This week's portion: aftermath
This week's portion: departure

Childbirth psalms

One of my favorite classes this (brief but intense) term has been a tutorial in psalms, which I'm taking with one fellow student, taught by Norman Shore. Each week he assigns us a few psalms to translate, and also some secondary material -- sometimes Midrash Tehillim, other times Talmud, sometimes chapters from books in English (I've become quite a fan of Kugel's The Great Poems of the Bible), sometimes assignments which ask us to make mental leaps between the psalms we're studying and various bits of liturgy and practice. I love being in a two-person class. It's like hevruta study, with the added benefit of an instructor who can guide us in our learning.

My final project for that class is a paper on psalms 20 and 113, both of which are classically associated with childbirth. I chose these two psalms on the theory of "whatever gets in the way of the work, is the work" -- a mantra I got from one of my old poetry mentors, Jason Shinder (of blessed memory.) What Jason meant was, whatever emotional or intellectual or spiritual stuff was getting in the way of one's ability to work on poems, that is precisely the stuff that ought to be feeding the poems. But I figure it's a good approach to this semester, too: instead of worrying that my increasing focus on childbirth and impending parenthood is getting in the way of my rabbinic learning, I should find a way to make my rabbinic learning dovetail with the major life event that's on its way.

I've done a preliminary translation of my two psalms (which I hope to share here once I've workshopped them with my fellow classmate and my teacher) and I've done some reading in classical sources, Midrash Tehillim, and Yalkut Shimoni which mostly recapitulates what's already in the midrash. I've got a few more classical sources to translate. But in addition to the oldschool material, I'm also interested in how these psalms are used in contemporary life. It's easy to find Chabad resources for the recitation of psalms during childbirth -- though many of the resources I've seen seem to presume that the husband of the laboring woman is the one who recites, and that's not the paradigm in which I live.

Which is part of why I'm interested in contemporary liberal religious practices relating to childbirth and psalms (especially psalms 20 and 113), too. I've gotten some great suggestions from my rabbinic school classmates, but figured I'd throw the question open here, too: do you have any anecdotes to offer on this? If you've been part of a labor and delivery experience (as the laboring mother, or her partner; as a labor coach or doula; as a doctor or nurse or chaplain) have you used these psalms, and what was that experience like for you? For the purposes of my paper, I'd like to hear from those who self-identify as Jews; for the purposes of good conversation, I'd be happy to hear from anyone of any religious tradition. If you have stories to share about childbirth and psalms, especially psalms 20 and 113, please drop a comment or an email!