Musings, Pregnancy

Pain in Childbearing

Julie / February 20, 2010

With both E and R’s births, we went to a freestanding birth center–no pain meds.  Our most obvious reason for this decision is that we believe it to be statistically marginally safer (which studies do back up) and it is unquestionably the better choice for parents who want to avoid a C-section at all costs; chances of a section at the birth center are about a tenth of the chance of a section at any of the local hospitals.
And those are the answers I usually give people in response to the quizzical looks when we tell them our crazy plan.  It’s quite inconceivable why someone would actually choose to endure pain without any overwhelming reason.  (Even if the mortality statistics are slightly tilted in favor of midwife-assisted birth, there’s certainly not a grand difference in the final outcome.)  I expect that these answers are the sum of S’s reasons for supporting natural birth.
For me, though, there’s more to the story.  There really is that aspect which the pagans call “spiritual” about birth, and even about the pain itself.  And it’s very difficult, as a Christian, to coherently talk about that without falling into the earth-mother-goddess paganism that so frequently goes along with it. I’ve never really read an article by a Christian mother, or even a theologically neutral article about it that doesn’t veer straight in to heresy.  Maybe because few Christian women choose natural birth, and so even fewer would conceptualize to write about it.
A few weeks ago, though, I was writing an email to a dear friend trying to explain the mindset that has gotten me through the pain.  It was really complicated to write, because I was trying to express concepts for which the only language I’m familiar with is–pagan.  Unacceptably so.  And yet it was so enlightening to me to struggle through that letter and try to frame things in the context of the sovereignty of God, and it has really helped me to understand birth better.  It has been much on my mind in the days since, and I think it will be useful for me (to me) to hash it out a bit more.  Because at this point, I would choose natural birth even without any medical advantages to doing so.  It’s a horrible experience that I still treasure, in a kind of impossible way.
I know that going into E’s birth, the most important thing in my mind was the historical context.  Birth–the searing pain of birth–is a very particular experience, one that our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation largely completely missed, and yet one that queens of old knew well, and Mary!  What was it really like for that young girl in that dirty stable?  What, really, did God arrange for her?  I was determined to know, to understand.  And what I found was a deeply horrendous experience!  I wasn’t prepared for the sheerness of it.  I thought I could imagine and I had no idea what I was in for!  I had never felt anything as strongly as I felt pain on that day.  It was literally the most intense day of my life.  It broke all my internal meters, so to speak.  The pain itself and the volume of the pain become two different things: beside the pain there’s this awareness that this is a life experience on a completely different scale than anything ever before, and that you’ll never be quite the same person again.
And so the pagans are right on this point: the pain makes you a stronger person.  I was not “dealing” and I didn’t have happy butterflies about E’s birth.  I knew it was horror when it was happening, and I still freely use that word: it was horrible.  So I’m not saying that birth is a beautiful experience.  The end result, sure–but the process?  Not for me.  Birth is a horrible experience.  But it’s a horrible experience that you make it through, and you come out on the other side.  It’s almost like it makes the colors around you more colorful, except in a metaphorical sense.  It changes everything, and nothing.  It’s just so intense.
So by the time R was born, I knew this.  And Genesis 3:16 had taken on a totally new level of meaning for me.  This pain, this unbearable pain, was there for one reason: the fall.  Sin.  A continual reminder, from God, that we are not as He created us to be.  A dramatic presentation of the separation that came about when He cast us out of the Garden.
That’s a spiritual aspect of birth that I can really get into!  Romans talks about creation groaning in childbirth pains until being freed of the bondage of sin, and of us likewise longing for adoption and redemption.  God gave us pain in childbirth–deliberately!  And it really does increase one’s bitterness toward sin to realize that birth is so horrible because of sin, because we aren’t yet made fully glorified before Christ.  It is so desperate, in those moments of unrelenting agony, to stop and realize that the agony is itself a tool and pointer to God, to instill a longing for home–where pain ends.
So I guess it is a very spiritual experience after all, one that I think I would not choose to forego, even if I had no other reasons.
(I am not saying, even the tinest bit, that using pain meds is wrong.  Just that there is an experience to be had without them, and that I am weak enough to appreciate the reminder of just how fallen our bodies are, and how seriously I need redemption.)

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