Brittany Girton is a student at the Institute for G.O.D. where she has chosen a focus on maternal health. After trained in the Institute’s maternal health emphasis courses, Brittany was certified as a doula who now works with NOVA Birth Services. NOVA offers every aspect of maternal care to mothers in Nashville, but their staff also volunteers to give education and support to mothers in need, whether that be a teenage mom or a refugee, free of charge. The article below is a reflection on a birth Brittany attended of a teenage mother.
The birth of a baby should be a celebratory event for all who witness it. However, even in our first world environment, birth can be met with hostility. This is the story of our Lord as told in Luke 2, when in the hometown of Joseph no one would open the door to young laboring Mary. Without the perspective-framing words of God being spoken into Mary’s moment, whether through the angel Gabriel before the conception of Jesus, through Elizabeth during the hard first months of pregnancy, or through the shepherds who God sent after her difficult labor, the pregnancy and birth of Jesus is on the surface, tragic. Babies born to young, single and poor mothers are babies whose narratives are already written. It takes a perspective from above to remind Mary and all the witnesses of Jesus’ birth that this baby, born into nothing, will not be nothing. His birth is a sign that all new life is hope for something new.
Recently, I had the honor of serving a 17-year-old mother as her labor doula. She’s had a hard life, but was determined to be well-prepared and educated about the birth of her daughter. She attended childbirth classes facilitated by Kendice Hartnell, Chelsea Carver, and myself in collaboration with NOVA Birth Services and even maintained consistent attendance throughout her final semester of high school. These classes are offered for free to teen moms through the charitable service partnership that NOVA Birth Services has with G.O.D., connecting trained birth workers with mothers in need.
When she went into active labor, I went with her to the hospital. Though I’ve accompanied many women through triage, I’ve never heard a nurse ask, “So why are you here?” with no greeting... until now. Clad in my scrubs and NOVA Birth Services name tag, I went and stood by the bed and in the nurse’s line of sight. Upon seeing me, the abrasiveness of her tone and facial expressions softened. The mother introduced me to the nurse and calmly explained her signs, using the vernacular she had learned from her classes. Every nurse from there forward would comment on how educated she seemed, and the initial tone they gave to her quickly changed.
When it came time for her to push, the voices in the room became overwhelming for her. I knew that an average pushing time for a first time mom can be 1-2 hours. Yet, after only 30 minutes the obstetrician, stood over this young girl--trying her best to push with all her might--sneered at the nurses, “I’m going to get coffee. Call me when she’s actually doing something.” He had only been in the room for 5 minutes.
When this mother was harshly told to, “just get angry and push this baby out,” I grabbed her hand and she fixated her eyes on mine. This baby wasn’t going to be born into a hostile environment. I asked God for his peace, leaned close to her head, and assured her nothing was wrong. “You’re doing a fantastic job. You don’t have to get angry, just believe in your ability to birth your daughter.”
While not every birth looks like this, and I know many kind and competent obstetricians, I think we can all admit that we can become accustomed to certain stories continuing on repeat. I think that's what happened. We’re used to the predictable outcomes of teenage pregnancy, and don’t often put in the effort to see if it could change. Yet, as we see with the birth of Jesus, God provides Mary with a community of faith, showcased in Elizabeth’s presence, to love, support and encourage her in what would appear to be an illegitimate pregnancy. If we take cues from Elizabeth and the shepherds who celebrate with Jesus’ parents after birth, we would see that it’s a responsibility of our faith to ensure that every child born into this world is celebrated as the gift from God that they are. At such a vulnerable moment, every word matters.
I know God visited this young mom. I know he used us through her classes to rid the fear that can surround birth and the stigmatism and isolation of a teen pregnancy. I know he used me to speak words of life to her in that laboring room. I know that my words humanized her and those who witnessed her birth. She has great hope for her daughter, and I rejoice in how God used his people to ensure this hope found a promising beginning. I pray other communities of faith can do the same, continuing the story of Elizabeth who gave a home to Mary, who gave words of hope about the baby in her womb. Sadly, Mary had to birth Jesus alone, without support. But we can make sure the mothers in our path, knocking on our door in times of need, don’t lack the same hospitality Jesus himself deserved.
Written by Brittany Girton