My Theology of the Womb

Can we just take a few minutes to admire the womb? The miraculous incubator designed to grow a life until it is ready to meet the world.

It runs like a well oiled machine. Month after month, year after year, decade after decade, messengers from the brain we call hormones prepare a 5 star hotel in womens’ uteruses in anticipation of a baby reserving the room. This accommodation boasts a memory foam mattress created out of blood and tissue covered in 800 count Egyptian cotton sheets. Those same couriers automatically trigger the release of a microscopic golden egg from an ovary, priceless treasure within its penetrable shell. It floats down the fallopian tube like clock-work where it meets  up with a sperm —or not. 

If it doesn’t and the reservation gets canceled, the bed is stripped in preparation for the next potential guest and we call that experience menstruation.

If it does, the two amalgamate and a teeny-tiny human is conceived. The nanoscopic person burrows itself into the wall of the uterus.  Its cells create a life support system we call the placenta wherein the baby lives in its very own self-protective swimming pool. From the egg sac, a connective stalk emerges and tethers the baby to its mothership. This cord contains a delivery system for oxygen and a sewage system for depleted lifeblood. 
Nothing is wasted.

A new somebody, called a baby, grows in an older somebody’s body. That’s the mother. And the womb is the location designed for this task. Nine months down the assembly line, the baby gets a quality control stamp of approval and is ready to leave the manufacturing plant.  The escape route is through the mom’s vagina. An automated message tells uterine muscles to contract expanding the vaginal exit. After a rigorous workout that pushes mom to her limits, the tiny tot passes through the wardrobe into Narnia, thanks to the womb.

It doesn’t always go like this though. 
Sometimes the machine glitches resulting in infertility, miscarriage, premature birth, C-section, stillbirth. 
Sometimes messages in the golden eggs can’t be decoded resulting in disease, defect, anomaly, demise. 
Sometimes the host body is sick, malignant, endangered.
Sometimes the creation of new life occurs under violent circumstances beyond a female’s consensual control or in the throws of addiction, poverty and dysfunction. And it is legitimate to have concern for the quality of life a child will experience when it’s born to a mother who is not prepared to nurture it.

All life matters. Mother’s lives and baby’s lives. 
And when both cannot co-exist, gnarly questions are asked and answered. Questions I am grateful I did not have to personally consider.

True story. I was conceived when my mom was 45. Those were the days before abortions services were legally and conveniently available and there were just a handful of neonatal care units cross country. My mom’s physician evaluated the statistical risks and offered some under the table advice. “There’s a place I know of where you can go to protect mom from this high-risk pregnancy and eliminate the probability of brith defects and developmental disabilities for baby.” My parents declined termination and said yes to the gift of life instead and here we are today, two generations and four healthy granddaughters later.

I work in a neonatal unit and see every kind of disaster recovery after the reproductive machine malfunctions. Unthinkably petite newborns, some of whom arrive in helicopters with a whole entourage of clinical traveling companions receive cutting edge medical care. Outside of the womb, there is a unanimous commitment to the ethical rules of modern medicine—help and not harm. Every little person’s life is equally valued regardless of how dire their prognosis or family circumstances are. 
We have a photo shoot booth that reads NICU Graduate in large, bold letters on the backdrop. It’s the last stop before discharged infants depart the unit. We congratulate the ones carrying the car seats and bless the babes on to a beautiful life because that’s what we want for them and that’s what they deserve.

But life is complicated and broken and fallen. Both in the womb and in the world, children aren’t safe. If we claim that we are advocates for protecting children from abuse and violence, then we must start with the place they are most vulnerable, in the womb. And if we claim to champion the protection of the unborn, we must be a proponent for the programs and services that protect children from the suffering and trauma they encounter living outside the womb. To be one and not the other is to be a hypocrite.

Last week, my son in law and I talked about pregnancy. I told him that I’m sorry he’ll never get the privilege of growing a baby in his womb. Of feeling it flutter in his abdomen or kick on his bladder . Of having his abdominal skin expand like a balloon or his vagina dilate to give birth.  I don’t know why, but God reserved this phenomenon for a woman’s body only. We are the ones who experience the miracle.

This is my theology of the womb. That it is the remarkable invention of God’s mind and heart for reproducing human beings, a beautifully complex process that generally works like magic. By design, a biological girl greets the world with all the parts and pieces necessary for replicating the miracle once she’s matured. And the baby boy comes supplied with undeveloped sperm cells that grow and exponentially duplicate following puberty. And when the two sexually conjoin, the ordinary and the extraordinary greet one another with a holy kiss. 

God describes it like this:

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and steward it…..Then God looked over all that he had made, and he saw that it was very good! 

(Genesis 1: 27-31 paraphrased)

Very Good! 
That’s God’s proclamation about the womb.
And for the privilege of being a woman and participating in God’s plan for the circle of life through my womb, I’m grateful.

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