I am officially in the third trimester so naturally I’ve got birth on the brain (and in the womb–braxton hicks all day, every day). This is my second go around with it so I sort of know what to expect. Which is to say I don’t know what to expect.
Last time, I was completely open to either going med-free or having an epidural. On one hand, I had (and still have) this idealistic tendency to romanticize suffering and think of how powerful a force and how uniquely feminine a sacrifice offering up the pain of a med-free birth is for the good of a broken world. On the other hand, I was well aware of how badly I suffer in my daily life–gimme an epidural when I stub my toe, thank you v. much.
But my labor started out with intense, close contractions rather than manageable, gradual ones. I couldn’t even talk through my very first contraction. When we reached the hospital at 2am, I felt like I was at the threshold of the amount of pain I could withstand. Then they told me I had 6cm to go and the thought of all the pain just getting worse and worse made me so, so done with it. So I ended up with the epidural and a nice long nap before the stress of a yo-yo-ing baby heart-rate, a near-c-section, ten minutes of pushing, an un-photogenic face full of broken blood vessels from holding my breath while pushing, a lot ugly, happy sobs, and the terror and wonder of a new life spread out before me.
Sometimes, I wonder whether the experience of labor depends on pain tolerance or pain perception. Is it simply a matter of being weak-willed (or ill-prepared mentally) or can you actually experience the same pain as another person but more acutely? (I have read that part of being an hsp is a hightened sensitivity to pain)
I’ve never considered a natural birth for the typical reasons. I’m not afraid of medical interventions. I have no desire to wear it as a badge of pride and I have no curiosity about “fully experiencing” labor and delivery. I’m not an au naturel, attatchment parenting type. I don’t feel like it’ll bond me to my baby more deeply.
But I can hardly ever think of birth without thinking of death and of the meaning of suffering. The similarities between the two were highlighted when I read Kristin Lavransdatter last year with my bookclub. For many characters in the novel, the labor of birth and the labor of death last for days–their agonies unmitigated by modern palliative care methods. As a midwife assists a woman in birth, a priest assists a soul at the hour of death:
“Sira Eirik continued to hold him against his chest for a moment. Then he gently laid his friends body down on the bed, kissing his forehead and smoothing back his hair, before he pressed his eyelids and nostrils closed; then he stood up and began to say a prayer.”
Most of us now live in an anesthetized world where suffering is considered meaningless. But I believe in the Christian mentality that says in no uncertain terms that suffering can be intensely meaningful: a means to enter intimately into the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, to unite yourself deeply to those mysteries, and something that can be sanctified and offered up for the good of the whole world.
Ultimately of course, when it comes to both birth and death–when it comes to all experiences God allows you to undergo in your life–what matters is abandonment to His will rather than the fulfillment of your own. This might mean a emergency trip to the hospital when you planned a home birth, an epidural when you wanted to keep up your med-free birth streak, an accidental natural birth in the car when you wanted to be entangled in relief-gushing iv’s at the first twinge of pain. You might even have to face the harrowing, rare but real possibility of yours or your child’s death in childbirth.
For this reason, I can never say one way or another what my birth plan is. But I know birth is a kind of death. Death, a kind of birth. We’re encouraged to pray for the dying, for the dead, and for a good death of our own. And so, I also try to make it a habit to pray for women and children in birth and for my own good birth, whatever it might involve.
P.S. Some of my favorite labor/birth posts around the web: