Sunday, March 8, 2015

Birth and our Broken Bodies

Empowered Birth from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Aaron-HFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Before I begin, let me say that I don't write this to be a killjoy. I write this because what we believe about our bodies matters. I write this fully as a Christian, and it probably will not make much sense to people who do not embrace a theological framework shaped by the Bible. That said...

I'm just returning from a conference at which I presented my thesis on Gen 3:16a, the famous "curse" of Eve, foretelling of the painful lot of childbearing. (For the record, it is not a curse, and it has to do with more than childbirth.) As with the rest of the Scriptures, how we translate, interpret, and teach Gen 3:16a has profound consequences for daily life. For instance, my thesis implicitly raises the question, "What was God's design for fertility, and what broke when the Shalom of Eden was shattered by sin?" Or, put another way, "What parts of our reproductive experiences are not things God desires for us?" 

Overall, there is far too little scholarship in this area. We need more and better scholarship, especially from women. But we know enough to claim one thing in near unison as a Christian witness -- our bodies are broken. 

Now hear me clearly: not everything about our bodies is broken. Most of us are capable of dancing and singing and running and thinking -- all fully rooted in our flesh and blood. And many of us women can grow babies and then feed them through our bodies. These are amazing and beautiful things. But fundamentally, something has gone awry, something is out of alignment. We have cancer and diabetes and mental illness, also rooted in our flesh and blood. And many women experience infertility and miscarriage and failure to breastfeed. And while, yes, healthy lifestyles and medicine can prevent and treat many of the body's ailments, the brokenness of the body remains. 

I'm sure there are many people who believe that all of these ailments are environmental, meaning that if everything outside the body was perfect, and if the body received just the right care, the body would not suffer these afflictions any longer -- we could, in theory, live in perfect bodies. But within the framework of the Bible, we embrace something different; we embrace a story that we are fundamentally broken, body and spirit. Our very DNA is askew and things just don't work the way they are supposed to all of the time. The most obvious evidence of this is that we all die; there is no escaping our broken bodies. 

With that in mind, what I'd like to address is this: The belief that women's bodies are fundamentally flawless and, given the right circumstances, able to birth without problems. I read or hear something like these sentiments quite often:
"Your body will know what to do if you listen to it." 
"Women have been tricked into believing their bodies aren't capable of birthing without intervention." 
"Let nature take its course and all will be well." 
Yes, birthing a baby is natural and amazing for many, but it is also horrible and life-taking to many others. Our bodies don't always know what to do, sometimes we do need interventions, and nature's 'course' always, eventually, leads to one thing: death. 

06082012083725 (1)_b from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 eyeliamFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
Now, again, another clarifier: I am in the birth-as-naturally-as-is-wise camp. I know that science simply shows that the more interventions a healthy woman experiences during birth, the higher her birth-associated risks. And I feel that women should be allowed to birth freely, not under the timelines of doctors who want to go home or one-size-fits-all birthing clocks. If you'd like to read either of my birth stories, here's Baby 1 and here's Baby 2. I am a believer in natural birth as a methodology. 

BUT, I also realize that our bodies are broken, and that means that our birth experiences will often be broken. Hemorrhages happen, preeclampsia sets in without warning, and shoulders get stubbornly stuck. And these aren't things that can be 100% prevented, because we have broken bodies in a broken world. These failures are natural, and despite what many current trends claim, not everything that is natural is good for you. 

This might seem like I'm being nit-picky, and that this conversation is not very important to the average woman. But I vehemently disagree. If we believe that our bodies are fundamentally capable of birthing perfectly when left in their natural state, failing to achieve this ideal birth experience can have profound consequences. Women who believe that natural birth is inherently good and fail to achieve that good birth often blame themselves, or they blame their caregivers. When a woman has a miscarriage, goes into pre-term labor, or fails to breastfeed: "What did I do wrong? I failed my baby and my family." And that's just the beginning.  

