During the first year of my doctoral program, one of my male classmates (married, but childless at the time), asked me what I thought about the analogy of birthing for writing a term paper. He was observing that many people will casually make such a comparison, that all the effort and work that goes into writing a paper, and then the final result of turning it in as a complete project for evaluation is not unlike the effort and work that goes into pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
It seems funny to me now reflecting on this because in many ways, my dissertation was a bit like a pregnancy. I wanted to know that I was making progress, getting closer to the end. I was highly invested in it. And though I had a lot of help, the completion of it depended upon myself, much as pregnancy, labor, and delivery depended upon me.
But even at that time when Michael asked, I remember telling him that, no, those two things are pretty different. I pointed out that you don't really "do anything" during pregnancy...the baby just kind of grows on her own, whereas the term paper writing is very active. And a term paper is a creation of sorts that shares in the creative work of God, but not in the sense that bringing another human being into the world shares in the creative work of God. Really, finishing a term paper pales in comparison to the significance of giving birth because that does involve some labor as well as physical sacrifice and recovery.
And yet, during the drive to Dayton on the day of my defense, I said to my husband that in a sense I felt that having given birth four times had prepared me to defend my dissertation. The scenario at the time, in fact, was somewhat similar; with the baby sleeping, I felt like it was just the two of us on the way to the hospital for a really important event, where we were uncertain as to the upcoming details of the little things that might pop up and complicate the situation, though ultimately we were confident that everything would work out.
Yet actually, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much less scary defending a dissertation is than giving birth. Most of my work was already done, and now I just got to talk about it! I was fairly sure my committee wasn't going to burn me, so it was just a matter of how idiotic I could possibly appear. Given that my topic is penance, however, even that possibility didn't seem so bad; it would have been appropriate - a good opportunity to offer it up as mortification. And I knew being post-defense would not be nearly as challenging as the physical and emotional changes of being postpartum.
Perhaps some of these thoughts explain why in fact I was so calm and relaxed by the time my defense finally started. A dissertation defense is important, sure, but not like giving birth. It's a momentous occasion, but not so significant when compared to having a child.