Thursday, January 7, 2010

Boasting in my weakness

Pregnancy attitudes that need adjusting, Round Two:

The actual birth.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’m embarrassed about my C-sections.

I have these grand romantic ideas of what natural childbirth would be like, and I want so badly to experience it. Despite my best attempts (OK, pretty decent attempts) twice now, I have had two Caesareans. And am about to schedule a third.

From a strictly medical perspective, all emotion aside, I firmly believe that natural childbirth is best for mother and baby. The vast majority of the time, there are minimal complications, and these are reduced with good nutrition and exercise during pregnancy and good perinatal care. The interventions that “we” do (I include myself in the medical community, even though OB is not my field) are not without risk. Even the seemingly harmless epidural has associated risks, and doesn’t always work. I think it’s best to treat birth, including the associated pain, as a normal, healthy event until it proves itself to be otherwise. 

(As an aside: I encourage my friends to consider birthing with a midwife.  I can tell you that physicians are trained to look for, find, and treat disease.  That's not always bad; that's the way the profession works, and some of us are good at what we do (or were, back in the day).  But with that perspective, a woman in labor is a ticking time bomb, and it doesn't have to be that way.)

Having said that, I recognize that childbirth can be dangerous. Let us not forget that it bears that curse of God. That isn’t something to take lightly! Women throughout history, and throughout the world today, risk their lives for this “normal, healthy event.” Things can and do go wrong.  Talk to enough natural birth proponents and you can start to lose sight of that fact.  I can't tell you how many times it has been implied that any complications I experienced were my fault.  If only I had refused the epidural.  If only I had a midwife.  If only I had done everything right, nothing bad would ever have happened to me.

From a more emotional and spiritual perspective, I can imagine that natural childbirth could be very empowering. Pregnancy and childbirth are such a universal event, and yet so individually unique. I find it fascinating. I desperately wanted to experience something that so many women throughout history have experienced. I suppose it seems to me like a rite of passage in some ways. And because I felt so grossly unprepared for motherhood, I imagined that at least giving birth well would somehow prove that I could do this thing.

I don't like to have surgery.  It's scary, and it hurts.  I want to "give birth."  I don't want to be strapped down while someone cuts the baby out of me.

I would prefer to feel strong, capable, independent, autonomous, self-reliant.

It’s not an overstatement to say that my first caesarean was the first time I really encountered my mortality. It was the first time my body had let me down. I wanted something and couldn’t have it.

I failed.

It says something about me, I suppose, that I hadn’t admitted the possibility of failure or mortality until my mid-20’s.

I have experience growth as a result. It is good and healthy for me to admit that my body exists in a fallen state, awaiting its final redemption and glorification.  I am still trying to come to terms with the same reality in more spiritual terms. 

In light of that, I can receive the “help” of modern medicine with gratitude.  It is true that lots of medical interventions are unnecessary in childbirth.  Many caesareans are done for convenience or medicolegal paranoia rather than strict medical necessity.  But some are necessary, and life-saving.  In my case they are legitimate, and I am glad to have the option.

So as I put my next surgery on the calendar, I swallow my pride. I mourn for that glorious, empowering experience that I have imagined but will never experience.

And then I slap myself upside the head and say "GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY!"

There are more important things about childbearing than "was the birth experience personally fulfilling and rewarding for me?"  I know it is for many, and I rejoice for them.  I really do.  But I can't make that my criteria for evaluating "Good birth" vs. "Bad birth."

There are still women all over the world who die in childbirth. Have you ever heard of a fistula? Be glad if not. There are women in the third world who experience long, obstructed labor (I’m talking days and days), often ending in stillbirth, and are so badly damaged and torn that they leak urine or stool from their vagina for the rest of their lives. They live indefinitely as social outcasts as a result. The cure is a fairly straightforward surgery. Prevention is a C-section when labor goes badly.

Do I really want to whine about my "unfulfilling" birth experience?

I’m sorry to be graphic, but maybe I need to shock myself into reality. My “failure” to achieve my “I am woman, hear me roar” fantasy is not the worst thing that has ever happened.
Romans 8:28  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
I need to remember that true Empowerment comes through the gospel.  The way for me to be empowered through birth is to acknowledge my utter inability to accomplish this miracle unless God ordains it.  To acknowledge that I have not risen above the need for complete and total reliance upon God's grace.  And His grace is sufficient.  For me, it seems that includes humbly accepting the help that He has graciously provided in the form of skilled surgeons, and abandoning my futile grasps at self-empowerment.   It doesn't mean that for everyone.  But the illusion of control, the false gospel of self-reliance, is far from empowering.  If we teach women that they just need to try harder, eat better, and breathe right and then they will be "safe" from harm, we are damaging those women.  In the same way, paternalist physicians who say "you can't do this; just let me take care of everything" are doing a tremendous disservice. 

