What a tough labor taught me about Tupac, suffering and “offering it up”

November 10, 2010 | 39 comments


Not surprisingly, I find that labor is a great opportunity to think about the topic of suffering. With my first child I was still basically an atheist, so my thoughts on suffering during the difficult 18-hour labor all basically fell in the category of “how to avoid it.” But my second and third children were born after my conversion, leaving me thinking a lot about the topic from a religious perspective.

In the early stages of labor with baby #3, I thought a lot about the idea of “offering it up, ” uniting our own sufferings with Christ’s for the good of someone else. For a while I considered what intention I might want to offer this labor for, but got sidetracked trying to figure out how this redemptive suffering thing works. It’s something I’d puzzled about a lot in the past. I didn’t understand how, specifically, you go from “just suffering” to “offering your suffering to God by uniting it with Christ’s.” I mean, is there some form we fill out where we describe the time and place of the suffering involved, check the “offer it up” box, and submit it to God with our signature? It didn’t seem like simply saying the words that you’re offering your suffering to God would really change anything.

In my typical fashion, I always got so caught up in analyzing it that I’d never actually tried it. And in this case too, I just kind of forgot about the idea of offering up my labor because I couldn’t get a full intellectual understanding of how exactly to do it.

Instead I put on my iPod headphones and began my pain management technique of listening to rap.

Yes, rap.

It’s always been one of my favorite genres of music, and for some reason I find that blasting a good rap song is far better than anything I ever learned in Bradley Method class. I’ve found that Tupac’s songs in particular — the infectious beats mixed with rhythmic laments about the human experience — somehow put me in the right state of mind for coping with great pain.

And, with baby number three, there was plenty of pain to cope with.

Ever since I was diagnosed with a serious blood clotting disorder, all my labors have to be induced and I have to be hooked up to an IV, a few different monitors, and my legs placed in pneumatic boots to prevent blood clots. In other words, I can’t move. Between the machines and wires and boots I can’t even turn on my side. To manage the notoriously painful Pictosin-induced contractions while almost completely immobile is no easy thing, as I was reminded a few hours into my labor with baby #3. Because I’m no fan of needles near my spinal cord, I waited until the pain was shatteringly unmanageable to ask for an epidural.

And then there was a problem.

The anesthesiologist wasn’t sure whether or not my medical issues would cause bleeding in the spinal cord if he gave me the epidural, so he needed to make some calls and pull some other charts — after he helped a couple other patients. In other words, the epidural was not coming any time soon. I felt a tinge of panic so severe that I thought I might lose my mind if I gave in to it. I had mentally checked out of dealing with the pain since I thought it was only minutes until it all went away. In the midst of such profound, all-consuming suffering, I didn’t know how to mentally check back in and get back to managing it. My mind started spinning out of control. I knew that the only way out of this mess was to go through the pain, but it seemed impossible that I could take one more second of it.

Flat on my back, devoured by the gnawing of seemingly unbearable suffering, I did the first thing that came to mind: I turned up the volume on my iPod and tried to lose myself as much as possible in the song that was playing. It was Tupac’s posthumously released track,  Changes.

Instantly I connected with the pain that informed so many of his lyrics, though his pain came from a different place; his music told of a life growing up amidst violence and gangs, never knowing another way, and his chilling awareness that this lifestyle he couldn’t seem to find a way out of would mean that his time on this earth would be short. I thought of the old pictures in the video where he grinned freely as a young child (here and here in the video — warning,  explicit lyrics) and felt angry when I contrasted that innocent child’s face to the face of the hardened notorious rapper who became involved in just about every bad thing a person could be involved in. I wanted to go back in time and shield that young boy from the tumultuous, sinful world he was born into. I thought of Tupac’s painful death in a hospital bed after he’d been hunted down by enemies and shot multiple times, and the fact that he suffered the final ignominy of some of his equally misguided friends mixing his cremated remains with marijuana and smoking them in a joint. I thought of his life, his death, and the lives and deaths of others like him, and worried about their souls.

As a new surge of pain hit me, I decided to offer up my suffering for his soul, and for the souls of anyone else who was ever born into a life where the deck was stacked against them from day one.

And there in the midst of suffering so overwhelming that it left me with no mental resources for analysis, I finally got a glimpse of the power of “offering it up.”

