In the 20 years I have been having babies, there has been a protocol among the obstetric community whereby women laboring in the hospital are not permitted to eat. Ice chips are fine. But, no real food.
When I was preparing for the birth of our firstborn, we attended a very “granola” natural child birthing class as we intended to bring forth our child with minimal aid of medical interventions. In the course of this instruction, if students were planning to have the baby in a hospital, we were advised to stay at home for as long as possible during labor.
Why, you ask? There were a number of reasons—we might be more at ease in the comfort of our own homes, there would be less “opportunity” to succumb to the offerings of anesthesia, and (perhaps most memorable to me and my natural affections) we would have more time to “nourish” our bodies for the work of labor.
That is, I could eat until the time I got to the hospital.
I have had a few babies since that first one and have changed my opinions about what constitutes my perfect “birth plan,” but I always consider the implication of hunger pangs amidst the pains of labor. That just seems like a lot of suffering. Almost too much. Obviously labor is hard, and I understand the purpose of prohibiting food–but, still, both labor and hunger? At the same time?
I even distinctly remember wondering if my early labor pains were perhaps hunger pangs instead. They always felt oddly similar to me.
In both labor and hunger, I am slightly nauseated. I am restless and shakey. I am longing, uneasy, and uncomfortable. Agitated.
Hoping, but hurting. Knowing there is an end, but uncertain of when.
Throughout Scripture, the idea of labor pain is used to describe the human experience of suffering and yearning in expectation.
St. Paul writes, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.”
Even until now, 2000 years after the death and resurrection of our Blessed Lord, we have a particular lack. A longing. An expectation of something new and better than this life.
In one sense, we know that this is a time of “labor.” It always has been. This is a time of collective suffering as we await the glory of Christ and our liberation from this present age’s “not yet-ness.”
In new sense, during this time of extended separation from the Blessed Sacrament and communion with each other, we may also wonder if this suffering is also “hunger.”
I think it is both. It feels like a lot of suffering. It’s almost too much. It is familiar.
And, like the other kinds of labor and hunger, there will be an end. All of this suffering is for a purpose. We are just not there yet.