Last Saturday, I had lunch with my oldest daughter and her best friend, Adrea, who happens to be my best friendâ€™s oldest daughter. My friend, Buffy, and I went through our first pregnancies laughing at ourselves and at each other, but also struggling in our new marriages. After our daughters were born a month apart, we did rather domestic things together–sewing and decorating and shopping for cute baby clothes. But both of us still harbored dreams of becoming writers.
Buff was killed in a car accident twelve years ago. She never did become a writer, except in her journal. My daughter and I went to her home that day and just sat, weeping stunned tears with the rest of the family. Adrea didnâ€™t want company. She was ensconced in a sacred sphere of grief which only her mother could assuage.
Now, my daughter and Adrea are mothers. Both had their children with them at lunch, which made for some delightful chaos.
Adrea told me about giving birth to her baby. She was in labor for eighteen hours, determined to deliver without an epidural. (Her mother and I had both gone â€œnaturalâ€ in our birthings.) But there came a point where she simply could not continue, when she was too exhausted to endure another contraction. At that moment, she felt her mother with her. As she described the feeling, I could picture Buffy actually blessing her. That presence gave Adrea miraculous strength, and she delivered a son.
My own grandmother was severely anemic and fainted several times while delivering her first child, but then heard her mother (far away in another state) praying for her, and was strengthened. (My great-grandmother verified that she had sensed her daughterâ€™s need and had indeed gotten on her knees to pray for her.)
I suspect that most T&S readers know that the Latter-day Saints had a tradition for many years of women (often midwives or close friends) washing, anointing and blessing a travailing woman from the early days of the Church until the 1940â€™s. I wish we still had it. There is something divinely circular in the scene of a woman, particularly a mother, blessing another woman, particularly her own daughter. In the sacred sphere of childbirthâ€“a sphere as holy and personal as griefâ€“women offer great power to each other. ( Thus, to me, the picture of Elizabeth and Mary embracing as they sense the burden they are both joyfully carrying is more powerful than Joseph looking down into the manger.)
Childbirth is an intimate and primal thing, something men will never really understand. The idea of being blessed by the very woman who went through it for you is truly beautiful. In the four times Iâ€™ve given birth, I have loved looking at my husband, but I have told him to shut up at least twice. And I do remember my last delivery, and the exact moment when I knew how bad the next pushâ€“the crowning push would be. I said, â€œI donâ€™t want to do this.â€ His response was somewhat different than what a womanâ€™s wouldâ€™ve been: He gave me a tender but rather blank look and said, â€œItâ€™s too late.â€
How much more significant might it have been to look into my own motherâ€™s eyes and hear her say, â€œYou can do this. Youâ€™re almost there. Youâ€™re almost there.â€ And in my motherâ€™s face, which looks a lot like mine, and even in her stomach, I would see the tokens of my own birth. I would feel anew the sweet bonds of our womanhood, our sisterhood, our motherhood, and the depths and lengths we were willing to go to for each other.