When I turned my mind to God in the midst of my agony to offer up my suffering for all the Tupacs of the world, a distinct, almost palpable shift occurred. I realized that instead of just doing everything in my power to get as far away from this pain as possible, I was now saying, “I accept it. If it helps these souls for whom I’m praying, I accept it.” And what did that do? What’s the big difference between trying to escape pain and accepting it for the benefit of someone else? The answer was something I could not have put into words but that I understood on a primal level:

It generates love.

I’m no theologian and don’t know how to defend that statement with high doctrinal analysis, but it’s something I knew with complete certainty in my suffering there in the hospital. That feeling I sensed the moment I turned to Christ crucified and asked him to accept my suffering along with his own for those for whom I prayed was the feeling of an explosion of love. Through suffering, love had been generated where there were only impotent well wishes and kind words before. And though it’s still not something I can perfectly explain, I could feel how God could use such love for the benefit of us all. To put more of that real, meaty love into the world — that kind of love that can only spring from self-sacrifice on behalf of another — is to put more of God himself into the world.

I ended up getting the epidural only 10 minutes before the baby was born, and my suffering finally passed. But ever since that experience I’ve felt like I finally understand the mystery redemptive suffering a little better, even if I struggle to articulate it. All I know is that, there on the hospital bed, pain and a desire to help a lost soul and the Cross the only things on my mind, I sensed some intimate — possibly inextricable? — connection between love and willingness to suffer. And I understood that that kind of love has the power to save the world.


  1. Kelly @ The Startup Wife

    I loved this post. I’ve been doing a different kind of suffering over here (more internal and admittedly super first-worldy) and I’ve never really thought about it in that way. It seems a lot like fasting, in a way–for years and years I thought fasting was dumb and it wasn’t until I actually did it, very recently, that I understood how that physical discomfort did actually keep my mind on God. That’s humbling, and kind of terrifying when I really think about the implications of it/what that means for suffering in my life. (Sigh.) But, anyway, thank you so much for this post. It’s so incredible to think about all things redemptive–and how amazing to think of the ways that the things in our lives that we hate the most can turn out to be redemptive too. Such a beautiful post.

    Hope things went great with your book!

    (And also–I have to say, the gesture of his friends kind of moved me! It’s not something I’d do, but there’s something kind of beautiful in the intention, I think.)

  2. Ciska @ This Journey of My Life

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while and it really doesn’t make sense to me. I’m where you were in the beginning of your post. Trying to analyze it, trying to understand it. And really, I don’t understand it at all. Where does it come from? When did someone say I’m offering it up for Christ? Is it in the New Testament? Did it develop later in the Tradition? When we offer our pain up, does that mean that we take up the pain of someone else? I really don’t understand. Your answer (it generates love) is beautiful and profound, but it hasn’t realy satisfied me. Maybe I just have to give it a try.

    I’m trying to find a home for Kate. Please help me spread the word.

    • MelanieB

      It is rooted in the New Testament; but also developed in tradition.

      The first verse that always comes to mind for me is Colossians 1:24
      “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” First, Paul rejoices in Christ’s suffering and then he says that his own suffering fills up or completes Christ’s suffering and that he offers his own suffering on behalf of the Church.

      Here are some other verses which talk about sharing in his sufferings.
      Romans 8:17
      “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” This doesn’t talk as specifically about offering it up for others, but it does specify that we share in his sufferings and that in doing so we also share in his glory.

      1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” But it stands to reason that if we are one in Christ, what one can suffer for his own sake he can also suffer for the sake of other members of the same body.

      2 Corinthians 1:5 “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Directly connects the ideas of suffering and comfort.

      2 Corinthians 12:15 “So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?” How else does this verse make sense? How can Paul spend himself for others? In part by doing things for them prayer and preaching, sure; but also in suffering for them.

      2 Timothy 1:8 “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God”

      2 Timothy 2:10 “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”

      I also struggled with the idea of offering up my suffering. Like Jennifer, I found that the experience of childbirth helped me to understand experientially and not just intellectually. In my case it was an emergency c-section. I found myself laying flat on my back with my arms stretched out on either side, actually strapped down in the shape of a cross. I felt like I was on the cross. I got a spinal, of course, but there is still pain even so. Pain and fear and worry. I offered it up and felt so close to Jesus at that moment. He had suffered, he knew what pain and fear were. And I think it is a bit easier to understand the connection of love and suffering when you are undergoing the pain for the sake of another, for the sake of the child whom you love. To God, we are all his children. Such a comfort to know that the pain isn’t useless but serves a purpose, that God can use it for good.

