Book Review: Labor With Hope by Gloria Furman

Labor with Hope

I can recall few books that infuse motherhood with gospel hope in such elegant and compassionate prose as Gloria Furman’s Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood. Ms. Furman’s words will not only encourage expectant mothers for years to come, but also direct their gaze steadfastly toward Christ.

I first encountered the wonders and dangers of childbirth on my obstetrics rotation in medical school. Few physicians forget their first time assisting with the delivery of a baby. The fear, the uncertainty, and then the joy that surges forth when new life, ruddy and squirming, finally bursts into our space, imprint themselves permanently on the memory.

And yet this road to motherhood is neither safe, nor simple. Just as I will never forget my first delivery, neither can I dismiss the terror that ensued when a laboring mother suffered a uterine rupture. Nor will I ever wipe from memory a mother’s tears at the impending loss of her child. When the birth of my own child evolved from a straightforward process into two days of induced labor and an emergency Cesarean, these images came rushing back, and I grappled for an anchor. How do we make sense of this amalgamation of pains, sorrows, and life-giving joys? How do we sort through the calamity? Where does God factor into the anticipation, the fear, the pain, the delight?

To answer these questions, Ms. Furman plants us firmly and confidently before the cross. In words that waft between conversation and exegesis, she reveals the purpose of our labor pains: to point us to Christ, the one who bore our sufferings so we might be reborn. With a critical eye, an empathetic tone, and a solid bedrock of theology, Ms. Furman explores the metaphors of labor and childbirth to guide expectant mothers to the source of our hope, namely, Jesus Christ. The resulting book is encouraging and profound, with the purpose of our pain clarified in sharp relief, and praise for our risen Lord surging through the text like waves.

We writers on faith and medicine carry a burden of responsibility. If we write carelessly, readers may conflate encouragement and guidance with medical advice. In the most extreme circumstances, they can misinterpret our words as advocacy for Christian science and the prosperity gospel, two misguided theologies that link illness with deficits in faith, and which steer adherents away from medical care.

Labor with Hope presents little risk of such misunderstanding. The book reads from start to finish as a devotional, focused not on what women should “do,” but on how they can worship in the midst of pregnancy and childbirth’s joys and travails. It instills their days and frustrations with meaning, and maintains a razor-sharp focus on Christ.

On the whole, Labor with Hope is beautifully composed and rich with insight. Most importantly, it points expectant mothers to the one for whom we all wait – the one who bore our pains, who knows our suffering, and who makes all groaning creation born anew, awash in God’s love.

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