Sexuality & Holy Longing – 4

Lisa McMinn’s book takes an interesting turn in Chapter 4, which is titled, “Birthing Babies: The Essence of Early Motherhood (and Fatherhood).” It is interesting, in part, because (to me, anyway) it was somewhat unexpected as a chapter topic. The opening quote by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy seems to get at why McMinn includes it: “Sexuality has always been studied separately from maternity, as if sex has nothing to do with maternity or keeping infants alive.”

In any case, McMinn provides a “brief history of birthing babies” in which she concludes that what is quite different about birthing babies today than in other times throughout history is that women used to help women in the process and that women gave birth at home. She recognizes the benefits associated with medicalization of childbirth, but wants to also draw attention to the drawbacks. She then offers a Christian perspective:

The Church expands a vision for an enfleshed, or embodied spiritual life by re-examining patterns and beliefs about childbearing, seeking avenues for fostering connection between a woman’s physical experience as she participates with God in the deeply spiritual task of creating and sustaining life. (p. 104)

There is a lot of other ground covered in the chapter. Lisa McMinn writes about the role of culture on how we view motherhood and fatherhood, issues related to attachment theory, and some of the debates related to family planning and later roles and responsibilities of motherhood, as well as infertility and adoption.

For reflection: (from the end of the chapter) What are your general perspectives and thoughts about pregnancy and childbearing? From where did these ideas come? How important is it to you to have biological children? What do you think about stay-at-home dads? Can you imagine having your church sponsor childbirth classes?

11 Comments

  1. I see a parallel between our previous discussion of the church’s view of those who are single or married to the view of childless or child-filled marriages. When I see couples, I tend to think that they are more mature if they have children and particularly more mature if their children are well-behaved. It is my immediate judgment that couples who do not want to have children are probably absorbed in selfish pursuits. I think that these views stem from my own upbringing. As a child, I remember thinking that only-children were selfish; therefore it makes sense that I would make the connection that only-parents will also focus on themselves. When I rationalize this immediate connection, I consider the other things that a couple may do with their lives. Children limit a couple’s flexibility to serve the community, participate in missions, live frugally or in difficult circumstances, etc. Despite considering these options, I still hold dearly the importance of married couples having their own children and/or adopting children. The biblical connection between God as our father and our experience parenting is a valuable parallel that I think God intends married couples to have. Since I have not had children of my own, it was interesting to read about the spiritual experience of a woman in childbirth as well as consider the menstrual cycle as a part of that process. I am interested in understanding the view of those who consider having children to be a minorly important pursuit for a couple.

  2. Good friends of mine recently decided not to have children, and they were sharing with me how hard it was in terms of negative messages they received from others. The messages were primarily based upon the assumption that their decision was selfish. I think you raise a number of other considerations for a couple as well in terms of ways to serve others – it seems that the areas of ministry vary significantly depending upon whether a couple has children.

  3. My perspectives of pregnancy is that it is a almost unavoidable part of life,” first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes every one with a baby carriage.” I still laugh to think of how a day or so after I was engaged a friend asked me and my finance if we would home-school our children, as if there was no other progression of our lives from that point on. It is not very important to me to have biological children, I have always wanted to adopt and would be okay if they are the only children I ever have. My husband may want biological children more than I do but he would also be content with adopted children. I am not sure how this idea became so acceptable to me, but since pregnancy and childbearing was rarely described as a desirable thing to me, but rather as something to be avoided until marriage (much like sex). I think stay at home dads are wonderful situation for many couples, however, I would not be comfortable with that arrangement for my family. I find the idea that McMinn discussed of parents who switch off and both work to spend time with their children the optimal set up. My dad worked all the time when I was growing up and was a great provider but made my brother and I compete for his attention when he was home. My mother was able to care for us all the time but I watched it wear on her to be the ‘bad guy’/ disciplinary all the time.

  4. Your comment reminded me of a nice chapter in the book, Gender & Grace, by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. The chapter is titled, “The Case for Coparenting.” She writes about parents both having a more substantive role in parenting children. I think it would require certain kinds of positions/employment and changes in how some companies offer health plans, etc., but it is an interesting argument.

  5. It is very interesting to use “singles” and “married without children” as a comparison. Both seemed to be filled with stigma. In the western African culture, a women without kids is look upon with pity and some level of scorn. And when they have children, mothers are usually the ones responsible for the household and children. So the burden of running the household and managing the children is for the women. Growing up with this exposure, I was reluctant to want to have children if it is going to be solely my responsibility to look after them. Especially in the world today, where both parents usually work. It is a gruelsome burden to bear. I have always felt awkard with pregnancy because I see the women more vulnerable to attacks and it is scary to me. As far as a stay home dad, I am sure it can work but knowing the history of men it is a difficult place to be because society has not bought into the idea yet. Nonewithstanding, if the mother is fully in support of a stay home dad, then it will work I believe. It would be good to include childbirth classes in the church as childbirth is one of God’s best creations.

  6. On a christian note, i think it is a great idea for focus to move away from roles to assessing what is in the overall best interest of the family. Therefore, if a stay home dad works for the best interest then it is wonderful. God calls us to love one another and loving others must involve serving. Part of serving another is to find out what they have need for and provide it. So in a marriage, and through childbirth when the husband makes decisions that are in the best interest of his family and the wife makes decisions that are in the best interest of her family then it is the model of love and sacrifice at its best. Two become one, working as two with one purpose.

  7. I was glad I read the chapter on childbearing because there is a part of me that has lost the vision of being able to see the spiritual connection between childbearing/the birthing process and connectedness with the Lord. As I read the chapter, I began to identify that, Unfortunately, I think, I’ve subtly adapted an independent cultural mindset whereby the view of having children sounds time-consuming, hard, & scary. So it was powerful for me to read about the beauty of partnering with God to create & to bring forth life… the imagery and substantial weight McMinn puts forth regarding childbearing spoke deeply to me & afforded the context for me to experience healthy conviction regarding my selfish individualism.

