HOUSTON — Some miracles require labor.
Just ask Linda Richards. She has five: 7-year-old twins, a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old.
“When you have a child, you know what a miracle it is when you hold this baby in your arms,” Richards said.
But when it comes to labor and delivery, expecting a miracle may not be all that is required to get through what can be hours of pain, fear and confusion.
Richards, for one, wanted preparation — especially after experiencing a particularly difficult delivery with her second pregnancy, she said. So during her third pregnancy she sought some earthly help.
“I just didn’t want to go into my labor with that horrible past experience and not know how to do anything different,” the Richmond resident said.
Something different came from First Birth Ministries, a seven-week course that helped her prepare for the birth of her fourth child. And though Richards was expecting help with the physical aspects of bringing a child into the world, it was the spiritual preparation that helped make the difference, she said.
“I was so surprised at how helpful it was to get God’s perspective on children and childbirth and all the issues related to childbirth,” said Richards, a committed Christian.
First Birth Ministries was founded in 1991 and is now run by Sharon Cave, a pastor’s wife and mother of 11 children. Cave teaches the classes in churches throughout Houston. She also can serve as a doula, or advocate, during labor.
Cave’s goal is to help women prepare physically, emotionally and spiritually for a life-changing event, she said.
“We are producing couples who are very well trained,” said Cave, whose husband Michael is the pastor of the Church of the Bay Area in Webster. “But we are wanting them to understand that in a practical way, God fits into every part of our life.”
The curriculum was developed by Kandis Greco, a former labor and delivery nurse.
“I taught traditional childbirth classes for years,” said Greco, now a life science teacher at Second Baptist School. “They minister to the physical needs, how to cope with pain. They give you all the information. … I felt the need for the spiritual, too.”
As Greco saw it, most other big life events for Christians were accompanied by some sort of spiritual preparation. Churches offer marriage-preparation classes for couples. When a loved one dies, families seek comfort from their pastor or church community.
But birth seemed without spiritual preparation, she said.
So she turned to the Bible for inspiration and found more than 100 passages that had something to say about childbirth. Most passages elaborated on pain, she said.
But she also noticed that the Bible had a lot to say about fear, perseverance, trust in God — useful information for expectant parents.
Weaving the Bible into the course, she devised a curriculum that offered practical advice and spiritual inspiration.
“This is the one time that God allows your body to feel pain, and it means something is right, that something good is happening and birth is going to occur,” Greco said. “You have to turn your thinking around. If you don’t involve the spiritual in that, you are missing out on what God can teach us through that.”
Cave took over the operations of First Birth Ministries about four years ago.
At a recent class at Second Baptist Church, six women waddled into the blue-carpeted classroom, accompanied by husbands and family members carting water and pillows.
The class began with a prayer for an absent member who had been confined to hospital-bed rest and for courage and perseverance for the women and their families in the room.
“Father, we thank you so much for your love; we thank you so much for these precious babies,” Cave prayed.
Then the class began with a quick review from the previous week’s session on suffering, followed by a discussion of the different phases of labor.
Cave discussed the emotions — from exuberance to fear and frustration — that can arise during each phase, and she offered practical suggestions about food, drink, exercise and body positions as labor develops.
“Don’t forget those lunges,” she reminded. “Those lunges are good. It is better to put some action with that faith.”
Cave discussed what to expect from narcotics to “take the bite off” and the “good” side of vomiting. (It pushes the baby down.)
In 21/2 hours, she covered massage, heat packs, breathing, vocalization, patience, sin and fear. Throughout the class, Cave quoted biblical passages from Philippians, Isaiah and others.
Following a video of different women’s experiences with birth, the class ended the same way it began — with prayer.
Cave said her goal is to help women make decisions that are best for them, but she’s proud of preparing women for natural childbirths and births that do not require cesarean sections.
“We feel we are training people to work with their labors and be part of the decision-making process,” she said. “Part of that is medical knowledge and part of that is the spiritual preparation.”
Titi Otunla, a certified nurse midwife with Women’s Specialists of Houston, said many of her patients who were trained by Cave were well-equipped to deal with the pain of labor and trusted that their bodies would be able to handle the birth.
“If women are in tune to the spiritual side of things, I think without fail, it is a different approach to their birth,” she said. “I think because of that they have an easier time.”