Birth By the Numbers: Gospel Symbolism, Numbers and Birth
If you did not yet read part 1 of this post then please do. It will make more sense. Truth be told, mathematics and numbers are not my thing but I have really enjoyed pondering gospel symbolism, numbers, and birth while researching for this topic.
Pregnancy lasts approximately nine months. In the scriptures the number nine “carries the meaning of judgment, finality, or completion” (Gaskill, 131). Not every pregnancy lasts exactly nine months but the general idea is that a woman is pregnant about that amount of time before the pregnancy is considered completed. A woman cannot stay pregnant forever. The process is brought to completion at a certain point when there is either medical intervention or spontaneous labor and birth. (It is safest for mom and baby to let labor begin on its own unless there are true medical indications. See this informative guide from Lamaze about letting labor start on its own.)
Pregnancy lasts approximately forty weeks*. In scripture the number forty often represents a period of trial, testing, probation, or mourning (Gaskill, 137). Pregnancy can certainly be a trial or test for some women. In at least one way or another, a woman (and even her husband and family) can be challenged. Many pregnancies are somewhat smooth. But, for even those “smooth” pregnancies it takes a woman who chooses to be optimistic to see it that way. Some women and even their husbands, mourn the change in their lives. The responsibility of parenthood can weigh heavily on their hearts and minds.
I really like the description Felice gives to the significance of the number forty in her essay, “Forty Days of Rest,” “forty days was a period of sanctification and transition from one state of being to another” (The Gift of Giving Life, 460). It is no accident that Hebrew women were required to observe forty days of purification following the birth of a child (see “Mary” essay on page 361 of The Gift of Giving Life, and Leviticus 12:6-8). The intention was for it to be a period of transition and sanctification. It is clear that the number forty was intended as a holy time, a time to be hallowed, not just hollowed of our babies.
I’m sure there is more symbolism to be found. But it is also interesting to note the progression of numbers throughout the process of giving life. I believe it symbolize the multiplicity of blessings that flow as our families grow.
*A Harvard study found that a primipara (first time mom) should add 15 days and a multipara should add 10 days to her due date. This makes sense because while pregnancy calculators calculate 40 weeks beginning the first day of your last menstrual period, it is highly unlikely that you conceived on the first day of your last menstrual period. It makes more sense that you conceived while you were ovulating between days following the onset of your period. We all know there is a great variation to women’s menstrual cycles and ovulation. So it makes sense that there is a great variation in length of pregnancy. It seems that 41 to 42 weeks from LMP (last menstrual period) would be a better average to go by. So in the end it would be about forty weeks from conception. As it stands the archaic standard of Naegele’s rule is still used. It is probably because few women know exactly what day they ovulate or conceive in pregnancy and no formula (or ultrasound) can truly accurately predict when your labor will begin. This is one reason why I love charting my cycle. I feel more in touch and aware of what my body is doing.