Bringing Forth Life: God's Purposes in Pregnancy and Birth
by Jodie McIver (Youthworks Media)
Is there anything more miraculous than the moment a newborn enters the world?
Watching a fragile child emerging from the warmth of the womb and taking their first breath is certainly a breathtaking experience, one that midwife and mum Jodie McIver knows all too well. An experience that is not only miraculous in its own right, but points us to a more miraculous event.
Years of midwifery married with theological study has provided a solid foundation for Mrs McIver to offer a unique look at pregnancy, birth and life with a newborn through the lens of the gospel in her book, Bringing Forth Life: God's Purposes in Pregnancy and Birth. But it wasn’t until she had children of her own that she began to explore the connection between birth and the Bible.
“It seems bizarre to me now,” she says. “I was working as a midwife while working in ministry and hadn’t thought theologically about pregnancy and birth. I didn’t even know I hadn’t thought about it.
“People weren’t writing books on it. There are a lot [of books] on motherhood more broadly, but the experience of birth can have such a big impact on women.
"It can be empowering and equip them well for motherhood, but sadly, often in the realities of our health care system, it can be traumatic.”
The book offers a practical guide to pregnancy, birth and postpartum, with spiritual reflections at every stage. Each chapter is filled with useful knowledge, personal stories and biblical truths, and finishes with a prayer, written by a fellow mother, that reflects on the content of each section and encourages the reader to humbly lean on the Lord in every moment.
The message of the book is clear: bringing forth life is a spiritually significant act, one which lifts our eyes to the Lord.
God works through hard things
McIver is part of the parish of Blackheath, where her husband serves as senior minister, and admits that despite the joy of bringing so many babies into the world – and even the unique memories of watching her own siblings being born – she wasn’t busting to start her own family.
“I felt quite hesitant about the whole thing,” she says. “I knew what a big deal it would be and how hard it would be to some extent – not the birth but the identity change. I was a bit negative and I was excited as well, but there was realism there.”
Giving birth, and then managing the transition to motherhood, were challenging times for her. “The fears weren’t unfounded. It was a real blur and there were lots of difficult parts. But coming to that realisation you had always known, seeing how God works through hard things – that’s the essence of the gospel. The pain in bringing forth life is not useless. God works through that.
“Personally, there’s so much that is happening in our hearts and minds. That is God transforming us. He’s powerfully at work in us. There’s a good design in how our bodies work.”
It’s no stretch to say that new life is at the centre of the Bible’s story. Often when we reflect on giving birth, we find ourselves drawn to the pain and hardship of the process. Passages such as Genesis 3 leap to mind and it’s easy to perceive the whole thing as cursed. Bringing Forth Life plays an important role in helping us to understand that the hardships of childbearing don’t take away from its goodness.
The Bible frequently uses descriptions of birth to help us comprehend what Jesus has done for us. We can now receive a unique understanding of what this is really like. Jesus sacrificed his body and blood for us to become children of God. We are pointed towards this as we walk in his footsteps in sacrificing elements of our own bodies (and blood!) and enduring pain to bring life to our children. As we experience the cost of bringing forth life in our own way, we find strength and opportunity to love like him. While our human tendency is normally to avoid pain, birth brings us into a new perspective.
Contributing to Australian Christian literature
There was disbelief when McIver heard her book had been shortlisted for the SparkLit Australian Christian Book of the Year. “It was really exciting to find out,” she says. “There were over 100 entrants so I had no idea it would be in the shortlist. I was on the way to Queensland when I found out so it was a very nice start to our holiday.”
The shortlisting has helped spread the message of the book and she hopes that, as a result, many expecting women and families will embrace the theological richness of birth.
“I think this is a topic that hasn’t been spoken about enough in church contexts,” she says. “It’s not just relevant to women, although it is of particular relevance to women who will have children. As Christians we all need to think about God’s character as a life-giving God, and the goodness of the female body, and how we can support women in our families, churches and society more generally.
“This is a topic that can easily be hidden behind closed doors. It involves intimate body parts, after all. I don’t think that has helped women in the past. We’ve come to a point where women are speaking about these things [more publicly] and so Christians need to as well – especially as birth is a central theme in the Bible. By ignoring the significance we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”
A prayer for pregnant women
McIver’s biggest prayer is that her book can help shape the way women see themselves as they go through these experiences, in line with how God sees them. “I pray they see their bodies are good, that God is working even in the hard parts, and that what they’re doing is worthwhile and significant, even if it doesn’t have the outcomes that they hoped for”.
She also prays that the church and community can support women and couples well in their transition to parenthood – not being dismissive of experiences, but honouring the journey that people are on. “[Pray they would] see the significance of womanhood – not limited to this but in this unique role of sharing in God’s life giving, which hasn’t always garnered the honour and respect that it deserves.”