The Pain of Labor and the Birth of Hope: a ★★★★★ book review

Pain marks our journeys. Pain is borne alone. 

Rachel Marie Stone is an English teacher and the celebrated author of Eat with Joy (IVP, 2013), the 40th Anniversary edition of the More With Less Cookbook (Herald Press, 2016), and numerous articles on justice, faith, food, public and maternal health. In her new memoir, Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Lightshe opens up about the ways pain has shaped her journey, alongside risk, anxiety, tenderness, and hope.

4533Stone describes the birth of her children (she is the mother of two boys), her family and personal history with osteogenesis imperfecta (O.I) (a genetic condition, she also passed on to her children), her teenage diagnosis of Scoliosis and the anxieties which have plagued her through life.  She opens up about a painful chapter when she and her husband Tim were in Mawali teaching at a Presbyterian Seminary that was marred by scandal, and the anxiety-ridden weeks after Stone caught the newborn baby of a HIV positive mother with her ungloved, cuticle-chewed and papercut fingers (Stone is an American doula who was in a Mawali hospital to observe).  There were also life-threatening illnesses in Mawali that affected her and her family (e.g. the dehydration that accompanies malaria). Later, she described to a group of beer-drinking-hipster pastors that her whole time in Mawali felt like a miscarriage.

Stone is open and vulnerable about the painful parts of her story, and the particulars of her story are pretty different from my own. As a man, I will never know what it is like to carry a tiny, invasive being inside my own body, much less the pain of labor. I have never gone to Africa or been exposed directly to the threat of HIV. Though I have had my own anxious encounters and painful life chapters that have felt like miscarriages. There are worries I carry and episodes I can’t put a pretty bow on. As different as our stories are, Stone opens up for me a space to reflect on the ways pain and fear have shaped my own journey.

But Stone’s book is not just a book about the pain and anxiety, but about hope. Hurt and joy come intertwined. And so the osteogenesis imperfecta that plagues her family story, also reveals a rootedness—a connection to her mother, grandmother, and great-grandparents. The pain of birth and bearing children is intermingled with the joys (and travails) of motherhood, and the special, physiological and psychological attachment between her and her children. Even the painful feeling of miscarriage in her time in Mawali comes commingled with relationships and connections she and her husband made there. While the pain was hers alone to bear, she was strengthened in her journey by sympathetic guides, a supportive family, and joyful encounters with others.

Hope is born as Stone risks, faces down the pain, endures and emerges. Birthing is a poignant image. I underlined several passages. I particularly loved the “Blood” chapter when Stone describes the messiness of birth, relating it to the incarnation of Christ (calling the often misogynistic Christian tradition to task for the ways they sanitize Christ’s birth).  I also loved how her own experience of pain and bringing life into the world gives her compassion and extend forgiveness toward’s mothers facing hard choices who chose to abort, even those in her own family history.  Perhaps one of the gifts of pain is it gives us empathy and compassion for the painful journeys of others.

This is a great book. Read it. I give it 5 stars. – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received an electronic copy of this book from the author and publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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