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My Womb for God's Purposes: The Perils of Unassisted Childbirth in the Quiverfull Movement

Distrustful of experts, many Quiverfull followers are leaving childbirth to God. The recent death of a newborn, however, exposes a growing rift.

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As Chmielewski wrote on her blog, “God never meant for man (Pregnant Women) to surrender himself (herself) to the total control of man (dr./technology, etc.) God considers that idolatry. We are to surrender ourselves to GOD.”

While not all Quiverfull believers agree that medical decisions and labor need be left solely up to God, the shared language of reliance on God and suspicion of experts points to the anti-establishment or “agrarian,” off-the-grid ethos of many believers. It’s fertile ground for home birthing to flourish as a sub-movement of Quiverfull families hoping to make the birthing experience a part of the productive, independent home where husbands learn how to “catch the babies” themselves, both saving money and demonstrating their faith. A number of Quiverfull families follow a similar arc (as had Garrison) graduating from conventional hospital births—often where mothers felt pushed into a birth plan they didn’t desire—to midwife-assisted births at home, to the final challenge of unattended home births. It’s a logical extreme of the movement whose naturalistic bent actually overlaps with the back-to-the-land, new age counterculture in some ways, with Quiverfull moms staking out their territory of natural pregnancy in the odd company of feminist doulas and naturopaths, opposed as they are to high rates of hospital C-sections.

The Quiverfull Fringe: Caesarean-Sections Deliver Babies unto Caesar—and Through Him, Satan

Although unassisted childbirth is not at all limited to Quiverfull believers, the practice has certainly been taken up by the community, where the refrain to surrender oneself to God, to lean not on one’s own understanding but to trust and obey, take on a particularly literal meaning when it comes to the body. This birthing refrain includes many of the core concepts found elsewhere in the movement, which stresses that God will take care of his flock if they put utter and complete faith in Him.

Garrison describes her own past attempts at unassisted childbirth: 

I had envisioned a glorious testimony of God’s protection and provision—His reward for my complete trust and obedience in allowing Him to use my womb for His purposes. I imagined myself explaining after my successful home birth that it was because I had been faithful in seeking His will for my life that the Lord had carried me and my baby safely through.

The flip side of that trust and faith can lead women to ignore all doubts or intuitions as challenges to one’s faith, as Chmielewski seemed to when she wrote (italics added):

I have thought about my wondering and doubting and I have often thought am I saying that God I do not think you are handling this situation right? … God will refresh me and fill me up daily… He will provide my needs and my babies or baby’s needs… I need to trust Him and keep him in control of this birth and not me!

Unassisted childbirth has found a home in the fundamentalist communities of the United States and Australia. Part of the reason for this shared enthusiasm across continents is due to the popularity of the Quiverfull-friendly teachings of Nancy Campbell, editor of the conservative Christian women’s magazine Above Rubies , which has a large readership in all three countries Campbell has lived: New Zealand, Australia, and now the United States. While Campbell has not been a particularly zealous proponent of unassisted childbirth, she has in the past helped promote an extreme version of the practice taught by Carol Balizet, head of the obscure, Tampa, Florida-based Home in Zion Ministries, that is condemned even by fellow unassisted childbirthers.

Balizet, a former nurse and the author of a number of books on Christian home-living, motherhood, and home birthing, represents a fringe expression of the Quiverfull suspicion of mainstream, institutional experts. She condemns banks, public schools, “statist” government, and denominational churches, but she saves her harshest judgment for institutional medicine: a bastion of pagan religion, where doctors serve as “high priests.” These priests, Balizet argues, make pagan sacrifices through their surgical incisions, so that through Caesarean-section births, the newborn is delivered, as it were, to Caesar, and through him, Satan.