  3. Andie

    Very powerful post Jennifer, thanks for sharing. I do believe that it is in love and through love that suffering can be endured. He did what he did, suffered as he did out of his intense love for us and in the midst of your own suffering, when you reached out in love it made all the difference. Love is the bond that unites and heals and what a model of love we have in Him.

  4. Margo

    Great post, and it really gets one thinking. I can understand how difficult it is for non-Catholics to embrace the concept of offering up pain and suffering for the greater good of helping a sinner or saving a soul. Even Catholics struggle with this and I am still struggling, especially when a situation is particularly painful and difficult. I guess we just have to keep remembering that what Christ endured for the sake of saving the world was a far greater sacrifice than anything we’ll ever know.

  5. kathy

    Good post. I tend to want to offer up suffering for any generic cause and it has never felt right. To offer suffering for a specific person or cause makes so much more sense. Thanks!

  6. Megan

    Great post! I am so thankful for the Catholic teaching of Redemptive Suffering! It is so comforting to me, and it makes pain so much more bearable!

  7. PMLJ

    Call me crazy…but I have always seen the pain of childbirth as a natural consequence of original sin & have felt that I ought to experience it for this reason. Offering up the pain & praying the +Jesus Prayer gets me through (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.) With God’s help, I’ve made it through birthing 6 large babies (4 naturally, 1 emergency c-section, & 1 c-section where the anesthesia didn’t take).
    I very much enjoy your posts! God bless!

  8. Inspired18

    It’s like your blog posts are reading my mind lately! What a great post, Jen!

  9. Kristen @ St Monica's Bridge

    A Protestant friend of mine recently was lamenting his age (in his 40’s) on his facebook status because friends’ parents were dying. Immediately, I wanted to tell him to “offer it up” for people who had no one to mourn for them. In fact, another Protestant friend actually privately asked me if I was going to suggest it because she thought it would be more productive than the pity party he was throwing for himself and she didn’t feel right saying it because it wasn’t in her doctrine. To unite one’s suffering with that of others, to offer your suffering that another’s might be relieved is a genuine gift of salvation that, personally, I feel all Christians should be willing and able to do. I never felt so strongly until, while enduring crippling hyperemesis during my first pregnancy (so bad I was nearly put on IV meds the entire pregnancy) and offered it up for the many women I knew and many more I didn’t who would never know the joy of pregnancy and those suffering the same debilitating symptoms as a result of chemotherapy.

  10. Calah

    Great post, Jennifer! As a convert I, too, have had trouble with the “offering it up” thing. I went natural with my last baby, intent on offering it up, and then found that I had no idea how to do such a thing when the pain actually set in, so I settled for “dealing with the pain and not screaming.” This post is very edifying. Thanks again!

  11. ~Ana Paula~A Católica

    A Big Hello from BRASIL, Jennifer!


    I suffer painfull headaches since 2005. Every crise I have I try to offer it to salvations of the souls – the same as you did.

    I simply LOVE the idea that Jesus Christ NOT scaped of the pain. He saying to us:

    “Hey, Brothers and Sisters in God, pain and tears are part of Life. Do not run of them! I faced both of them in the cross to show to you that you can do the same with your particular sufferings!”.

    BE WELL, Jen. You and Your Readers!!

  12. Tara Meghan

    This original post was the first time I had ever heard of “offering it up” except as what seemed to me to be a pliable, nonsense saying. It took a full year to absorb the concept (real belief in the communion of saints was a big missing hole that needed to be filled first!), but I get it now, and I have yet another reason to be glad I found your blog. Instead of wanting to cry when the kids make five enormous poop and vomit messes in the space of an hour, I can breathe deeply and think “This is for all the nurses out there, professional or otherwise,” and feel like I’m not just dealing with the mess because I have to, but because it will lend some grace to people who need it even more than I do. To be honest, sometimes I still want to cry about the mess. But it’s easier when I feel like part of a great big team, which is what “offering it up” means for me.


  13. MelanieB

    Jennifer, this is one of my all-time favorite of your posts. It has helped me so much in the practice of offering up my own suffering during my own birth experiences, in my own daily struggles of motherhood. Thank you for reposting it.

  14. LaNeshe

    Love the blog, I found you through Bloggers of Note. I’ve subscribed! Looking forward to reading your posts.

  15. Katie

    Jennifer, I love this post! I’ve never given birth, but I know that the idea of “offering it up” has given me comfort in the past during times of turmoil. It’s awesome to think that our suffering can be put to good use in the lives of others. Who knows who those prayers might have benefitted?

