One piece of advice I've seen in several prenatal books is to have something to focus on (besides the pain!) during labour. For Sunshine's birth, I had a small photo album of random pictures that didn't fit into any of my other photo albums; I was actually surprised at how flipping through those pictures, and reliving some of the happy memories, did help me face the pain. Pamela England advises creating birth art or finding an image that inspires you with courage, confidence, and the strength you need during labour. As I thought about her advice, I knew where I could turn: to the saints.
The Catholic Church recognizes several patron saints of expectant mothers, pregnancy, and childbirth. These saints offer the inspiration of their example, as well as their intercessions* for us here on earth.
St. Gerard Majella
St. Gerard Majella is the Patron Saint of Expectant Mothers and Unborn Children. He lived from 1726-1755 in Italy. He served with the Redemptorists as a sacristan, tailor, gardener and porter and also counseled the local communities of religious women. He was known to experience levitation and bilocation. Because of a miracle that happened when one woman in labour asked him to pray for her, many other women asked him to pray for them while they were in labour. His feast day is October 16.
St. Margaret of Antioch
St. Margaret (also called Marina) of Antioch is the Patron Saint of Pregnant Women and Childbirth. She was beheaded in 306 in Antioch by the Emperor Diocletian for refusing to marry to local prefect. Legend says that while she was in prison, she was swallowed by a dragon, who then spat her up again because of the cross she carried. Little is actually known about her. Her feast day is July 20.
St. Brigit of Kildare (Ireland)
St. Brigit (or Brigid) of Kildare is the Patron Saint of Babies and Midwives. She lived from 451 to 525 in Ireland and knew St. Patrick. She was a nun who founded a convent and two monastic institutions. Her feast day is February 1.
St. Ursus of Aosta
Saint Ursus of Aosta is the Patron Saint of Childbirth. He lived in Italy in the 6th century. He was a bishop in Aosta and opposed Arianism. Like St. Briget, his feast day is February 1.
St. Raymond Nonnatus
Saint Raymond Nonnatus (also known as Raimundo Nonato) is the Patron Saint of Childbirth, Expectant Mothers, Pregnant Women, Midwives, and Babies. He lived from 1204-1240 in Spain and was a farmer who entered the religious life. He is invoked by women in labour because he was born by C-section after his mother's death (hence his name, "Nonnatus," which means "not born.") His feast day is August 31.
St. Erasmus (also known as St. Elmo) is the Patron Saint of Women in Labour. He was a bishop in Italy. Like St. Margaret, he died in 303 under the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. Part of his tortures involved having his intestines pulled out or having hooks embedded in his abdomen, so he is the patron saint of abdominal pains, including childbirth. His feast day is June 2.
Blessed Virgin Mary
Jesus' mother Mary is the most obvious Patron Saint of Childbirth. The story of Jesus' birth is told in the Gospel of Luke. Mary gave birth to Jesus alone (or with only her husband Joseph to help her) in a stable, and also endured a long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while pregnant. She can thus be looked to as a woman who understands difficult pregnancies and labours, and can intercede before God on behalf of women today. She has numerous feast days, most prominently January 1.
*As a Catholic convert, I struggled with the idea of praying to the saints. I've since come to view the saints as friends whom I can ask for prayer, the way I'd ask for many of my close friends here on earth to pray for me. Knowing that some of these saints when through unique circumstances that better able them to understand what I'm going through helps me trust them to pray for me—especially when I feel that I don't even know what to pray for. In particular, my first pregnancy helped me draw closer to Mary as I thought about what she went through as a single, pregnant mother (talk about a difficult pregnancy!). St. Brigit of Ireland was a great source of inspiration and encouragement during my second pregnancy.