z
Moloney, S., & Gair, S. (2015). Empathy and spiritual care in midwifery practice: Contributing to women’s enhanced birth experiences. Women and Birth: Journal of the Australian College of Midwives, 28(4), 323–328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2015.04.009
Nuzum, D., Meaney, S., & O’Donoghue, K. (2017). The Spiritual and Theological Challenges of Stillbirth for Bereaved Parents. Journal of Religion and Health, 56(3), 1081–1095. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-017-0365-5
Susie, D. A. (2009). In the Way of Our Grandmothers: A Cultural View of Twentieth-Century Midwifery in Florida. Place of publication not identified: University of Georgia Press.
About Christina Gebel
Christina Gebel holds a Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from the Boston University School of Public Health. She is a birth doula and Certified Lamaze Childbirth Educator as well as a freelance writer, editor, and photographer. She currently resides in Boston working in public health research and premature birth prevention. Christina is the creator of the faith-based childbirth curriculum Before Bethlehem. You can follow her on Twitter:@ChristinaGebel and contact her through her website Dual Love Doula.