So while I believe that God does intend for us to birth without danger and fear, those things are now a part of the equation that will not and cannot be removed until we are in the New Heavens and New Earth. And while we should be rolling back the curse and ushering in the Kingdom of God, we must be wise and admit that we are not there yet. Yes, our bodies were made to birth beautifully, and often times we can do just that, but it is impossible to remove the risks of birthing so long as we birth with bodies that are on a trajectory to death. 

If natural birth is the goal, ladies, please do not forsake the reality of broken bodies while reaching for this goal. Let us not turn our bodies into false gods, placing belief in them as if they deserve it. They do not. There is one body worth believing in to help us, and that is the crucified and resurrected body of Jesus of Nazareth. He knows what it means to be broken, and in Him alone should we place our hope. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Snapshot of a Year Ago

A photo posted by Laura Ziesel (@laura_ziesel) on

I posted this photo a year ago, the day we found out Cordelia would be a girl. I found it after a stroll down Instagram memory lane tonight. I am amazed at all that has happened in the past year. It has been hard and joyous and a treasure. Oh, Dec 23, 2015, what will you look like?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Justice, Power, and Why Naming Matters

Dispelling Darkness from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Asha Susan, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio
Tonight, like many Americans, I am sad for our country. I am sad because Michael Browns continue to die, and I am sad because men and women who are supposed to keep us safe do not feel safe themselves. I am sad that violence begets violence. I am sad that we are here again, and I am only 30. How many times must this story play out, again and again, before I die? 

I'm feeling a wee bit more radical than usual tonight as a result. There's been something on my mind that I've been wanting to write about for some time; it's doesn't feel like a big deal, and at the same time it feels hard to articulate. This combo is why I haven't tackled it yet, but tonight is pushing me over the edge. These little things that don't feel like big deals, maybe we need to give them more air time. And maybe I can't articulate it as well as I'd like, but I'm going to try. 

So this is my attempt to give a little air time to justice tonight. 

I'd like to talk about naming people. 

I've now named two little people; the process for us has not been easy for either child. But we've taken it seriously because naming a person is a big deal. People do it every day, so we forget, but in the Bible this is not something that is taken lightly. Some snapshots of how this has played out:

Adam names the animals.
Adam names Eve after sin's consequences enter the story.
God renames many of our fathers and mothers -- Abram, Sarai, Jacob, Saul -- all are renamed. 
In the Biblical birth narratives, women do most of the naming. 
Ancient people named places to remind themselves of important things. 
God's name itself is special, unspoken by millions even to today. 

Power and authority are key components of naming people. I get to name my children because I am their mother. 

So what? 

So, dear people of privilege, this is why we should stop naming other people groups, and why we should stop using names that were unjustly thrust upon others without privilege. Just to be clear about what I'm referencing, here are a few examples:

Indian (unless they are actually of Indian descent, as in, the country of India)
N***** (I can barely even write it like that; White guilt going bananas)

For those who still don't get why this is so offensive and unjust, imagine this:

You live in a small, quiet house in Cleveland. Your name is Joe Jones. Someone from across the world randomly shows up on your front lawn and tells you that your name is now Clifford Longeburger, and your house is actually in a town named Scottsdale. You've never met this person, and he is not your mama or your dada or your deity.

Seriously, just imagine this happens and it's not a joke. Then he starts drawing up documents to prove that his names for your world are the right ones. 

If you have any sense of identify, you're going to be like, "Hellllllllllll no, my name is NOT Clifford Longeburger, buddy. It's Joe Jones. And this is Cleveland, not Scottsdale." But, he has the power -- guns, germs, and steel most likely. So, he changes your name without your permission, changes the name of your town and expects everyone to adapt. And if you don't, you die. Like, die. You see one neighbor die and then you're probably going to suck it up and learn to survive, but a part of your heart is broken forever. 

This has happened time and time again, and it's not something that is okay. It robs people of integrity, and when we continue to use these names, we perpetuate deeply-entrenched systems of injustice. 

