Is the process of giving birth a medical problem to be solved, a hurdle to be overcome on the way to motherhood . . . or is it something more? Could it be, as Susan Windley-Daoust proposes, that giving birth is a gift from God, laden with signs that speak to women about their identity, their calling, and their destiny?
If so, then learning to read those embodied signs during pregnancy and labor could transform the way women experience childbirth. These signs reveal that God is not only powerfully present in the whole birthing process, but desires to actively work with women to bring forth new life.
Drawing on insights from spiritual direction literature, the Bradley Method, and Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, Susan Windley-Daoust provides expectant (and veteran) mothers with a spiritual retreat aimed at learning to see the signs of God’s presence in their pregnancy and childbirth. Reflection exercises, prayers, and meditations guide the reader in preparing for and exploring her own experience of giving birth. In learning to cooperate with “the Lord, Giver of Life,” the reader receives a sacred gift to be opened not only in childbirth, but in her whole life.
The Gift of Birth is divided into four parts. Part One develops insights from spiritual direction and the Theology of the Body, showing what they reveal about the divine design of childbirth. Part Two walks the reader through a typical childbirth, stage by stage, looking for God’s presence and learning to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in bringing forth new life. Part Three deals with less-than-ideal birthing scenarios, including unexpected pregnancy and medical interventions. In Part Four, seven women share their own diverse birth stories, and how they experienced God’s presence—even when things didn’t turn out as they had planned.
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Table of Contents
Foreword: The Spiritual Meaning of Childbirth
Part One: The Theology of the Body and Childbirth
1. You Are Called: What Is the Call to Motherhood?
2. The Law of the Gift: A Brief Introduction to the Theology of the Body
3. Take, Lord, Receive: The Spiritual Nature of Giving and Receiving
4. “Lord, Teach Me to See”: How Do We See the Holy Spirit in Giving Birth?
5. Wait-Isn’t Birth Supposed to Hurt?
6. Your Spiritual Keys in the Process of Giving Birth: Relax, Cooperate, and Yield to God
Part Two: Reading the Signs of Birth
7. Choosing Wonder: The Conception of a Child
8. Waiting: “How Long, O Lord?”
9. Opening: First Contractions
10. Focusing on Love: Active Labor
11. Yielding to the Work of the Holy Spirit
12. Trusting: The Transition from Contractions to Pushing
13. Cooperating with God: Pushing and Letting Birth Happen
14. Receiving the Child
15. Last Thoughts on Giving Birth
Part Three: When Childbearing is Difficult, Where Is God?
16. Difficulty Conceiving: He Heals the Brokenhearted
17. The Unexpected Child: Dealing with Shock, Fear, and Anxiety
18. Miscarriage and Stillbirth: Grieving the Child Who Goes with God
19. A High-Risk Birth: Are Medical Interventions Clouding the Sign of Birth?
20. Postpartum Depression: When Contentment Cannot Be Felt
Part Four: Seeking the Holy Spirit in Birth Stories
21. JoAnna: “God Was Present Throughout”
22. Carla: “I’m Going to Feel This Birth”
23. Leah: “God Is All Over Body and Birth for Me”
24. Karen: “I Remember Praying through the Pain in a New Way”
25. Kendra: “I Feel Closer to God in my Weakness”
26. Regina: “After the C-Sections, I See the Hand of God in All Things”
27. Jennifer: “Mary Became My Lifeline”
28. Nora: “I Kept Thinking, ‘This Is My Body,Given Up for You'”
About the author
Susan Windley-Daoust is a Catholic theologian, spiritual director, and award-winning author of Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying. She teaches theology at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and five children.
Praise for The Gift of Birth
Eight months pregnant and feeling disappointed about the need for a C-section, The Gift of Birth helped me experience my son’s birth in a more meaningful way. When he was later transferred to the NICU, the spiritual exercise of reminding myself to look for the work of the Holy Spirit infused my days with grace.
—Heidi Indahl, author of the blog Work and Play, Day by Day
When I gave birth to my sixth child, there was a moment at the end when I thought that I had lost all strength, that my baby would die and it would be my fault. (Fortunately, everything turned out fine!) It wasn’t until I read The Gift of Birth that I learned how excruciating self-doubt is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in the birthing process. Susan’s book helped heal a very painful memory. The wisdom in this book is a great blessing to all mothers, whether expecting or experienced.
—Karee Santos, co-author of The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime
Pregnancy and motherhood are such deeply spiritual times, but so often we are too consumed by our “to do” lists and worries and preparations to take time apart to let the experience resonate deep within our souls. The Gift of Birth by Susan Windley-Daoust is the perfect companion for both expectant and veteran mothers.
—Mary DeTurris Poust, author of Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality