Here is an essay I wrote many years ago about the intersection of fear and faith — and how it may play a role in pregnancy and childbirth.
Have you ever thought about how humans feel emotions? Have you ever considered why it is that certain emotions cause expected responses from your body? For example, why does feeling happy make your entire body feel good? Or why does feeling angry make your body feel warm? And why does fear make your body stiff? Emotional response can have a tremendous effect on your labor, all because of how humans feel emotion.
What is fear?
From a psychological point of view, emotions are a mental response to the things that are happening around you. As you go through your day, you experience many different situations. One of the first things you do in a new situation is to form an idea or opinion about that situation. The thoughts you have are the beginning of emotion. When you think a situation is good, you have pleasant emotions. When you think a situation is bad, you have unpleasant emotions.
Emotions are not simply thoughts that your mind thinks. The brain is a complex communication system that is able to evoke responses from your body in split second timing. Most people are familiar with the electrical impulses that travel from nerve to nerve, signaling muscles to move and sending information about the environment back to the brain. But the brain does not communicate by electrical means only.
Your body also has highly developed chemical communication signals. There are structures in your body that are designed to release small amounts of different chemicals, and other structures that are designed to respond to the chemicals. You may have learned about these chemicals as hormones.
These chemicals do more than organize your development and fertility. These chemicals also change as a result of your emotion to signal changes that need to take place in the body. The most well-known chemical response is known as the fight or flight response that occurs when your think you are in danger. Basically, when your brain (thought process) determines that you are in an unsafe environment your body produces chemicals that shut down unnecessary processes and send extra blood (to provide extra energy) to your large muscles. This is done so that you can either change the environment (fight) or move to a new location (flight).
The names of the chemicals are not important. Science has not been able to determine all the ways the body is affected by these emotion-thoughts, or even all the chemicals that are involved. What is important is knowing that what you think (or feel) will have an effect on the way your body works.
Fear is of particular importance to you as you begin your labor, because fear will elicit a body response that attempts to shut down the labor process. This is not a defect in your design! God created this response to protect you and your baby from danger. A woman in labor is subject to intense sensations that could prevent her from fleeing to a safe place, or changing her environment to make it safe. God designed this labor shut-off to help you get the strength, energy and clarity of mind you would need to get to a safe location.
We are very lucky to live in a time and place where most women do not find their lives in jeopardy due to wild animals, advancing armies, or dangerous weather. This lack of life-threatening danger is by no means a guarantee that your body will not attempt to shut down labor in response to your situation. You see, we live in a society that teaches women to be afraid of the labor itself, and that fear is enough to start a response in your body that makes the labor process long, painful and in some cases unproductive.
Your uterus is essentially a bag of muscle. There are three layers to this bag, one that has muscle fibers running up and down, one that has muscle fibers running left to right and a layer in between that holds the two together. Generally in labor, these muscle layers have to work together to shrink the uterus from top to bottom, allowing the pressure of the baby and the bag of waters to open the cervix.
If a woman is overly fearful or anxious, her uterus will either change from an opening to a closing pattern, or work against itself by attempting to both open and close the cervix at the same time. Remember, this is not a flaw in your design, this is a built in protection system that God put in place to be sure you and your baby are safe. If your uterus changes from opening to closing, your labor will stop and you will be frustrated. If your uterus continues to open, while at the same time attempting to close, the result is a long painful fight while you continue to labor.
So we see that physically, there are real reasons for you to overcome your fears about labor and giving birth. But what about spiritually. Does the Bible tell us anything about being fearful?
The truth is, God does not want us to worry, be anxious or be fearful. He knows that these thought patterns can potentially damage our bodies. He designed these systems to assist us in short-term situations. However, many of us live our lives constantly worrying, always anxious and fearful of many things. We like to call this stress, and complain about the amount of stress that we have in our lives. We know that stress has disastrous consequences for our health, but we do not know how to get rid of it.
God may not use the term stress, but he gives us not only the reasons to overcome it, but also the way to overcome this stress. The Bible is very clear in telling us that worry, fear and anxiousness are the result of not having faith in God.
What is faith?
You may say to yourself, “I have faith in God, but of course I still worry about things.” The Bible will tell you that you cannot at the same time have faith in God and worry about things. To understand this, you must first understand that faith in God is not the same thing as believing in God. Having faith in God does not mean that you believe God exists. Faith goes deeper.
Faith in God is trust in God. Faith means that you not only know that God exists, but that God is in control. Faith means that you trust God’s plan for you is good. Faith means that you trust God will meet your needs and take care of you. Faith means you understand that God is the supreme being, able to change situations. Faith knows that it is God who supplies the things you need, not you. Faith believes that what God says is true, even if it is difficult to understand or hard to put into practice. Faith goes the extra step of putting the difficult teachings of God into practice.
Have you ever wondered what Paul means when he says that Faith without works is dead? If your definition of faith is “belief in God and Jesus,” it may seem that works have no place in faith. Indeed, the Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9 that our salvation does not come works, but it is a gift freely given by the Grace of God. So what does “works” have to do with faith and salvation anyway?
In an attempt to make a very long discussion short, the main point to remember is that “works” are your faith in action. You could think of it as a demonstration of your faith. Some people call it the test of their faith. Why? Because “works” are when you actually use your faith.
Think for a moment about a hypothetical situation. Imagine that you are studying to be an airplane pilot. Now, one would assume that to pilot an airplane you would need to have faith in the basic theories of flight. As you study reading your books on aviation and watching videos of how to use controls, your trust in the airplanes should be growing. But the test of your faith, the moment you truly demonstrate that you have faith in the airplane, is the moment you step on the plane and begin to fly it.
What would you think of me if I spent hours telling you how great it was to fly everywhere, that it was the most convenient and safest mode of transportation, attempting to convince you to fly on your next trip. However, as I prepared to leave and you asked if I would be flying I answered no, that I preferred to drive? I would have exposed myself to be a hypocrite because although I can tell you how wonderful flight is, I do not really believe it.
Unfortunately, that is how many Americans live their Christian lives. They can tell you all about how good God is, how He is able to meet your needs and provides you with a way out of your temptation. They can explain why your eternal salvation depends upon your relationship with God and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. But in their day to day lives they demonstrate that they do not really believe God will meet all their needs. They do not really think Jesus needs to be Lord, he can just be a good friend.
Why do we do this? Why do we live our lives as hypocrites, not acting according to what we say we believe? For most people the answer is fear. Although they would like to trust that God will take care of their needs, they are too afraid that God will not know what their needs are. Or they are afraid that God will not give them everything they want, so they would rather just take care of it themselves.
Rather than building their faith, people who live this way destroy their faith. They slowly tear down everything they had believed in God until finally their relationship has become a few memorized prayers and cries for help as they mindlessly perform the duties they think God expects of them. They go to church because they are supposed too, not because they want to learn more about God and spend time in corporate worship of him. Their religion becomes fatiguing, and they look no different from a non-Christian.
Faith begins where belief ends. If you believe God, you will do what He commands because you trust that if you follow his commands, God will deal with you in the way he claimed he would. You trust that God will honor his end of the deal. If you do not act on it, it is not faith.
You see, faith in God requires action. In fact, faith in God is an action. It does me no good to claim to have faith, tell others about faith and read more about faith, if I am not willing to do the necessary actions. As you began this study, you probably did not have the faith in God to attempt a natural birth with His help. But now that you are half-way through, you may be saying “Yeah, I believe this, God is powerful and He created me.” Why would you have grown so much in faith?
Your faith has grown because you have seen God’s power over pregnancy and birth through his word. The Bible tells us in Rom 10:17 “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” You have been increasing your faith already without even knowing it! D.L. Moody wrote, “I prayed for faith, and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightening. But faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, ‘faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ I had closed my Bible and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since.”
What faith is not!
Before we move on, it is important to note what faith is not. First, faith is not a substitute for an experienced caregiver. Although faith may lead you to forgo certain tests and procedures, faith should not cause you to become haughty or proud to the point that you will not accept professional help in monitoring the progress of your pregnancy or birth. Even as far back as slavery in Egypt, Midwives assisted pregnant women in ensuring health and monitoring the birth.
Your caregiver is like a lifeguard, trained in birth to recognize potential problems and respond if one should arise. Your caregiver can offer guidance and advice as you make decisions about you and your baby. Your caregiver cannot make decisions for you, but she can assist you in finding information, and by recommending ways for you to stay healthy. You hire your caregiver to serve your needs.
Also, faith is not an excuse to do nothing when a problem arises. Rather than deal with hard issues some women will claim that they are trusting God to solve the problem. Remember, faith is your belief in action, not reality in denial. Bad things do happen to good people. But it is our faith that will allow us to work through our problems and grow closer to God at the same time.
Sometimes, even with great faith, God will not simply remove a problem. Paul asked repeatedly to be delivered of the thorn in his side, but God said “My grace is sufficient.” If faith were a cure-all for every problem in life, Paul’s thorn would have been taken away.
The truth is, God uses problems to test us, to teach us and to grow us. Sometimes God does not desire a problem, but one is caused as a consequence to the decision or action of another person. God can remove the consequences, but frequently he does not. If you are hit by a car as you cross the street, God could heal your wounds instantly and have you back on your way. However, it is more common that God allows the consequences to continue, and then He uses the problem that was created to draw you closer to Him.
In the Bible there were women who died in childbirth, infants who died and there were women and children who were murdered. Bad things do happen. But these bad things should not cause us to lose faith in God. God can do, and still does do miracles. But the lack of a miraculous healing should not cause us to believe God is powerless.
If you do have a problem with your pregnancy, it is no comfort when you realize you may never know how God used that problem to work for good. But God can be your comfort when you turn to him as your source of strength and support. Lean on Him and cry on His shoulder. He will never grow weary of comforting you.