“I will praise you,” says the Psalmist in Psalm 129:14, “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
St. Gerard Majella, whose feast the Church celebrates on Oct. 16, understood that verse. St. Gerard was known as a man of prayer, and during his lifetime, many miracles were effected through his intercession.
One of the last recorded miracles before his death in 1755 involved a pregnant woman facing a difficult labor. In excruciating pain, the woman asked that Gerard’s handkerchief be laid on her distended belly. Immediately, her pain subsided — and to the doctor's surprise, she eventually gave birth to a healthy baby. For this reason, St. Gerard Majella is venerated as the patron of expectant mothers.
Like St. Gerard, Michigan’s Marjory McClure has a profound awareness of the mystery of God’s creation. She has seen firsthand the wonder of childbirth, accompanying couples as they meet their newborn child for the first time. Since 1986, Marjory has worked as a childbirth educator for Borgess Hospital, which is part of the nationwide Ascension health-care system. A certified doula as well as an educator, Majory has led parents through prenatal exercises and classes.
When McClure first taught childbirth education programs, her classes were similar to others offered around the country. Then, in 1992, she attended a national course for childbirth educators, where she met other instructors who were bringing their Christian faith into their classes. Marjory felt a call to write and teach a new childbirth course which focused on the presence of Christ during labor and birth. The new curriculum was titled “Wonderfully Made”; the first class was held in 1997, and the program continues under the auspices of Borgess Hospital.
“It has made a difference in their lives, and not just during the delivery,” McClure said of her course. “The program reflects upon the beautiful beginning of human life, because God is present at the moment the baby is conceived.”
Participants learn to use Scripture, meditation and prayer during labor and delivery, without neglecting the more traditional labor-coping skills, such as deep breathing.
Anne Shank, a mother of four and a member of the same parish as McClure, has attended the classes twice.
In fact, she said, she may attend again: Anne and her husband, Mike, are expecting their fifth child, and she knows that she would learn something new if she repeats the course during this pregnancy.
“I think what I really liked,” Shank said, “was that by bringing in Scripture, by explaining the significance of symbols such as water and baptism in the Old Testament, Marjory’s program explained the profound meaning of a woman’s body, as created by God.”
Even the local bishop has taken notice.
Stated Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo, Michigan, in a letter of endorsement:
“With the use of Scripture and spirituality so beautifully intertwined with the components of a traditional childbirth class, those who participate are blessed with the unique opportunity to not only feel prepared for the physical journey that lies ahead, but to also better understand their relationship with God as co-creator of the human life that they will soon bring into the world.”
Kathy Schiffer writes from Southfield, Michigan.