    Also, I just love Tupac. 🙂

  16. Gaby

    Not a note on the theological topic of this post, but on epidurals. After giving birth to 4 kids – 3 of which with epidurals – when it came to #5, I asked for the epidural pretty much as soon as they’d tucked me in a bed on the labor and delivery ward. The nurse was puzzled; she could tell I wasn’t in much pain. I explained: “No, I’m not in great pain, but I know that by the time the anesthesiologist gets here, does his check up and gets all his forms signed, I WILL be, so put in the order — NOW!” The best part of having delivered lots of kids – you don’t take any crap from ANYONE when it’s time to give birth!

  17. Cottage By The Sea

    Okay, so in other words, call your anesthesiologist on your way to the hospital so he can have your epidural ready when you get there?

  18. Ginny Jaques

    Your blog thoughts are precious. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your life with God, with us. It’s an inspiration to us.

  19. Carlie

    Yeah. Induction is not for the weak. That’s insane stuff, right there. Been there and losing my mind, even without the immobilization boots. I can’t imagine.

    I told my husband after my last birth (which was MUCH MUCH MUCH easier than the kind of birth you went through)that there comes a point in every birth for me where I think “I’m dying!” and in order to continue I have to come to the place where I say, “If I die. I die. I’m doing this.” and yeah…I think that’s what you were talking about, the offering up.

  20. kristina

    I love this! Redemptive suffering (offering it up) has always been a topic strong on my heart and I think you write so well on this topic. It’s beautifully summarized here. This is an amazing way we can live life as a missionary without leaving our own world by definition. Through this type of self sacrifice, we have the opportunity to serve any poorest of the poor in our entire world!

  21. Trisha Niermeyer Potter

    I definitely can appreciate the offering it up in the midst of pain you experienced as an outpouring of love, bringing God’s goodness and gifts into the world. Though I’ve never given birth to a child and haven’t experienced as much physical pain as some others have, I have been brought through many difficult times by offering up my suffering, uniting it with Christ’s on the cross, hoping that somewhere, somehow, for someone it will be redemptive even when, or especially when I can see no reason for it.
    There’s no doubt in my mind that my nana, my dad, uncle, and aunt who have passed away got through the tremendous suffering in body, mind, and spirit that they did by offering it to God.
    Reading about the lives of the saints, I’m always amazed at the incredible suffering they endured often willingly, sometimes after asking to suffer for the sins of others, for the souls in purgatory, etc.
    I’ve been reminded often recently that we are all called to be holy. We are each called to be saints. That’s a tall order, but fortunately God’s grace is sufficient.
    Thank you for sharing about this particular experience you had with redemptive suffering. It seems even more appropriate during this month devoted to all saints and all souls.

  22. kk

    Thank you, Jen, for this post!

    As a childbirth instuctor/doula, and my own 4 natural births, I am fascinated by the topic of pain and childbirth and the greater purpose of the suffering involved.

    With natural childbirth, comes a time when the mother must conciously stop trying to be in control and completely surrender, let go, and give in. Together with offering up the pain and surrendering (trust) is an experience that is extremely difficult and challenging but so worth it.

    I also see childbirth as an important bonding experience for a wife to depend on her husband and for him to love her in taking care of her in a unique way.

  23. Diane

    I think redemptive suffering is like baking cookies. God doesn’t need our help, his actions were sufficient, he just allows us to participate the way I let my kids help stir the batter.

    • MelanieB

      Diane, I love the baking analogy.

  24. 'Becca

    Thanks for reposting this just at this time of year, when the raw weather and early darkness make me think of 8 Mile, a film about another rapper with a life of suffering. I analyze data from a research study that has followed over a thousand young men from childhood through lives that, for many of them, have involved hardships and difficult choices I will never face. Thinking of them, praying for them, seeing the good in their lives as well as the bad, has had an enormous impact on my soul and my understanding of evil and temptation. Yet I bet most of them don’t realize I exist. In the same way, Tupac wasn’t writing for you or any women in labor, yet he touched your soul and gave you strength. To connect with an idea from one of your other posts, you’re his tow truck driver. In a way, his suffering was offered up for you, too.

  25. Sara Povich

    That’s a great post. That is really tough, I cannot imagine not being able to stand up during labor. I used music to cope with labor pain also! I am following you from WOW. Congrats on being the BON!

