O Come O Come Samuel:  Reflections on My Epidural

by Marcia Boniferro

Photo from International Museum of Women

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved…” (Rom 8:22-24)

I just heard Romans 8 preached during the first week of Advent and these familiar and powerful words made me think one single and profound (at least to me) thing: I wish I never had an epidural.

I try to be gentle with myself for the choice I made to have an epidural.  When, in the midst of hours of churning and relentless pain, the nurse revealed she thought I “only” had about three hours of labour left, it was the exhaustion more than the pain that jolted me into this decision.  I often comfort myself with the fact that I lasted without any intervention until I was about 6 or 7 cm dilated.  But, in the deepest place in my being and my heart, I wish I had held out for those final 3 cm.

I often say to women friends about to give birth that the tremendousness of labour matched the tremendousness of the change that happened in our lives with the arrival of our son, Samuel.  The racking, shuddering pain matched what he brought – complete upheaval to our relationship, our home and our lives.  I experienced the most intense parts of my labour like a tearing in the world.  It was as if a screen, a curtain was being ripped from top to bottom, from seam to seam and I was in an alternate universe; in a reality that consisted of me and my child and the tremendousness of change – happening in my body, in his body, in the world.

When I had the epidural, I was literally numbed.  The intensity of what was happening and about to happen got dulled.  No longer did the experience of my body match the immense change that was about to come.

Advent is a time of waiting, of longing, of groaning.  To really, seriously dwell in longing is uncomfortable at best and blindingly painful at times.  Longing is a constant, nagging reminder of what we do not have, where we are not yet, how we are not fulfilled – of the chasm of emptiness inside us that yearns to be illuminated and filled.

During Advent it is far too easy to become numbed … by consumerism, by distraction, with shopping, with planning, with parties, with preparations, with food, with alcohol, with temptations that draw us inward and outward but never ultimately to where we can deeply dwell and belong.  In Advent, we so often reach out for anything to dull the ache of longing inside us. That longing for a partner; for a healthy, safe home; for a vocation; for a secure, stable job; for health; to complete a degree; for peace; for justice; for a family; for a rich, meaningful future life that seems just beyond our vision and grasp. All good things to long for, and all painful in their lack.

But, this longing, this ache, this groaning, the agony of yearning for a future hope and life is what matches the change that is about to come. The numbness is only, ultimately, a pause and a disappointment.  It is the real and true pain of longing that contains the seeds of the tremendous future before us.  For, radical, earth-shuddering change is coming – the lion will lay down with the lamb, peace will infuse our weary world and hearts.  The world is about to be ripped apart, the kingdom is coming, our deepest longings will – ultimately – be fulfilled!  The call of Romans 8 and of Advent is to dwell in the pain and in the groaning.  For, the kingdom is coming.  Who knows?  We may only have 3 cm to go.

Marcia Boniferro serves as an associate chaplain in CRC Campus Ministries at the University of Toronto.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

2 Responses to “O Come O Come Samuel:  Reflections on My Epidural”

  1. Christine

    Who would have guessed there’s a link between an epidural and Advent!?Great stuff! I will share it on my facebook page.

  2. darlenemcleod (@BlessedLife_d)

    What powerful images. And yes, groaning is so important in this season, and all too often avoided. We sanitize the nativity (“The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes…”) and imagine angels as adorable toddlers in pillowcase dresses. The groaning, the fear, the very humanity of the story is, quite simply, so uncomfortable we seek to avoid it. Numbed.

    As a doula, too, I have to offer words of sympathy and encouragement. You were indeed a warrior in your birth. And I am once again reminded of the vital importance of not mentioning time to a labouring woman: she exists in an atemporal paradox, in the immeasurably small instant which encompasses eternity, where past and future meet in the unending present of birth. To speak of time to her pulls her out of her right and liminal state.


Leave a Reply