I’m enjoying a week at home with my family following the birth of our son, Matthias. Between diaper changes and naps I’ve felt a need to write about the pastoring clinic I just experienced in my own home…
We decided early in the pregnancy to have a home birth. In the months leading up to the birth, and especially during the birth itself, I became fascinated by our midwives. Between the two of them, they have “attended” over 1000 births. These are labor and birth experts – though they would never use that word. It didn’t take long for me to realize that, as a Christian pastor, I could learn a whole lot from these women. So I hit the pause on the never-ending noise from “church experts” that crosses my desk and started taking notes from those who actually usher-in new life.
When we met our midwives they were remarkably quiet. As a talker, I started peppering them with questions, which they answered calmly. Mostly, they listened. They listened well. They listened long. They listened with their eyes. Sadly, we have rarely experienced this posture from medical professionals. They major on giving advice, not listening. Tragically, so do most pastors.
2. Go to their home.
Most of the care provided by our midwives happened in our home. They came to where our life happens. They became familiar with our kitchen, with our bathroom, with our space. Consequently, our time with them never felt like an “appointment.” It felt like real life.
3. Take the low position.
While talking with my wife, they would kneel by our bed. During labor, they sat on the floor. We have plenty of chairs in our home, which I offered repeatedly. These women consistently took the low place. Their humility was convicting.
4. Submit to training and train others.
At nearly all of our meetings, and at the birth, there was a student midwife. She listened. She served. She cleaned. She set things up. She carried heavy loads. Recently I received a call from a major Christian university where our church attempted to place an ad for a position. They wouldn’t even post it, I was told, pejoratively, by the head of the Christian Ministries department, because our position was part-time and the pay was too low. Their students, he chirped, had received an expensive education in order to take “major positions” at “top churches.” God have mercy. Christian ministry doesn’t look a thing like Jesus anymore. (But midwifery does.)
5. Receive what you’re given.
New birth – whether physical or spiritual – happens when it will. I woke both of our midwives with pre-dawn phone calls. They arrived with only what they needed for the birth. No extra clothes. No food. With ease and quiet gratitude they ate what we fed them. Following the birth, one stayed to assure us and napped in the guest room. I kept thinking of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic…” There’s a beautiful freedom in this kind of simple dependance.
6. Ask questions.
During the intensity of the actual birth, when it would be easiest to assume control, they mostly asked questions. They observed, they guided, they took careful notes. But their primary interaction with my wife came through a few, specific, carefully-timed questions.
7. Trust the process.
Against the backdrop of a culture which “manages” labor with monitors, drugs, and strict time tables, the midwives’ calm trust of the mother’s instincts and the birth process itself stood out as remarkably faithful. Not naive, just reverent. I was struck by the fact that they believed this process was normal, that it was meant to happen, and that it would happen. Over-engineering the process of birth (whether with Pitocin or with stiff “spiritual” formulae) reveals a foolishly anemic view of the Power driving the process.
8. Be amazed.
They’ve caught over 1000 babies. They do this all the time. And yet they’re still amazed at the miracle of new life. They’re still hushed by the wonder of the first breath. They still talk about the baby with a sense of awe. They participate in the same story week after week. But when they’re in this moment, they’re not working. They’re amazed.