    I cannot think of anything more beautiful than to have the church endorse the birthing process by offering birthing classes & even connecting church mothers with young mothers to mentor them through the process of this creative process!!!

  8. It was interesting to read McMinn’s perspective on childbirth and the spiritual connection. I had not previously thought about it in the way she explained. Previously, I have always thought of pregnancy and the symbolic “pregnancy” (of anticipating the finalization of an adoption) as special times for a couple. However after reading McMinn’s perspective on child birth at home, it helped me understand why some women may choose to give birth at home with the assistance of a midwife. From McMinn’s description it sounds like the mother has more involvement in the process and has an opportunity to be mentored by another experienced mother. I think it would be beneficial to have experienced mothers mentor new mothers in the church, which may include information about childbirth and new parenting situations.
    In regards to having biological and adopted children, I believe that both are equally wonderful ways to have children. I have generally regarded adoption as a “spiritual” experience as it is symbolic of what Christ offers us. After reading McMinn’s chapter, I can see the spiritual components of giving birth too.
    As for “stay at home dads,” I think that it is wonderful that men want to make this type of investment in the lives of their children. I also feel that it is an equally valuable investment when a mother chooses to make the same type of investment in the lives of their children. Optimally, it would be nice to see greater acceptance of both parents taking time out or having flexibility in all careers to accommodate this season in their lives.

  9. The more I learn about human sexuality the closer I feel to God. Having a deeper and fuller understanding of the way God created humans allows me to feel a greater closeness to Him. This has been especially true with McMinn’s explanation of pregnancy.
    My husband and I married with the hopes of one day adopting. We do not know if we will attempt to have biological children. I find it interesting that as our marriage matures and as I also mature as a person that I am sometimes in deep desire to biologicaly have a child. Whether we choose to go down this path (or whether we are medically able to conceive a child ourselves) does not change the fact that we are excited to pursue adoption and possibly foster parenting.
    My pastor and his wife are the happy parents of 6 children. All 6 are from an orphanage in Columbia. I will never forget what he said one afternoon when he shared his heart with my husband and I about his children. He said that it wasn’t until he adopted his kids and experienced the love of an adoptive parent that he understood the adoptive love of God for us. This statement had a profound impact upon my view of both God and adoption.

    As for my feelings on a stay at home dad. I think that each spouse should operate according to his or her strengths. If a father has a strength in nurturing then traditional gender roles and the collective conscious of the culture should not inhibit him from blessing his family with the gifts God gave him. I realize that is a short answer to a more complex issue, but this is supposed to be a short response and I have already gone on far too long.

  10. My perspective on motherhood and childbearing is that they are a beautiful and natural part of womanhood. The downside to this perspective, of course, is that to not bear children might suggest diminished or incomplete womanhood. Indeed, it is difficult to think how I would feel if I were unable to have children. Adopting is a wonderful solution, and yet I still feel there is a part of me that would continue to long for my own biological children, at least for a time. I’m not sure where these perspectives came from…but I think it would be helpful to ponder that question. Part of the answer may be involved with the church; it seems like having children is a big part of becoming a “real” family and achieving the “ultimate” in God’s plan. It’s an expectation – as someone else said, first comes love, then comes marriage, then come the questions about when you’ll start trying and what kind of childbirth you want and how you’ll raise them. Been there!

    The issue of stay at home dads is one that is close to my heart, because my husband often jokes (jokes?) about being a stay at home dad someday while I’m the breadwinner psychologist. I’d be very open to this, especially since we already share so many household tasks and he has strong gifts in household service. He would be a GREAT stay at home dad, and I would never have to touch a laundry basket again. Does it get better? Although there is a big part of me that looks forward to being home with my children when they are young. Perhaps a switch-off arrangement would work for us as well – me at home during the early years, then him during the school years. I think there is a stigma associated with being a stay-at-home dad, perhaps the underlying suspicion that this man couldn’t find a lucrative enough job to support his family so his poor wife had to go out and do it. But the more people who opt for this alternative arrangement and speak about their reasons for choosing it, the more it will be accepted as a viable option. There is no reason why Christian men and women couldn’t have this arrangement and maintain Biblical roles for marriage. A father who stays home with his children has all the more reason to display strength and leadership to his family. And Proverbs 31 speaks of the diligent, productive wife who brings honor to her husband. I say go for it!

  11. My mother was a stay at home Mom for about 8 years when my brother and I were born, then she went back to work part-time for a couple years, then full-time. My Dad always worked full-time while I was growing up. I find the idea of a stay at home Dad just as acceptable as the idea of a stay at home Mom, although I don’t see either as an ideal for my life. I would have to admit I have some concern about the emotional and social contentment of either parent committing themselves entirely to raising thier children. I see at least part-time work as a good way of continuing ones own personal growth and development as well as maintaining adult social interactions and involvement in the community. However, I understand that many stay-at-home parents can mantain these things through volunterism or other forms of comunity involvement.

    Other than that I have no issue with stay-at-home parenting, and if I wind up married to a woman with a more lucrative or personally important profession than my own I personally would have no problem with being the primary child-rearer. I think the social stigma I might feel because my wife was the primary bread-winner could be a bit intimidating, however, and I think the church should definately be more supportive of alternative parenting styles.

    Given the job flexability, however, I think a co-parenting relationship would be ideal for me. I would like to be both very involved in raising my children, and be able to continue my professional development while enabling my wife to be able to do the same.

    Or maybe I’ll just be a hermit.

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