Childbirth is still a recent, visceral experience for me. My second son was born in May of 2019. Admittedly, the ravages of COVID 19 have upended healthcare as it existed in the spring of last year. Yet, I can easily visualize the contours of the hospital delivery room, the beeping monitors, the words, “Welcome Baby Daniel” scrawled on a whiteboard in my line of sight. I remember the many laps my husband and I slowly walked around the labor & delivery wing before my contractions became unmanageable. A warm stranger, presumably a visitor to another laboring mother, pumped her fist in the air and exclaimed as I shuffled past, “you’ve got this, mama!” When my water finally broke, the mild pain I had been experiencing all day went into overdrive. I rarely verbalized much beyond that point, choosing instead to reserve my energy and communicate through grunts and weak gestures.
Agony. Relief. Fear. Unbridled Joy. Deep Spiritual Gratitude.
This cascade of emotions is perhaps why I find myself drawn into the world of BBC’s Call the Midwife. This show chronicles the story of Nonnatus House, a convent of Anglican nuns and the laywomen who serve with them. This community of nurses and midwives tends to the medical needs of the residents of Poplar, a working-class area of east London. One could easily watch the series just for the witty banter between the sisters and the midwives. More fundamentally, the show is about the gift of life. Childbirth is neither romanticized nor sterilized. The show depicts many expectant mothers and their families, against the backdrop of grinding poverty, personal challenge, and significant pain. Yet, the culmination of each episode is the birth of at least one baby. In each birth scene, the viewer emerges into the fullness of each family’s joy and the fullness of each family’s completion.
Call the Midwife was originally based on the memoirs of author Jennifer Worth, who served with the Sisters of the Community of St. John the Divine. For purposes of the show, the community of sisters was rebranded as the “Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus.” St. Raymond, whose feast day is Aug. 31, is universally known as Nonnatus. Latin for “not born,” Nonnatus is a reference to St. Raymond’s survival of a rudimentary cesarean section after his mother’s death. As an adult, he joined the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, known as the Mercedarians. Later, he would repeatedly travel to modern-day Algeria to ransom the lives of Christian slaves. His evangelizing activities eventually brought him a death sentence, but he narrowly escaped. St. Raymond would ultimately return safely to Spain and later be appointed a Cardinal.
St. Raymond is the patron saint of childbirth, pregnant mothers, midwives, and the falsely accused.
Our expectant mothers, like so many vulnerable populations, are enduring greater risks during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control have cautioned pregnant women to be especially vigilant now, as they may be at increased risk for severe illness if infected. Adverse pregnancy effects, such as pre-term birth, may also be more common if infected by COVID-19. Besides the physical burdens, pregnant women, like many of us, are not immune to the effects of financial stress and quarantine isolation. Additionally, hospitals and medical office have greatly restricted visitors in efforts to curb contagion. Pregnant women may be unable to bring their spouses or extended support systems to routine prenatal appointments or even to the delivery room.
St. Raymond Nonnatus, We ask that you pray for our pregnant mothers, expectant fathers, and their whole families as they seek comfort and hope during this sacred season. May their joy eclipse their anxiety. May the example of the Holy Family offer all families an enduring model of love, amid great challenge. Amen.