holding the space

I hear from a sweet girlfriend she is in labor. I’m at home. I sling the baby on my hips and go upstairs. The older kids clamor what kind of baby will she have? is she going to want a chocolate cake? while following me up the stairs that creak, down the hallway that’s dark, and into the Sitting Room, my work studio. I scan the room in a hurry and blink, in that second recalling the memory of where I safely stowed the matches out of their reach.

In a few steps, I recover the matches and light one. The baby tries hard to burn his hands but after setting him down to toddle, I cup the match and my favorite candle made by another sweet friend. Lit, it lets off the sweetest smell and the three kids huddle to watch it flick flack.

I’m holding the space for this girlfriend in labor.

A lit candle, powerful but vulnerable, makes the perfect analogy for the laboring mama. Her body can do this. It was made to do this. Her breath in & out brings that baby closer to her arms through his or her biggest journey of their life.

Don’t you wish we could remember how it felt to kick off the top of the uterus? To head down from our warm cocoon into the bright cold world? Or to feel the surgeon’s rubbery hands lifting us to our mama’s welcoming eyes?

Probably best those memories are in our bones and muscles instead of our cognizant memory. Though Blythe’s brother says he remembers it, so some of us may be able to access that trip.

I hold the space for her, whispering prayers and feeling slightly anxious until I hear the news, mama and baby okay. Every time a friend or family member is in labor, or their baby’s birth mother is, I’ve lit a candle, wishing so hard on it that everything goes okay, wanting so much to will into being my wish. We are so interconnected, we mothers by body and mothers by heart.

It doesn’t matter that each labor is different. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never attended another woman’s birth or baby-meeting. My mama heart strings for them, the tense anticipation, the conscious effort for peace, the desperation and euphoria.


Wood wall hangings by my dear friend Kelly at Of Thistle and Thyme. Stack of my fabric just waiting for projects.

My friend Laura is a theologian and mother. Her series on prayer are amazing. She loves the prayer on the Breastplate of Saint Patrick for labor, and I do too:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

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12 Responses to holding that {birth} space for each other

  1. Alicia Copley says:

    I LOVE the idea of that prayer for labor! It’s such a chant-y mantra sort. I had never thought of that!

  2. Theresa says:

    What a lovely idea to light a candle for women in childbirth. I love it <3

  3. Caitlyn says:

    This is such a beautiful tradition. I have a prayer that I say (I’ll send it to you!) and I try to light one of our blessed candles when I hear the news of a friend in labor. I get this feeling as if there’s a giant hush as we all await the news.

  4. Sully says:

    I love this. my aunts and cousins all d0 this when a friend or family member is in labor.

  5. Love this, Nell. It’s such a beautiful thing to do. You’ve inspired me to go buy my own space holding candle for all my dear friends who find themselves laboring.

  6. Gina says:

    What a beautiful idea. I’m going to try to remember to do this next time a friend is in labor.

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