The Gift of Giving Life by Felice Austin and other contributors

Apr 15, 2017

One of my reading goals for 2017 was to read two books about childbirth--a goal that was prompted by the forthcoming birth of our fifth boy (which hasn't happened yet but is literally down to the wire now). The first book I read was Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent, and upon finishing it, I declared it, "the most interesting, entertaining, and . . . helpful book on childbirth" I'd ever read.

I'll stand by that exuberant praise, but I'm now going to add this book right alongside it. It's different-- so different, amazingly different--from Baby Catcher, but it touched my heart in the profoundest of ways. Where Baby Catcher was entertaining and down-to-earth and at times even bizarre, The Gift of Giving Life was spiritual and reverent and breathtakingly tender. I definitely read these two books in the correct order: Baby Catcher pumped me up, and this one calmed me back down, and I feel like with those two opposite types of adrenaline coursing through me, I'm now ready to journey down this childbirth path again . . . and maybe do things a little differently this time.

Before I go any further, I should mention that this book is a compilation of essays and birth stories written by women of my faith, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and because of that, doctrines, beliefs, and spiritual truths specifically related to my faith are interwoven throughout the whole book. As such, it will not be for everyone, but it was definitely for me. I've never read a birthing book that combined the physical, tangible act of birth with the sacred, spiritual side of it, and it felt good and right.

Maybe it was especially good for me because I've struggled so much during this pregnancy with deciding if I should change course with this birth and get my very first epidural or stick with what has worked in the past and decline pain medication. Although this book definitely leaned toward natural labors and deliveries, the ultimate message was to trust your own instincts and the guidance and direction you receive, and with every story, I felt more empowered to do just that.

As I already mentioned, the book is a collection of essays and birth stories written by various women, and at first I thought I was just going to endure reading the essays in order to get back to what I really wanted--the birth stories (give me all the birth stories). But soon I came to really appreciate the essays; it's true, they lacked the drama and emotional intensity of some of the birth stories but were full of philosophical questions and observations instead that really made me think. However, I will say that one of the first essays, about Heavenly Mother, walked a little too close to the speculation line for my tastes, which I think was part of the reason for my initial lack of enthusiasm, but most of the essays were well-grounded in doctrinal truths and provided new insights for my personal growth. There were two essays in particular, "Two Veils" and "Birth in Remembrance of Him,"  that I loved so much, I'm planning to copy them before I return the book to the library.

In my faith, we believe receiving an earthly, physical body is a beautiful, wonderful thing and an essential part of our spiritual progression. But even though I've always believed that, it wasn't until I read this book that I really grasped the magnitude of my role in this vital part of the plan of salvation: As a mother, I'm the one who creates these bodies for my children. I sacrifice my own comfort and health in order to provide something that is absolutely necessary for them if they want to return to Heavenly Father.

One of the mothers in this book took this selfless act to an even deeper level and used pregnancy and childbirth as a type and symbol of the Savior's Atonement. She said:
"I think the most profound parallel to the Atonement that impressed itself upon me was not just suffering, but suffering for the sake of another. When I finally said, 'I will drink this bitter cup. I recognize that it cannot pass from me, and I will drink it to the dregs,' embedded in that comment was the realization that the purpose of this suffering had nothing to do with me. I knew that there was no benefit (beyond insight) that I could possibly derive from this experience. It would not make me healthier, it would not give me any skills, it would not lastingly affect my body in any positive way. But there was one entirely other person that would derive lasting and eternal benefit from my suffering: my child, . . . who was anxiously waiting to receive a body and come into this world. Someone had to do this so that he could receive a body, and he could not do it for himself."
Perhaps it seems a little presumptuous to draw comparisons between pregnancy/childbirth and Jesus Christ's perfect and eternal sacrifice, but it actually made the opposite impression on me. The Old Testament is full of symbols of the Atonement. In fact, the law of Moses was anchored in rituals that helped the Israelites turn their hearts to Jehovah and gradually increased their comprehension of what He would do for them, and it makes sense that we have the same privilege of deepening our understanding through our own experiences today.

Each of my children's births have been amazing, and I honestly have never felt closer to heaven than in those moments immediately after being handed my sweet little ones for the first time. And those moments have definitely provided my own unique insights into the sacrifices of my Savior on my behalf. But this book deepened my appreciation for other aspects of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood that I've never before considered, and that's why I said at the beginning that it profoundly changed me.

Another mom said,
"I always felt like I was in the Lord's hands as I labored. I never felt so close to Him as when I was depending on him for every breath I drew to maintain my breathing and focus on my laboring. As the miraculous moment arrived when the baby was born, I always felt like the Lord had mercy on his handmaid, and I basked in the glow of that moment when eternity and mortality are one."
It's so easy to complain during pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood (and believe me, I do more than my fair share of it), but the truths in this book allowed me to take a step back and look at my life through an eternal lens--one that made all of these sacrifices look small and easy to forgive compared to the life-changing blessings that are the eventual result. I'm not trying to downplay the sacrifices because I am seriously blown away by some of the things mothers endure for their children, but I think it's impossible to read this book and not come away feeling a little more grateful for the privilege of going through something (or, let's be honest, many things) for the sake of another. And then, if you let it, your thoughts will naturally turn to the One who made the most incomprehensible sacrifice of all and loves you and your child with the most perfect kind of love.

Who knew a book about childbirth would be the most beautiful and appropriate thing to read over Easter weekend?

10 comments:

  1. Wow, what a great way to prepare for your next baby!

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    1. Reading about birth is definitely the way I prepare best!

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  2. Hi Amy! I have an unrelated comment. I remember you mentioning how your family does a book club at family reunions and I keep thinking how I would love to try it with my family. I'm wondering if you have any recommendations as far as books to read with a family group and tips that you've found that make it more successful. I couldn't find a link, but maybe I just need to be directed to an old posting about this? Let me know! Thanks!
    Jane

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    1. I really should do a post dedicated entirely to a family book club, but I haven't yet! The books we've done for our family book clubs are Bomb, The Boys in the Boat, The BFG, and Creativity Inc. Obviously, we tend to lean towards non-fiction, and I think you also need to take into account the ages of those who are participating (we chose Bomb and The BFG because we had teenagers taking part in the discussion those times). Let me know if you have other questions!

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  3. Reading your review made me think two things:

    1) I need to read this book!
    2) I need to have another baby! Because there is obviously still so much I don't understand.

    I'm a little envious that you get to go into your childbirth with this great perspective written into your mind and heart! I hope it's your best experience yet. 😘

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    1. I think you'd like it. I know the kindle sample didn't grip you, and it's not nearly as entertaining as Baby Catcher, but once I was a few essays/stories in, I really really loved it.

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  4. Sounds like a wonderful book for you to read as you approach the birth of your new baby. Thinking of you and sending prayers a safe and happy birth! <3

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  5. So glad you like this one! It's one I absolutely consider worth owning, because it's a crucial re-read for each pregnancy (maybe you're "done," but if you ever go for baby #6 I'll buy this one for you). Honestly, this last pregnancy was so bad that IF I have another one, I'm going to have to re-read this book multiple times before I even get pregnant just to convince myself I can do this again.

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    1. If I do end up having a sixth(!) (which I honestly can't even imagine at this point), I think I'll definitely want to read this again. However, even if I don't have another baby, there were still some essays I would love to read again just as a woman and mother.

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