I know this seems obvious to 90% of you, and the other 10% probably think this is not a big deal and definitely not worth blogging about. I mean, come on Laura, you've basically blogged thrice in the past two years. Right, I know. But tonight, this feels more important -- it feels more important that each of us grow in our understanding of justice. It feels important that we listen to one another so that we can learn how to grant dignity to everyone. Perhaps if we start by listening about small things, we can develop the muscles to listen about bigger things. 

This is me, doing one of the only things I feel like I can do to fight against the darkness tonight. 

Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. If history bends toward justice, please help us see it, taste it, smell it, hear it ringing out.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cordelia's Baptism

About a month ago we baptized our dear Cordelia.

Here is the text of what we read for those who would prefer to read it:
At Glenkirk, we are continually encouraged to parent with long-term vision, with the realization that our children will be adults one day.  While we have yet to fully experience all the wonders and quirks of Cordelia’s personality, Laura and I have chosen three qualities that we hope to instill in her as she grows into a woman –we hope that she will be brave, shrewd, and anchored. We wish bravery for the moments she needs to go against the flow, doing and saying things that are unpopular or uncomfortable in order to extend love or truth in a broken world. We want Cordelia to be shrewd, able to discern the endless claims about God, the world, and herself that she will encounter during life. And perhaps most important to what we’re doing today, we want Cordelia to be anchored. We believe this baptism is a sign of her being anchored into the family of God from the very beginning of her life, and we want to live into the reality that we are only her biological parents, and August is only her biological brother, but she is also your daughter and your sister as well. May this family be her home.
And this fabulous photo was taken. Love it!

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Am Saturated

I don't spend time reflecting on life these days. I am in a different season now -- a season of survival. But I have the time and energy to reflect tonight, so I'm going to try. 

I'm sitting on a messy bed listening to the sound of the ocean repeat over and over on sound machines, one in August's room, one in the living room with Cordelia. Every night, this is what I hear. If I'm lucky, this is all I hear. Most nights, there is also coughing or crying or loud neighbors. Tonight it is mostly quiet. 

August has been in his toddler (aka "big boy") bed for a month now, and over this same month he has changed SO much. He is infuriating, but so wonderful as well. Tonight we told him he could watch one episode of Dora before bed if he was obedient, ate a good dinner, etc. During dinner, he started pretending as if he'd eaten all of his food: "All gone!" he'd exclaim while looking at bowls full of food. And then he'd laugh at himself. 

These are the most precious days. Yesterday was the first day he got out of bed by himself and came into our room in the morning. He did it at the proper time (after the bunny on his alarm clock woke up) and we were so proud of him. (We are trying to train him to do this without needing us so that he can quietly exit the bedroom to allow Cordelia to continue sleeping.) Last night he came into our room around midnight, said "Hi," climbed into bed, and laid down next to my legs. I was half asleep, and while I'm usually firm about such clear violations of rules, I couldn't bring myself to move him. I didn't do a thing, I just laid there, enjoying the fact that my baby had just gotten out of bed, walked himself over to our room, climbed into our bed, and laid himself down at my feet. (That sentence just made me sob.) Josh took him back to bed.

You know the people who say, "Soak up every minute; it'll be gone before you know it"? To them, I would like to say, "I am saturated. I cannot soak up another drop."

And I mean this. There are moments when I am so overwhelmed by the wonder of my children that I have to distract myself or else I feel as if I might be crushed. Of course, there are those other moments when I feel I might burst in anger, but those are not the ones I want to remember tonight.

 Tonight I want to remember the moments I go to Cordelia when she has woken up after a good sleep and she gives me the biggest grin as my face hovers over her crib. 

I want to remember the moments August leans his head on my arm and says, "I wuv you." 

I want to remember the moments August sees Cordelia after a day of preschool and says, "Cordy!" and runs up to hug attack/kiss her. She is so tolerant. 

These are truly the golden days. In twenty years we will look back and cherish the years in which we filled this cramped apartment with life and love and mess. Right now we want more -- space, time, money, patience. But we have enough; we have an abundance. 
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