c. 2001 Religion News Service

MOBILE, Ala. -- When Bridgette Laubenthal went into labor, she didn't want an epidural or any other anesthetic. She just wanted her rosary recording and a couple crucifixes.

The rosary, she said, reminds her of the Virgin Mary's labor. In particular, when she prays the "Hail Mary" and remembers "the fruit of your womb, Jesus," she thinks of Mary's delivery.

So Laubenthal, a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church, played the recording when she was pregnant. Then, as she gave birth to Gabriel Bruce three months ago, she placed two beloved crucifixes before her and listened to that same recording of the rosary. Her hope was that the prayers would offer comfort to both her and her son during the hour of their need. During seven hours of labor, they did.

"She just pulled out all the stops," said Jamie Cordeiro, a registered nurse and the coordinator for childbirth education at Mobile Infirmary. "Everything was centered around her faith."

Laubenthal isn't the only Mobile mother who relied on her faith during what the Bible politely refers to as a woman's "time of...travail."

Cordeiro, who is also certified as a doula--one who provides physical and emotional support during labor--said the percentage of people in childbirth education classes who inquire about natural childbirth has nearly doubled in the past 10 years in Mobile.

"I see an increase in women wanting a natural childbirth," she said. "People realize it's OK to ask your doctor for what you want."

Of those who want natural childbirth, there's a smaller subset who wish to use prayers, religious symbols, or spiritual songs as focal points as they give birth, Cordeiro said.

"I've just seen amazing things happen when women rely on their faith," Cordeiro said. The veteran nurse said she will never forget the day Rose Humphrey of Mobile gave birth to her now two-year-old daughter, Micaiah. "Rose Humphrey had her whole family with her in the room," Cordeiro recalled. They spent much of the time clapping and singing along with a CeCe Winans album, Cordeiro said.

"She showed very little pain on her face at all," Cordeiro said, though she remembered that at the end, Humphrey's eyes "got real big. I was just amazed at how the faith seemed to lessen her pain."

Humphrey offers a similar account of her labor. "They wanted to give me an epidural when I walked in the door," Humphrey said. She refused. She told the hospital staff: "I have my family. I have my spiritual guidance, so I'll be OK."

Humphrey said she, her husband and two sisters listened to praise music that served both as a source of comfort and a focal point. Then, "when it got really bad," she said, she listened to Winans' "Alabaster Box" again and again.

"Music was the absolute comfort," she said. So much so, Humphrey said, that "even after the labor, I was still on that spiritual high.

"I had to thank and praise God," she said. "He took the pain away. Even when she came, I was comfortable."

Humphrey said she'd recommend her labor technique to anyone though she cautions that faith is required.

"It would take the faith to believe," said Humphrey, a member of Last Days Messengers Ministry in Mobile. "It's just my faith in the Lord."

As for the Winans recording, Humphrey said: "It's not the music per se, but it's the words that are in the song.... The words to the song actually mean something."

In general, Humphrey said that her religious beliefs instruct her to rely on her faith rather than medical intervention.

"I was diabetic with my baby. I did have to take insulin, but in all that I still decided that I didn't want to take any medications" during labor, she said. "My husband is a minister, and throughout the entire pregnancy, he would minister to me about the suffering and joy of it all."

More specifically, Humphrey said, her husband, Charles, reminded her of Jesus's suffering on the cross and emergence as victor from the grave.

"This is something he knew I could bear," said Humphrey, who also has an eight-year-old son, Micah. She went through natural childbirth with her son as well, though her religious beliefs did not play an integral role in that delivery, she said.

Kara Knox said she didn't plan on her faith playing a part during her 22 hours of labor with her now eight-year-old son, Alexander.

"When I went to the hospital, when the contractions started going, I'd lay my head on my pillow and I'd just say a 'Hail Mary,'" she said. "My mom has always said...to always say a 'Hail Mary,' and it always gets you through."

The words came back to her as she prepared to deliver her son. "When I started the really hard labor and such, I just went to what I knew," she said. "I knew everything would be OK that way."

Her method shocks her friends, some of whom have told her she's crazy to have done this once, much less that she might do it the same way again. But Knox, who attends St. Mary's Catholic Church, said she felt very secure during her labor.

"I'm not a religious fanatic." But, she said, "Faith is something that I think a lot of people need to have. It definitely helped me."

Laubenthal declared her faith an invaluable resource as well.

"I wanted it to be a beautiful experience," she said, noting that she didn't want to deliver her child "screaming and cussing" at those around her. Instead, she focused on her husband and the crucifixes, and offered all her pain "for all the souls in purgatory."

"It was in God's hands," she said, "and that's where I wanted it."

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