Waiting, groaning for new life
There is a certain amount of excitement — even trepidation — as spouses anticipate the birth of a child. Parents look forward to holding their new baby and bringing her home for the first time. Around expectant parents you hear comments like, “Let’s hope he doesn’t get my nose.” Or, “That’s fine if she gets your brains, as long as she gets my ability to put clothes in the hamper.” Such playful banter is part of the joy that comes with waiting for a newborn. After all, every child is a mystery and gift, waiting to be discovered and loved by parents.
Of course, waiting for a child can also bring stress and doubt, or as Scripture puts it, a certain “groaning within.” Parents may be exhausted and feel like the day cannot come soon enough, especially a pregnant mother in the scorching summer months. Parents also “groan” as they become overwhelmed with how much needs to be accomplished: Cleaning, rearranging the house, sorting clothes, purchasing baby items and making plans with family, are all heaped upon the regular tasks of family life. “Maybe, just maybe, if pregnancy lasted 10 months we could accomplish everything.” This is a normal part of the groaning that hastens us to be prepared. Pregnant mothers know this experience as nesting, while men recognize it as the to-do lists scribbled on notes around the home.
As my wife and I waited and groaned for the birthday of our baby girl, we noticed how “groaning” takes center stage in our society, especially surrounding the anticipated birth of a child. Women dread the pain of contractions and delivery. Men worry they can do little to ease their partner’s suffering. Both entertain worst-case scenarios: “What if the baby is breached? What if an emergency cesarean is needed? What if (insert your own fears here)?” These inner dialogues can become all-consuming and, when left unchecked, they are psychologically and spiritually paralyzing.
Many messages in our society spread fear about birth and childrearing, rather than provide encouragement. Such fear can steal the joy that comes with waiting for the gift of a child. I would venture to say these daunting messages sometimes influence the mothers and fathers who choose abortion.
While my wife and I eagerly waited for “labor day” (in fact, our little Arabella was born on Labor Day), we pondered how all of creation waits and groans for the return of Christ. St. Paul writes, “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God. … We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now … We also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption” (Rom 8:19, 22-23).
Spouses are in good company as they near childbirth because everyone experiences joy and trepidation as we anticipate something great and mysterious. While we eagerly await the return of Christ, we might also tremble at the significance of such an event. Some people, plagued by fear, ruminate on worst-case scenarios: “What if I haven’t lived a holy life?” Others jest, “I’ll be happy with at least purgatory.” Most of us, however, probably experience peace and joy when we anticipate seeing Christ face to face. As Christians, we have faith in the gift of new life that awaits us.
To ease their groaning, expectant parents can pray with the words of St. Paul, who also writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed” (Rom 8:18). A mother’s labor, and the lifetime of parenting that follows, may seem overwhelming and cause suffering in this present time, but it is liberating to look beyond the ever-present messages of pain and fear. Instead, while anticipating the birth, parents should set their hearts on the coming glory — the mystery and gift of new life.
Let us pray for all parents, that their hearts will be overwhelmed with love, for “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).
Stravitsch is a fellow of HLI America, an initiative of Human Life International, and director of Converging Roads, a conference series on bioethics, health care and Catholic teaching in Texas.