Childbirth, Hurricanes, and Faith: Taking Refuge in the Unknown

“Faith is taking refuge in the Unknown.”

I listened to a podcast this morning and had to pause it when I heard this quote. Like many childbirth professionals, listening takes on a few different forms: personal and “how does this relate to childbirth.” It is as if I have different ears and processing centers in my brain where everything flows through and is diverted into the appropriate sphere of importance. I am well past giving birth; my youngest is fourteen. Regardless, the diverter sends most content through both filters even when it does not seem to be childbirth related.

This morning’s podcast was no exception. When I heard the above quote, I couldn’t help but think of the four pillars of birth as I teach about them in my childbirth classes: Love, Faith, Doubt, and Determination. For various reasons, Faith has always been one of the harder ones of these four to understand. You see, faith brings to mind religious belief or even a system of religious beliefs. As such, how does it work for those who are nonreligious or atheists? Does that pillar not apply to people who don’t believe in God? On the contrary, I think it is still highly relevant.

Which would then lead me to another definition of Faith: trust. But this too doesn’t sit quite right for me. Perhaps my aversion to the word trust is based on the mantra-like phrase going around the birth community, “trust birth.” To me, the idea that all you have to do to have the birth you want is to trust in it happening, misses so much. Nope, trust also didn’t fulfill my need to more deeply understand Faith.

But this Adyashanti quote moves me closer to how I feel about Faith. Let me break it down.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines refuge as, “shelter or protection from danger or distress.” Shelter or protection from the danger, not removal of the danger. There is a huge difference here and brings to mind my experience of living through Hurricane Iniki on Kaua’i back in 1992. During that incredibly powerful category 4 hurricane, I remember being sheltered from the storm. Several of us hunkered down in a semi-basement room in the home of a dear friend. Outside, the storm raged, RAGED, around us. We could hear it howling and whistling through cracks and crevices in the house. We could feel it in the form of water around our ankles as rain poured in through slat windows. And, we were OK. We were in the storm, but not in the way the hikers stranded on the Na Pali trail were IN it! We had shelter and protection. And it was scary, threatening, and hair-raising. We were sheltered from the hurricane, but that didn’t mean the hurricane suddenly didn’t exist. To be sheltered in birth does not imply the removal of all obstacles, nor does it mean the effects of the storm raging around you won’t leave you up to your ankles in water.

What does “unknown” mean? Using unknown in a noun form refers to all that we cannot understand, know, or control; it is the realm of mystery, the sacred, and the holy in all its forms. Birth fits firmly within the realm of “the unknown.” Much is unknowable in labor, childbirth, and parenthood. Control is illusory. Childbirth is like what my backpacking instructor taught me about Sierra Nevada weather; “the only thing predictable about mountain weather is that it is unpredictable.” The unknown is not only not known, it is unknowable. Weather, like birth, is a force governed by nature and as such, is not predictable nor controllable.

I learned this first hand in that hurricane. Iniki was one hell of a storm. The roof of the house I was in did eventually blow off toward the end of the storm. Those of us sheltering in that basement room had to act resourcefully and responsively to the new situation of our shelter. After the storm passed, we turned the garage into a makeshift sleeping quarter for our motley group of hurricane riders. We didn’t know everything there was to know about hurricanes before the storm made landfall. Much of what we learned we learned through experience. We became resourceful in response to our needs in the moment rather than following a specific plan…we were already blown off course.

And we were ultimately, totally and completely OK. We had faith. We took refuge in the unknown. We found shelter in the midst of Nature.

For many, faith is easily understood and deeply felt. It runs through their being as an ever-present thread in tapestry of their lives, be it religious, spiritual or both. For me, Adyashanti’s definition of faith, brings closer another understanding of what Faith as a pillar in birth might mean.

Faith is taking shelter within the storm of all that is unpredictable and unknowable. It is a form of trust, not that nothing unexpected will happen, but in knowing you can make it through regardless of the size of the storm.

The protection offered by this type of faith relies upon an innate or trained knowing in our own OK-ness. Many of us charge into difficult situations with mantras like “I am strong” and “I am powerful.” And yet, we often face moments when we don’t feel strong or powerful. What is true of us even when we don’t feel strong and powerful? Faith reminds us–even in moments when our belief in ourselves (or even God) is tested–that all is ultimately OK.

A parent in one of my childbirth classes recently summed this concept up artistically and beautifully…

“We are okay; I am okay.”

About Dr. Britta Bushnell

is a writer, teacher, storyteller, and mentor who blends her eclectic training, years of experience, and areas of study into a unique offering for individuals, couples, professionals, and groups. Britta is currently deep at work writing her forthcoming book, Transformed by Birth: Illuminating cultural ideals to enhance the experience of childbirth.