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.
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.
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.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.
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.