On September 21, frequent Bible Study Magazine contributor Aubry G. Smith is releasing a new book—Holy Labor: How Childbirth Shapes a Woman’s Soul. In the book, she shares how important it is for Christians to pay attention to the theme of birth in the Bible: “Childbirth is theological—we understand God better when we understand childbirth better. The Bible is replete with rich birth-related descriptions of our God—who created birth, who cocreates with humans in conception and childbirth, who gave birth to and nursed Israel, who opens and closes wombs, and who himself participated in childbirth as a baby. Our theology concerning childbirth should cause us to ask questions about what we believe about God. … Recovering a biblical notion of childbirth can help us worship God more fully.”
We recently asked Aubry a few more questions about what writing the book has meant to her personally and why the church should care about developing a more robust biblical view of childbirth.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: When I was pregnant the first time, I believed that God designed pregnancy and childbirth, but all anyone ever said about childbirth was that it was the most painful experience in the world, thanks to Eve. In fact, I felt like I should refuse an epidural or any other pain relief, because I thought that that might somehow thwart God’s judgment on me. My son’s birth felt like a curse from God for the sins of that first woman.
With my third pregnancy, I began researching every instance of childbirth in Scripture, and found that the Bible is full of birthing imagery that teaches us about God. The Bible describes God as the one who created birth, who opens and closes wombs, who himself gave birth to and nursed his people, who knits us together in our mothers’ wombs, and who ultimately participated in childbirth as a baby. Birth language is our primary metaphor for conversion and regeneration—we say we are “born again,” as Jesus taught Nicodemus. The language of birth is used in Scripture to teach us about salvation and new life, judgment, God’s loving care as our Parent, suffering, the Kingdom of God, and God’s providence over our lives. As it turns out, childbirth is intensely theological! This book is the result of that research.
Q: What surprised/delighted/shocked you most while researching?
A: I was startled how much my research led me into worship. God isn’t angry at women who give birth and isn’t cursing them with pain. He loves them and is allowing them to participate in creating new life with him. He even entered into birth himself. The birth of Christ wasn’t the sanitized, “silent night” we see in stained glass renditions. It was a real, human birth—messy, scary, joyous, goopy. God so loved that world that he sent his Son to us—through a woman’s birth canal, just as we are born. He is truly the Immanuel—God with us. I worshiped because through studying childbirth, I saw the gospel more clearly—how Jesus’ grace meets me in my shame and my pride in my births and in my mothering and in all of life. Through childbirth, we better understand our birth into the kingdom of God, as needy newborns brought into light by the power and sweat and suffering of God.
Q: What should church leaders know about this topic? What about non-moms in the church?
A: If you want to get a mother talking expressively, ask her about her births: childbirth is a profoundly shaping experience. Church leaders have an opportunity to counsel the many mothers in their congregations toward Christ as they approach birth or reflect on their previous births. Further, pregnancy and childbirth can be laced with so much fear, uncertainty, suffering, and loss unlike any other stage of life. If any church leader wants to know how to guide women toward God through the very common experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, Holy Labor is a resource for them.
For non-moms (including men, as well as women who either voluntarily or involuntarily do not have children), it can seem like a book about birth has nothing for them. But childbirth is a metaphor used throughout Scripture to tell us many things about God that simply can’t be expressed through other images. The experiences of their wives, sisters, mothers, friends, and coworkers can teach them more about the God they worship. For those who struggle with infertility, Holy Labor also offers a compassionate and realistic look at the Bible stories of women who were infertile, and spiritual formation exercises that can guide anyone into a deeper trust of their Creator.