In the Basilica of Sant'Agostino in Rome there stands near the entrance a towering statue of the mother of Jesus. This representation of Mary was long ago dubbed the Madonna of Childbirth. She is also sometimes referred to as Our Lady of Happy Delivery or Our Lady of Childbirth. It is flanked all around with handwritten notes, birth announcements, photographs of newborn babes, pink and blue ribbons, flowers, and candles. They are taped to the wall, tucked into crevices, laid at the base, and at her feet sits a large book filled with prayers requested along with lines and lines of gratitude for prayers answered. Other shrines exist, too. There is one in Paris, France dedicated to Our Lady of Good Delivery. There is also Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery in Saint Augustine, Florida. Traditionally, these roles of Mary were celebrated on October 11, the feast of the Divine Maternity of Mary. For centuries, couples have come to Mary under these or similar titles not only asking for the gift of a child but also asking for a healthy and happy birth. It is a stunning witness to the Church’s concern for birth.
In our marriages, we are asked to be open to life, to value life, to welcome children into our families with generosity. That openness to life by necessity opens us up to the possibility of birth - real physical, messy, bloody, beautiful birth. We can and should ask that those births be blessed by Him and recognize the potential for grace during them. The births of our babies are intimately connected to our marriages and womanhood. Whatever kind of birth we have, they involve all of us – body, mind, heart, and soul. Birth is not something we need just grit our teeth through and survive. We can pray that they be healthy but we’re also invited to pray that they be happy, joyful, a time where our experience of God and our feminine genius is deepened. Mary is the ultimate example of and our intercessor for this.
There’s no “need” for this, of course. Just like there’s no "need" for most of the exorbitant amount of graces God longs to pour down upon us and invites us to ask for. Our God is a God of generosity and abundance and that doesn’t stop at the first contraction. I believe that God wants to be intimately involved in the births of our children. He was so at their conception and His love and concern carry us through pregnancy and through the intense and profound moments of birth. That doesn’t mean they are going to look a certain way or that they won’t be difficult, perhaps incredibly so. But these are moments that go beyond our natural understanding into something much deeper – a deeper experience of His passion, His love, His joy, His call for us as women to be life-bearers.
As we enter into our own births or pray for those we know who are pregnant, let’s not be afraid to ask that the birth be not only healthy but happy and beautiful. Let’s recognize that the God who concerns Himself with the number of hairs on our heads and who knows when we sit and when we stand most certainly also wants to be a part of something so intimate and important to us - and to the world - as birth.
Let's remember that He Himself chose to BE birthed through a very real human mother, a woman He gave us to be our mother, too. In passing through the portals of her flesh, He sanctified birth and made it possible for it to be something truly holy. Let's remember that He was the intentional designer behind it all and that He is not embarrassed or scandalized by its raw physicality. The God who designed that sex be sacramental is also the one who designed for it to reach its biological fruition in birth, very real human birth. Let’s ask Our Lady of Childbirth to intercede for us as we and the sisters around us do the incredible work of bringing new life into the world. Let’s remember that birth matters, not only to us, but to Him and to her, too.
Our Lady of a Happy Birth, pray for us!