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Volume 18, Issue 2: Childer

Childbirth

Douglas Wilson

As we bring up children in the Lord, this obviously begins with their arrival. We may pray for our future children, we may anticipate the day of their arrival with gladness, and we may make all kinds of preparations. But when the day finally arrives, it is the child's birthday. There are a number of ramifications that flow from this, and they are surprisingly relevant to the kind of home the child will grow up in.

The first thing to note is that childbirth is not an experience that in any way removes a mother away from the support, love, and authority of her husband. In some circles, it has become fashionable to assert that childbirth is uniquely a woman's domain—and the applications of this view could range from a dogmatic rejection of male doctors attending the delivery, to a disparagement of whatever childbirth customs the husband would like to pursue. My point here is not the preferability of one course over the other (say, home birth versus hospital birth), but rather the way in which such decisions are made. The husband and the wife are in it together, and the decisions should be made in just the same way other momentous decisions are made. According to Scripture, any process that resents masculine input (as a matter of "principle") is a process that has gone off the rails.
This problem can take two forms, both of them bad, and when they are both in gear, the difficulties can really be compounded. I already alluded to the first, where wives don't believe that their husbands have the right to give any input; the second is when husbands believe that they have no right to have any opinion whatever on the subject, and so they just "check out." When it comes to all such decisions, he is passive and in "whatever" mode. And when husbands are not providing a check or balance on the subject, and wives get together to "talk shop," the results can really be destructive to friendships and life in community together. In any group, it does not take long for a particular orthodoxy to emerge, and if some young wife does not fit in with the orthodoxy, she can be cowed into silence, or pressured in a direction she does not want to go. One of the best ways to deal with this is for wives and husbands to have worked out together what their approach to childbirth will be, for that decision to be an informed one on the part of both husband and wife, and for them to have worked out how they are going to talk to others about their decision.
This is not to say that making a decision in the right manner (like this) will be a sure protection against bad decisions (in terms of content). But as a general rule, bad thinking and decision making and bad manners go together. Winston Churchill once defined a fanatic as someone who can't change his mind and who won't change the subject. Learning not to be imperialistic on choices like this is a strong incentive to make reasonable choices. And recognizing that a husband has something critical to contribute is a good way to stay away from enthusiasms that want to be imperialistic.
But what can a husband contribute? Since the pregnancy involves so much of the woman's being and identity, what can he offer, standing off to the side like that? First, they are covenantally one, and the child is his covenantally as well as hers. The last thing in the world that women should want to do is decrease the husband's identification with his offspring, simply on the basis of physical distance—because far greater physical distance than that is possible. Second, precisely because he is physically detached from the processes of childbirth, he is perhaps in a position to give input that is more objective and biblical. For example, many women while talking shop are inclined to talk about the mechanics or practical aspects of it. The husband may be in a better position to point out the worldview implications of a practice, or even ideas that fly in the face of clear biblical teaching.
For an example of the former, take the practice of giving birth in the tub, with the baby born underwater. Quite apart from whether this is a good idea (babies can drown, and sometimes do), my point here is the worldview of those who are strong advocates for the practice. Does the practice depend on evolutionary or pagan assumptions? A wife might be strongly affected by the positive experience of a friend, and want to try it herself. But from the vantage of a little more distance, her husband might notice that the book that her friend loaned them is full of new age mysticism. Another example (which directly contradicts Genesis) is the notion that childbirth, since it is a natural process, does not need to be a dangerous or painful affair. But God decreed otherwise, and He did so for good reason (Gen. 3:16). A woman can expect natural childbirth to be painless when her husband can expect a garden that can grow nothing but corn, and no weeds at all, which is to say, not very soon (Gen. 3:17-19).
Measured in terms of careful exegesis, logical paradigms, reasoning ability of authors, and overall charity, many childbirth materials that circulate among Christian women are just atrocious (and this applies to some materials prepared by Christians as well). Many of the problems associated with this would go away if husbands simply took the responsibility of working together with their wives. In this, childbirth is no different than any other aspect of child-rearing. It is merely the first of many steps.

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