Childbirth is a glorious gift of God.  A way that women uniquely bear an aspect of God's image that men just don't share.  We participate in a direct way in bringing new life into the world.  If God gifts you with a gratifying experience, praise Him for it!  (I can't promise not to feel envy, but I'll work on it.)  He has not gifted me with the sort of experience that I had hoped for.  But He has gifted me with beautiful children.  And life itself, and salvation.  And a fabulous husband, and good health, and a wonderful family, and a vibrant church body, and...and...and.... and so I thank Him. 

I praise and thank God for this upcoming birth experience, no matter what the outcome.

I thank Him for enabling me to love Him even when He doesn't give me the gifts that I think I want.  And for glorifying Christ, somehow, through my weakness.
II Corinthians 12:5-10 ...on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.... 7to keep me from becoming conceited....a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me,  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


Smoochagator said...

I found you through Jennifer's post on Empowered Birth, and I want to thank you for your insights. I am pregnant with my first child and planning a natural birth at home with an experienced midwife. I have confidence in the way God designed my body, but I (and my midwife) am conscious of the small percentage of risks and complications that could occur, and am ready to transfer care if at all necessary.

Unfortunately, our bodies often fail us - they are part of this fallen world and don't always rise to the occasions we call them to! Do not let anyone shame you because of your C-sections. As you said, each birth is a personal and individual event, and no one else knows for sure what you experienced.

God bless!

Traci said...

Oh Brandi, I love you even more now than are an amazing witness to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I know this c-section is a challenge and a risk and risk if you don't do it. As a mom who has only 'done' natural home birth three times...I shout to the skies that you are a wonderful thinking woman, and friend and THAT is something to be proud of for me. I thank God I met you. Many women DO just hand themselves over to the OB..come what may and in any case, God did not design us to not think and calculate risk...we are not animals that act on instinct. Your testament to God and glorifying Him is absolutely correct and God honors and will honor your faithfulness. Give me the date of the section and also after ( I think Feb. 2nd?) , I want to help you somehow in the recovery...I mean it. Love, tm

5 Chicks and a Farmer said...

amen sister friend! i hear you loud and a mommy who has endured 3 c-sections.

it's definitely not the way i planned my birthing experience. for those who know me (like yourself:) you would know that "all-natural" would have been my first choice.

but, for me, having a c-section was life-saving for me and my firstborn. life-saving.

my birthing experience was traumatic to say the least. i've never in my life felt so vulnerable and HAD to rely on the Lord completely to see me through the whole entire thing. i grew because of it.

i'm definitely not a c-section advocate and would never choose this for myself or any other woman out there without reason. its painful, rough, and icky.

but, for me, its simply what i must go through to bring another child in this world...however many they'll let me have.

i have had to come to terms with that and am still working through it all.

its posts like this i'm thankful for. thanking for articulating and putting into words this process and battle within our minds.


mandi said...

oh, my sweet friend...

it's funny, how we are on the flip sides of each other on this. so sure, i (so far) have had relatively 'easy' birthing experiences. but i can't get pregnant to save my life without lots of intervening (charting, slapping on progesterone cream, watching for a full moon!). in that i too have felt the failure of my body.

Mary Irene said...

Well said. I have done vaginal (with drugs because I am not nearly as tough as all of you) and C-Section. Both ended up being life threatening. C-section doesn't solve everything and is by no means the easy way out. I have been blessed to not fail at many of my endeavors - but the Lord reminded me that these children are His endeavors. I had to have lots of help.

Brandi - know that an old pal is praying for you and that sweet boy.

Mommy, M.D. said...

thanks everyone. your support means a lot. it feels good to have this out there; i think it was helpful for me to work through and articulate some of this before this birth. i feel myself looking forward to it a little bit more now.

"blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

thank you for being part of the comfort.

Karen said...

I LOVE you!

Kendra said...

well said. Thanks for putting your expertise and thoughts into words.

Praying for it to go smoothly,


Patti said...

Your balanced, thoughtful perspective on this often contentious issue is so refreshing. And congratulations on the new boy. I love, love his name.

DangAndBlast! said...

Well said. The husband is a surgeon, and when he was working in trauma, he multiple times encountered women who had planned a home birth and didn't make a backup plan-twice he saw babies who didn't make it, and at least one with brain damage, where the only problem was a drawn out labor with no intervention until too late. He was traumatized and furious afterwards, and has harsh words for anyone who chooses a few hours of planned emotional comfort at the expense of their child's safety or life. Of course, one blogger's daughter recently lost her son during labor due to placental rupture, and a c-sectionwould have avoided that, ... but there's nothing sure in this life, and women also die due to c-section complications, so you just have to hope and pray.... but putting yourself in a position where you have no backup options if something doesn't go according to your perfect plan is extremely self-centered.

DangAndBlast! said...

Note: the placental rupture I mentioned took place in hospital - rather a key point, given the topic!

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