Birthing Hope, Motherhood, Incarnation

Leaning into the Risk of Motherhood

I can remember when I used to be an advocate for early demise. My fondest hope was to fulfill the biblical quotient for old age as well as I could, and then to exit stage left with as little drama as possible to make room for the next wave.

Then I became a mother, and motherhood changes your mind.

Now, one of my fondest hopes is to see my sons in their prime and beyond, to bear witness to the salt-and-pepper, the graying temples, and the receding hairlines. I want to appreciate the deepening of laugh lines around eyes the color of the sea and to chuckle over the unruly eyebrows and the persistence of strength and muscle tone in a middle-aged runner’s scrawny legs.

It’s in the Blood

Motherhood has changed my mind and more, and Rachel Marie Stone suggests a physiological reason for the alterations that come with motherhood. Apparently, a woman’s body acquires cells from every pregnancy. Each baby she carries leaves behind a few cells that join with hers, so when we take the plunge into motherhood, we do not surface unchanged.

Birth is the metaphor that runs throughout Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light as it binds memoir to meditation and bears witness to the journey that has left its mark on the author. When Stone and her husband packed up baggage and boys and relocated to Malawi, they had not an inkling of what it would cost them to serve university students in one of the poorest countries in the world. Whether it was her training as a doula or her tendency since childhood to be drawn toward the things that scare her, she was drawn to serve in a hospital where maternal death was commonplace–even unremarkable.

When Rachel’s bare hands plucked a baby from a pool of its mother’s HIV-infected blood, she tried not to think about the consequences to her own personal health or to her family. Even so, as she waited for the test results to reveal the impact on her own HIV status, she had plenty of opportunity to ponder the fleeting nature of life and her persistent fears for the safety of her husband and her children. She expressed the angst with borrowed words from Kathleen Norris:

“One of the most astonishing and precious things about motherhood is the brave way in which women consent to give birth to creatures who will one day die.” (74)

An Earthen Vessel in Zomba

Living as a white woman in a Malawian city, Stone “wore shame like a scarf” because of her comparative wealth, her education, her access to medical care, and the fact that she was there in the country voluntarily and could leave at any time. In the city of Zomba they called home, she taught English with a cringe, wishing her students did not need to learn it.

She shared the lives, the meals, and the routines of Malawian women who became friends, all the while learning that “every act of eating and drinking in Malawi was preceded by strategic harm reduction acts” such as washing raw vegetables and fruit in a bleach solution and filtering water. Learning to fashion pottery from the clay taken from termite mounds (Yes, it was accumulated termite droppings . . .), Rachel savored the image of God as the Potter who fashioned her own vessel out of humble clay.

Beautiful Incarnation

One of the highlights of Birthing Hope is the theological ponderings that flow out of the narrative arc. For instance, so many of our anxieties are tied to our mortality and physicality, and yet the truth of the incarnation that anchors our hearts in hope for these frail bodies has been challenged, messed with, and diluted throughout history. This is tragic, because the reality that a Palestinian teenager gave birth to God in a body, that Mary was given the option to bend and break over scandal and risk around a fully human pregnancy gives meaning and purpose and fosters fellowship around our own human struggles that are firmly rooted in our feeble flesh.

From God’s perspective, the incarnation was a huge unshielding of His own heart as He brought into being the possibility of a Suffering Servant and the Perfect Sacrifice. What a precise picture of the mothering life! Starting with birth, and growing by leaps and bounds as small bodies grow into large and independent selves, the mothering journey is one huge unshielding process! And it is fraught with risk.

Birthing Hope is an invitation to enter fully into that risk, trusting that there is no contamination or sorrow that is not gathered up into the collective groaning that will be turned inside out and will one day weigh like feathers in the balance against the overwhelming weight of glory which comes from a life in which love is allowed to have the last word.


Many thanks to IVP Books for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

67 thoughts on “Leaning into the Risk of Motherhood”

  1. I loved reading this review and I loved your personal additions and thoughts to it as well. Hope is so important and such a necessity even when it feels unbearable and undoable. I agree so much with your statement about anxieties as well. Have a wonderful week!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, motherhood changes each one of us, Michele. But I had no idea that each child leaves a few cells behind that somehow mingle with my own. How interesting and intimate! I too am at the stage of seeing my young sons venturing into adulthood with all that comes with it along the way. It’s a curious journey to be sure and one that keeps me holding tight to the Lord for hope and security–hoping they do the same. Thanks for this inspiring review. I’ll be pinning!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rachel is clear that this finding is still in the early stages of being really proved and understood. For instance, is this a good thing for the mother? But it certainly is intriguing and adds to the mystery of the bond between mothers and their children! Thanks, Beth, for stopping by today!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Michele,
    Thank you for this beautiful review. I had no idea about those cells being left behind, but it certainly coincides with a Mother’s way of loving! Truly there is such an unshielding of our hearts for the sake of the other. Since I have a daughter-in-law who is a trained Doula, I’m going to definitely check out this book. Blessings to you! (And congrats on your feature over at #LMMLinkup this week!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your D-I-L would certainly identify with many of Rachel’s thoughts on coming alongside other women in the birthing process. There are so many beautiful metaphors around birthing in the Bible, and this book explores them so beautifully while also sharing Rachel’s journey.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A beautifully written review. I think I’ll get the book it sounds amazing. I may be able to relate to a little of it from when I taught in Zambia and I think the rest will be serious food for thought. Thank you for sharing. #lgrtstumble

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every once in a while someone asks me that, but, no, I’m here in the USA. I think the “mum” designation has come from the region of Maine where I grew up. Northern Maine is surrounded by Canada, and my mother was a Canadian citizen. I’m sure I picked it up from all those wonderful Northern relatives, as I sometimes hear other little quirks in my pronunciation that lean over the border.

