The Trauma of Birth and Angel Blessings

The Trauma of Birth and Angel Blessings

Someone told me yesterday that their boss had a baby last week. My reaction to the news of people having babies used to be, “Oh! That’s so wonderful!” But I have noticed that my reaction has become, “God help them.”

Giving birth and becoming a parent is probably the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. It is also the most amazing and awesome thing that has ever happened to me, but I won’t lie–it has been painful and difficult and full of tears and confusion. I gave birth at the beginning of the Lenten season, and my first month of motherhood really felt like a Lenten wilderness journey into a grave. My tomb was our bedroom. Because we have cats and only two doors in our apartment, our only cat-free, newborn-friendly zone was our bedroom. Our bedroom became my home–and my tomb–for a month. I didn’t have to stay secluded there for that long, but I was a skittish new mom, and all the people, books, and websites that prepared me for my new baby made it clear that everything that used to feel normal in my world–cats, laundry detergent, other people, even toys and equipment made just for babies–were now sources of danger and death for my vulnerable new child. So every step outside of our sterile, controlled bedroom with the baby felt like stepping out of a tomb and shedding grave clothes, piece by piece.

So when I hear about anyone giving birth now, I have a whole new appreciation for just how crazy that journey is. And I pray with all seriousness: “God help them: God help them to eat and drink fluids and shower. God help them to live without sleep for a time. God help them to renegotiate everything about romance and family and partnership. And God help them to let those hormones take over in some moments so they can just cherish little fingers and lips and ears.”

Two days before I was rushed to the hospital in labor, we read in church the story for the first Sunday in Lent, when Jesus is swept into the wilderness after his baptism. There he fasts and is tempted by the devil for forty days and forty nights. But he is not alone–in his time of trial, the gospels tell us, he is waited on by angels.

The week before I had my baby, a member of our church, Larry, gave me a book of blessings by John O’Donohue. Larry gave me this book because there is a beautiful blessing for pregnant women that makes me cry every time I read it. But there is also “A Blessing of Angels” that I have already prayed for that woman I don’t know in that office somewhere who just had a baby. In her wilderness time, my prayer for her is that she might have angels to wait on her and serve her and love her into healing and resurrection.

Today I want to invite us to pray this blessing. I invite you to read it twice. The first time, I want to invite you to think of yourself–of a wilderness that you are currently in, be it a wilderness of grief, depression, transition, confusion. And pray these words for yourself. The second time, I encourage you to think of someone in your life or in the news who is going through a wilderness journey and pray the blessing for them.

May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
May they turn toward you streams of blessing.

May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart
To come alive to the eternal within you,
To all the invitations that quietly surround you.

May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds
Into sources of refreshment.

May the Angel of the Imagination enable you
To stand on the true thresholds,
At ease with your ambivalence
And drawn in new directions
Through the glow of your contradictions.

May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
To the unseen suffering around you.

May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places
Where your life is domesticated and safe,
Take you to the territories of true otherness

Where all that is awkward in you
Can fall into its own rhythm.

May the Angel of Eros introduce you
To the beauty of your senses
To celebrate your inheritance
As a temple of the holy spirit.

May the Angel of Justice disturb you
To take the side of the poor and the wronged.

May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you
In worth and self-respect,
That you may live with the dignity
That presides in your soul.

May the Angel of Death arrive only
When your life is complete
And you have brought every given gift
To the threshold where its infinity can shine.

May all the Angels be your sheltering
And joyful guardians.

John O’Donohue