On June 24, 2023, at 9:17 p.m., my internal schema of people most dear to me rearranged itself to make room for our family’s newest member: an impossibly sweet baby boy named Jude.
Alongside my son, a sliver of my heart was also carved out for the smart and spunky midwife who delivered him. It’s official: I’ll soon be forgotten by her, but she has a permanent spot in my highest esteem.
If this sounds dramatic, you’re not wrong. If your hunch is that this article is going to end up being a love letter to the woman who ushered my child into this world as much as a spiritual reflection, you are kind of right. But only kind of. Because as is the case with most of the more profound moments of my life, the sacred is woven into my experience of childbirth. So mixed in with my deep appreciation of and admiration for the competence and compassion of my midwife are new insights about faith and, specifically, vocation.
Like many people who grew up Catholic, my first understanding of vocation was of three choices: religious life, marriage, or holy singledom. But post-Second Vatican Council child that I am, my predominant sense of the word eventually had less to do with deciding between becoming a nun or a wife and more to do with considering how I might use my gifts to serve God and others. Vocation, I learned early on, equals career plus God, and anything, as long as it involves making the world a better place and giving the credit to a higher power, can be understood as a calling.
I appreciate that I grew up with this sense of vocation and that I could dress up as an artist, teacher, or spy for “vocation day”—the Catholic school version of career day—and have my nascent interests encouraged and celebrated. Unlike my parents, I was not raised with the sense that religious life was the best version of a life. (Although I did don a nun’s habit in the second grade and got the most positive attention that year. However, this felt more like a first lesson in endearing myself to others by showing an interest in their interests—I see you, Sister Rita—than a suggestion of the moral superiority of this chosen path.)
And yet, I still see limits to the way in which I grew to understand the idea of vocation. What started in elementary school as the concept of “how we use our gifts to make the world a better place” was built upon in my young adulthood with a line from the theologian Frederick Buechner that often gets thrown around in conversations about vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
While there is nothing inherently wrong with these understandings of vocation—indeed, they offer an orienting wisdom for children and young adults considering their futures—let me tell you what comes to mind when I consider “the world’s deep hunger.” The world hungers for policies that halt the scorching of the Earth. For public discourse that challenges systems that require the many to suffer for the luxury of the few. For innovations that address the drought-fueled famines plaguing the Global South.
The world has no shortage of deep hungers, and these hungers demand to be filled, stat. But not everyone’s skills and proclivities align with addressing these broad-scale global issues. It took having my saint of a midwife skillfully and tenderly meet my longings to feel safe, secure, connected, cared for, and at peace for me to think that maybe we ought to revise the way we talk about vocation. Maybe the conversation should include meeting the needs of the individual inhabitants of the world as much as meeting the needs of the world at large.
It probably goes without saying that the greatest need my midwife met was facilitating the safe arrival of our baby. By watching my monitors and knowing when intervention was needed, she spared my family a tragedy that would have left irreparable heartbreak. In the words of the Jewish song traditionally sung during the Exodus retelling at the Passover seder, if that was the only thing she did, “It would have been enough.”
But like God kept on giving to Israel, my midwife kept on giving to me. I was on edge for the remainder of the delivery after Jude’s in-utero heart rate plummeted, and though it would have been entirely reasonable for my midwife to focus solely on getting him delivered, she also tended to me. She made maintaining an unflustered, non-anxious presence look easy, and, on top of being calm, she was nice as well. I was getting on my own nerves as I relentlessly begged for reassurance between every push that Jude’s heart rate remained where it should be—I had to have been getting on hers—but instead of curtailing my quandaries, my midwife told me each time how good Jude looked. She was kind, she was patient, and she made me laugh. Is that not sacred, holy work?
Thanks to my midwife’s capability and good humor, I not only have a healthy baby in my arms, but I also have a treasure chest of joyful memories from Jude’s birth. I would have been fine without these memories, but like icing on a cake, my life is sweeter with them. The experiences that become our memories are also the soundtrack of our interior world and the stories that shape our lives. To have happy, nontraumatic experiences that don’t require any kind of work to process or overcome and that quickly alchemize into cherished memories is a true gift in this anxiety-filled world.
Had I been told in the midst of a contraction that climate change was solved or that scientists working on meeting the hungers of the world had found a way to repair the ozone layer and eradicate greed all at once, I would have wept tears of joy. But those tears still would have been mixed with continued tears from all the messy emotions of labor. Because the abatement of world issues notwithstanding, the struggles of an ordinary individual life continue.
The Earth needs people to tirelessly work on her, to make her a better, more habitable place in the broadest of senses. And so too do each of the people in the world need the gentle, competent care of their fellow humans.
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I think it takes a village to meet the needs of every one of us. May we give thanks to the people in our village—our midwives and our teachers, our neighbors and our lifeguards—and may we answer the call to be the village for one another. May we see making others’ lives safer, more manageable, and happier for what it is: a vocation.
Read more Home Faith:
- Seeking approval from our parents is deeply human
- Don’t let comparison steal your joy
- Instead of savoring the moment, do what the disciples do
This article also appears in the November 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 11, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Image: Unsplash/Jonathan Borba