Waiting on Childbirth: The Agony in the Garden

Jesus's healing miracles

I am 40 weeks and 3 days pregnant as I write this. This is my fourth time around pregnancy and childbirth, and all my other children were born after 41 weeks, so I was expecting the wait. However, even expecting it hasn’t made it easier. For me, the waiting and anticipation of childbirth are almost worse than childbirth itself.

With a plethora of advice that comes these days, most of which include “just relax” or “everything will be fine”, I take most comfort in the first sorrowful mystery of the rosary: the agony in the garden.

Jesus Was Alone

In this period of waiting, I feel more strongly discouraged by people that aren’t able to support and love me as I’d like. I also feel more powerfully touched by the people that do support me and show God’s grace and love in these vulnerable moments. Although I have assembled a “prayer team” and feel so deeply moved by how some people care and want to help, I still feel alone. No one will be able to do this for me or take it away. I especially feel for my husband, who is my encouraging and motivating “labor coach”, who would perhaps even prefer to be in my place or share some of my pain. Instead, he has to watch his wife go through hours of pain and emotional turbulence while being limited to standing beside me. Like Mary at the foot of the cross.

Jesus also felt alone when waiting for his time in the Garden of Gethsemane. He felt disappointed that his disciples had fallen asleep. “When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, ‘So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?’” (Matthew 26:40) Although “to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him” (Luke 22:43), no one could go through the cross for Him or take the cross away. It was between Him and his cross, looming up ahead.

Jesus Was Scared

People tell me everything will be okay and I want to ask, “How do you you know? Do you have a crystal ball?” I know it is good to think positive, to read encouraging birth stories and I have birth affirmations written down that I read repeatedly. Yet nothing takes away the irrational, psycho-somatic fear that comes especially at nighttime. It is a fear of pain and a fear of death. It is a fear of all the complications that could arise. Probably won’t arise, but could. It is a fear of the doctors and nurses, what they will do and say, and being in the hands of the hospital staff. This is my fourth time around, but the fear has not been reduced. It is the same.

Jesus was “troubled, distressed and sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:33-34), and I infer He was scared, too. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done”(Luke 22:42). He knew what was going to happen. He knew He would be okay and He would resurrect. He was still scared. He would still probably prefer to snap his fingers and be at the resurrection, like I would prefer to snap my fingers and have my baby without childbirth. He was probably scared of the pain, the betrayal, the public exposure, the duration of the entire Passion.

Jesus Let Go of Control

The scariest part of this waiting and also of childbirth is not being in control. Of course, it is a wonderful test of faith, for that is what we are called to do in all situations and times of our lives: relinquish control to our Creator and Savior.

Every night I go to bed with a certain anxiety, wondering, will labor start tonight? With my first and second babies, I tried everything doctors and others told me would work to help labor come quickly: walk, pilates ball, bubble baths, dates, etc. I know some of those things help, but I also know there is no secret formula. I can’t will my contractions to start. Doctors can measure contractions and dilation, and give you a pill to induce those, but they can’t quite explain what makes labor start for one woman at 37 weeks at four o’clock and another woman at 41 weeks at 10 o’clock.

Labor is also out of my control, essentially, even though there are lots of things I can do that help immensely. It is something my body is doing… but without my control. Contractions are involuntary: you can push to help along, but you don’t need to push. Your body is working on its own. Plus, you have a whole different, unique person inside of your body, who is also working in this process and who of course adds an entire new element and level of lack of control.

Jesus makes it very clear that He voluntarily, out of love and self-sacrifice, gives up control. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (John 10:18). He knows Judas will hand him over. He tells him to just go and do it. He tells Peter to put away his sword and lets himself be bound and kept in prison overnight. “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). He lets himself be questioned by fickle rulers. He lets himself be bound to a post and lets his body be mercilessly at the hands of brutal soldiers.

It’s hard to wait. Jesus had a hard time waiting too. “So Jesus said to him [Judas], ‘What you are going to do, do quickly’” (John 13:27). Yet we are called to wait. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance” (Romans 8:25). “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8). “Our soul waits for the LORD, he is our help and shield.” (Psalm 33:20).

Waiting is built into God’s plan for us and for our salvation, from the beginning of the Bible to the end. And we must learn to wait and walk by faith alone.

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7 thoughts on “Waiting on Childbirth: The Agony in the Garden”

  1. This is a beautiful insight into the anxiety that can come with anticipating childbirth and the pain of childbirth (although infinitely smaller than loosing a child). Especially if you plan on having a natural birth, it takes a lot of mental energy and prayer to stay in a place of peacefulness. My last baby was 10 days late and I remember so vividly how hard the waiting was. Like you said, besides being induced which I didn’t want, you are not in control of when your body starts to go into labor. I pray that when the time comes that all the time of waiting will fade away into the past as you embrace your little one!

  2. After having two children who both had temporary complications after birth, of the potentially life-threatening kind, which potentially could also gravely damage the child if not kill them, we then went on to lose 5 more children in miscarriage. The first we lost at about 21 weeks and my wife delivered a dead child. She was a girl, and the name we were going to use was Hannah, but as the situation worsened we named her Jude. The others were lost much much earlier, but not easily or quickly. We waited as the bleeding went on and the inevitable happened. No doctors could explain it, no genetic tests gave an answer. A pregnancy became a death sentence. So, we engaged the use of NFP, so as to avoid any further dead children. We wanted each and every one of them and even more. Now, I would say that when one considers “Waiting On Childbirth” as a form of the agony in the garden – that really depends doesn’t it. Do not confuse the normal struggles of life with a normal pregnancy with the agony in the garden, not hardly. There is plenty of suffering to go around, but as for waiting for normal things and normal pains of childbirth consider instead sin. Consider how sin brought death into the world, consider how sin and God’s justice since the fall is indeed quite real. Then consider how redemption and salvation and the resurrection are also quite real. Count your blessings, not your crosses.

  3. Pingback: TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

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