The Church does not demand that women bear as many children as possible. Many Catholics do have big families (even bigger than they planned!) but the Church asks us to be prudent, and to nourish our families with love — and that includes caring for ourselves.
Far from being an imperious, misogynist oppressor, the Church is very solicitous of women’s happiness and well-being — much more so than the secular world, which tells women to poison, scar, plug or otherwise torment their bodies for the sake of utility. The secular world says, ‘You want children? But you might gain weight, and then you’ll be useless! You might want to stay home, and then you’ll be a parasite! You might have to depend on your husband, and then you’ll be pathetic! You might need to ask your husband to make sacrifices, and you might not be worth it! You might learn to care more about other people than yourself, and then you’ll be nobody at all.’
But the Church says that motherhood is an honor and a gift, as well as a transformative work of sacrifice. Motherhood isn’t something that takes us away from our real life: It’s something that turns us into who we ought to be. All women are charged with the astonishingly huge task of being like Mary, who brought God into the world.
Childbearing is the ideal context within which to enrich spirituality. The purpose of this study was to generate themes regarding spirituality and religiosity among culturally diverse childbearing women….
The themes we identified in all of the reviewed data included childbirth as a time to grow closer to God, the use of religious beliefs and rituals as powerful coping mechanisms, and childbirth as a time to make religiosity more meaningful….
Several women were specific in their articulation that childbirth was a time of powerful connection to their God. For example, a Mormon woman described her birth experience in the following way:
The nurse had been so loud, like, “You can do it!”—cheering me on. And then right as she [the baby] was born, the nurse got quiet and the doctor got quiet and my husband got quiet. It felt honestly like a moment frozen, and the room was bright. It was one of those moments when the Spirit is there.
A Guatemalan mother shared a similar experience. She stated, “Giving birth I felt closer to God. I thank God for allowing me to have a baby. While the baby was in the womb, I realized how great God is”
Another Mormon woman expressed a heightened sense of holiness experienced during childbirth:
When the baby was born, I felt the Spirit of the Lord touch my heart, and I realized that this little innocent human soul came from my Heavenly Father. I felt so close to Him and thanked Him for the blessing I have of being a woman, of being able to assist in the creation of a child, and help him come from heaven to earth.
A Canadian Orthodox Jewish mother, for whom bearing a child was the highest mitzvah or good deed according to Rabbinical law, said, “You feel God’s presence most tangibly when you have gone through [childbirth]”. Similarly, according to the religion of Islam and its adherents (Muslims), life experiences prove the oneness (tawhid) of Allah, or God. The deep spirituality of women who espouse the Islamic faith make the birth experience sacred. For example, an Arabic Muslim woman expressed the sense that she was one with God during labor and birth:
During childbirth the woman is in the hands of God. Every night during my pregnancy I read from the Holy Qur’an to the child. When I was in labor I was reading a special paragraph from the Holy Qur’an about protection. The nurses were crying when they heard what I was reading. I felt like a miracle might happen—that there was something holy around me, protecting me, something beyond the ordinary, a feeling, a spirit about being part of God’s creation of a child.
A new Guatemalan mother also remarked on an almost tangible holiness:
[Giving birth] I felt closer to God. I thanked God for allowing me to have a baby. Well, I don’t say she [the baby] is mine but that He let me borrow her. While the baby was in my womb I realized how great God is. Only God watches over the children that are yet in the womb because only He could do that.
Although the sense of God’s presence and a feeling of closeness to God’s power was a reality for many women during childbirth, some of the women identified the spiritual dimensions of childbirth while not espousing a specific religious faith. While some of these women said birth was not spiritual per se, they associated their emotions with a sense of transcendence. For example, a Chinese woman said, “It really isn’t easy at all. Every mother experiences pain, but I do believe it is sacred”…
Childbirth and motherhood are ideal contexts in which to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of women’s lives. Birth narratives can provide insights into the connection between childbearing and spirituality….
The study’s results affirm … “Motherhood is a rich and widely ramified concept linked to biological birth, to culturally learned patterns of mothering and to expressions of … spiritual insights of human experience.” For many women who participated in our studies, childbirth was a sacred event.