  26. Brittany

    At first when I read this, I couldn’t get beyond the fact that you were listening to Tupac during labor. I was thinking, “Wow, that kid’s going to come out screaming curses.” But then I realized as I started reading your analysis of Tupac’s life that, “wow, she’s actually kinda comparing herself to him.” That struck me. Whether or not you intended to do it, as a believer in Jesus Christ, it makes a lot of sense to think this way. If we think we’re better than the people who are suffering because they’re living in the slums, slugging it out for some semblance of a happy existence, we’re of no use to the rest of the world because we’re detaching ourselves from sin we have an equal part in (like you talked about in a recent post about Pilate). How can we reach out to others if we’re worried about getting our hands dirty? Too many Christians think they’re too clean. The only difference between me and a hooker in downtown Chicago is the grace of God. He put me in a nice home with working parents in a good neighborhood.

    This probably deviated way away from your main point about suffering but I’m running with a less obvious thought you started. Back on the primary topic, I’d say mothers endure the most important sacrifice on the planet when they’re giving their body and life to bring life into the world; I’m not a mother yet but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. 🙂

  27. Kris, in New England

    I am new to this blog and feel so glad that God guided me thru my web-surfing today to this place.

    I am in the RCIA classes right now. I grew up in an evangelical Christian faith that I left 15 years ago. I never gave up on faith, just felt that my religious experiences had been so negative that I wanted nothing to do with it in an organized way.

    Then a family crisis hit that left me feeling like I was wandering in a wilderness. It was then that I felt I needed to be part of something larger than myself, the need for Christian fellowship was physical in nature; if I didn’t go to church and pray I felt like I’d wither up and die.

    So my husband (who was born Catholic and converted to my faith after we got married, then left it with me…I know…) and I started investigating the churches in our small town. The Catholic Church just felt so spiritual, so – right.

    I felt as if I had come home. So my journey has just begun and I am thrilled to have found your blog Jen.

    • priest's wife

      Praying for you on this journey! I converted when I was 12- have never looked back 🙂

      • Kris, in New England

        Thank you so much. I’m 47 and feel such a deep spiritual connection to the Catholic faith; it’s like it’s been waiting for me all this time.

  28. Magda

    This is an amazing post.

  29. Jules

    I haven’t been overly analytical about offering it up yet, so this was probably good to read before I get there. And I will. I do the same thing with prayer all the time. I’ve been known to pray for other people *only* because I know we’re supposed to, all the while trying to work out what it is, specifically, my prayer is doing for them. Thanks for the great posts!

  30. Christina

    This is a great read for me, thank you! I’m currently pregnant with our second child, and will be attempting a VBAC after our first pregnancy resulted in an early delivery thanks to HELLP Syndrome. With zero idea of how it’s going to go, this is an attitude that will definitely come in handy!

  31. carrien (she laughs at the days)

    This post corresponds for me with what I’m coming to understand about suffering, especially as the apostle Paul talks about it. Essentially, we all suffer, but those who have the spirit of Christ in them are able to participate/experience suffering as something redemptive. In fact just as Jesus redeemed through suffering, so those who are in him can continue to effect the redemption of creation through our suffering. It can be to a purpose.

  32. Amanda

    Wow, how timely! I’d been toying with this idea of offering up my upcoming labor for those who I know and those I haven’t met who lost a child during pregnancy. Having gotten pregnant at the same time as a couple online friends and then learning both miscarried and just a month ago another gave birth to a stillborn baby girl, I was absolutely heartbroken over their losses.

    You re-posted this just 2 days before I went into labor on November 12th and it was just what I needed to collect my thoughts prior to labor to actually follow through. I had a 5.5 hour, un-medicated labor on Friday and each contraction for most of those 5.5 hours was offered up immediately for those mothers who never had the opportunity to labor for their own babies and meet them at the end of their labors. I felt such peace most of the labor and only at the end needed to switch to simply praying for strength to get my baby out quickly and safely. After my baby was home healthy and thriving the next day I went online only to discover that one of my dear online friends who had lost her baby early in pregnancy had finally gotten a positive test that morning and was expecting her next baby!

  33. Jamie

    Childbirth is what made me a Christian. Before the birth of my first child I was searching spiritually but didn’t know where to plant roots. Buddhism? Judaisim? Christianity? Hare Krishna?

    In the act of giving birth I understood what meant for Christ to give up his body and suffer for humanity. An act of unconditional love. I believe this is why God sent a Son and not a daughter to suffer for our sins. His daughters already give up their bodies and suffer in order to bring life into the world. He sent a son to suffer so that through His body we may return home.

    Birth helped me to understand that. And I’ve been a Christian ever since.

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