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  5. Sounds like a great book! Motherhood is risky, isn’t it?!? It takes everything we know and turns it upside down. I’m so glad to have God’s wisdom and guidance as I mother my kids!

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    1. Yes, and reading this book gave me a real appreciation for some things I take for granted here in my safe little home, like begin able to eat raw veggies without running through a gauntlet of cleansing procedures and our relatively disease free surroundings.

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  6. Beautiful book review, Michele. You make all of the books that you review sound so appealing! My list keeps growing and growing! I (again) learned something from your post – I didn’t realize that a mother acquires cells with each pregnancy. It makes total sense, though. I think in an alternate life I would choose to be a doula! I was the “coach” for several women during childbirth, and loved it! This was in the US, though in a hospital setting.

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    1. It must be an amazing experience to coach someone through that process. And I would think that your training and running would give you a great advantage in helping someone pace herself and lean into the challenge. Glad you enjoyed the review!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Michele, I enjoyed your post and found it intriguing that each child leaves cells behind. I also thought about how she felt ashamed of the choices open to her and her wealth. I know on short-term mission trips I have not wanted people to know how we are accustomed to living. How deadened we can become to our blessings.

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    1. I’ve never had that experience, but I’m sure it’s a heavy load to carry. I have heard more than one person say that travelling to impoverished countries changed their sense of entitlement to the possessions and conveniences they enjoy.

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  8. Oh, Michele, love your last line: “a life in which love is allowed to have the last word.” Seems like the perfect epitaph for a believer!

    I’m also in agreement that motherhood is fraught with risk. I don’t think any of us when presented with a cuddly bundle of joy have any idea of the risks we are opening ourselves up to!

    And, I, too, am very taken with the thought that each baby leaves cells behind inside the mother. I know each of my babies changed me; I just didn’t comprehend they changed me physically as well.

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    1. Yes, we don’t come this far into the mothering journey unchanged, for sure! And I have a feeling that the risk of loving is the very thing that changes our hearts for the better.

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  9. It is amazing to think of the sacrifices some people make for the Kingdom of God. Thank you for sharing about this book and the experiences this dear lady went through. God bless you, Michele.

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    1. I realized at some point that this has been a month with 2 missionary bios at Living Our Days. That was unplanned, but it was interesting to look at the 2 Africa experiences, separated by 50 years.

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  10. Michele, what a beautiful book review. I was inspired by what you shared of Rachel’s life. And the picture of mothering being an unshielding and willingness to risk? I never thought about this calling in that way. But yes, I would have to agree.

    Well written, friend.

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    1. I loved the term “unshielding,” because there certainly is a vulnerability in motherhood that, for me, has been one-of-a-kind. Those little guys steal our hearts, and that doesn’t change even when they become BIG guys.

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  11. Beautiful Michelle. I didn’t know that about birth and keeping cells. Wonderful how God works. There’s a piece of each of us in Him when we’re dispatched on earth. Everything derives its pattern from him. Thank you for sharing ❤

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    1. Yes, and Rachel’s life in Malawi was such a stretching experience for her–a completely different culture, on top of the other challenges she was managing. Glad to know you enjoyed the review.

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  12. Mothering is such a journey giving the greatest joys & the greatest agony of heart throughout the years. 😦 😀

    Interesting to hear of the cells, I will have to do some research on that one!

    Thank you Michele for that interesting review.
    Jennifer

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  13. A book about motherhood, Africa and the hope of Christ? Adding it to my list right now! Thank you for sharing your review with us at Encouraging Word Wednesday this week!

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    1. I’m thankful for the changes parenting has brought about in the way I handle anxiety. The fear is just too big for me to handle alone, because we do love those kids so much. I’m thankful that God steps in to help with carrying it and reminds me that He loves those dear kids more than I do.

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  14. This one’s going on my Pinterest board for sure! Beginning to think I may never get to all these books you make sound so tantalizing!

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  15. This sounds like a powerful, convicting, inspiring book. Life is full of risks, but we can’t help but stand in awe of the grace of God that enables someone to purposefully put herself in harms way out of love for Him and love for neighbor.

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  16. Michele, like you, I look forward to watching my children grow older … to see who and what they become, to see what their families are like (if that is part of God’s plan for them), to see how they might conduct themselves through the type of things I am navigating right now with my parents. I don’t have any actual cells from either of my girls, of course, but we are still woven together in ways that only God could have ordained. This book sounds very interesting!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the review, Lois. Parenting changes us in so many ways, and it really doesn’t matter how the journey begins. I’m thankful for the amazing way God brought you together with those very special girls.

      Like

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