(maybe you shouldn't read this if you are considering natural childbirth and want to hear only happy stories about it)
I gave birth naturally two weeks ago. It hurt.
My first birth experience (with little josh) was long, horrendous, and medically-interventive, and I was determined that for the second time around, I would do it all naturally. I wanted to experience the real thing and have a positive experience.
I decided to go with the childbirth program of Hypnobirthing after researching a few different methods. The hypno claim is that if you teach your body how to relax, birth can and will be a comfortable, smooth, easy, even painless experience for you. Marie Mongan (founder of the method) claims that birth was never supposed to be painful, but that our culture has conditioned us to think that it is, thus leading to fear, which causes tension, which causes pain. She says that animals don’t scream when they are in labor—they just go find a quiet, dark place and give birth. This all made perfect sense to me, and I wondered why no one else seemed to be catching on to such a sensible attitude about birth.
Maybe because it's a load of hooey.
Okay, I will give credit where it’s due—after months of teaching myself to relax, I was more able to cope with the pain than I would have been otherwise. I spent the first six hours of labor relaxing in my bedroom in an easy chair, drinking my favorite juice, listening to music and my husband’s relaxing prompts, surrounded by pictures of my family. The breathing I learned from the hypno program was a way of coping with the pain, and I stayed calm. I was in pain, there’s no denying that, but it was manageable.
We left for the hospital, and two hours after checking in, I had a beautiful baby in my arms. No IV's, no catheters, no drugs, no complications-- everything that I had wanted.
But that last hour and a half was the most painful, awful thing I have ever experienced. I lost control.
Maybe if Bennett’s heart rate had been passing all the tests and I had been allowed in the bathtub, things would have been different… I don’t know. But giving birth felt like I was being ripped apart from the inside while being stabbed with knives. I couldn’t stop screaming. You could probably hear me screaming from outside the hospital. I wondered how it was possible that my body could actually feel that much pain. Most of all, I wondered why God would allow it to be like this.
The age-old argument the agnostic will use is this one: If there were a God, how could He allow so much suffering? My question is a different, more specific one though, because I know there IS a God, and I know that He loves me very much. My question is instead:
Why would God create my body with the purpose (and commandment) of having children, and then make it so painful and complicated and risky? There has to be a reason. A good reason.
Why would women since the beginning of time not only be trodden down by men in so many other ways, but be forced to endure such agony after one act of pleasure, or even after an experience such as rape? Where does the man fit into all of that? Where is his just reward for the act? Why must the woman face it alone? That’s not to say that I would want my wonderful, loving, supportive husband to suffer—I just wonder why the shares seem so unequal. Why isn’t childbirth easy? If it were solely to discourage people from taking sex lightly or to punish them, surely the man would suffer some of the consequence as well.
In church I’ve learned that Eve’s decision was the necessary one to allow humankind to progress, and that she was right in doing what she did. Thus, I find it hard to believe that the sole reason we suffer to bring forth children is because of her decision.
I also find it hard to believe that my experiences have been atypical—that for some reason childbirth is easier for everyone else than it is for me. Many women (and babies) have died throughout history because of childbirth. Even if I am just a big wuss, you can’t deny the childbirth mortality rates that we know of from other places and times.
So here are some of my possible guesses. Maybe...
1. It gives the woman an opportunity to be like Jesus Christ-- suffering intensely so that someone else can have life-- something a person cannot do for himself. A savior of sorts.
2. God wanted to show even the most civilized, cushy, convenienced society that life is a time of suffering as well as joy. He didn’t want us to forget and become complacent in our modern experience.
3. God wanted to give the woman a claim on her children that no one else would have. A mother who has just brought her child into this life will most likely be fiercely protective, if not possessive, of that child, and love him dearly. They always say that you grow to love those you serve.
4. It's just another instance of God using the law of opposition to make us appreciate what we have. We have to know the bitter so that we can know the sweet. Could we ever really appreciate life if we weren’t at some point made to suffer in some way? The many trials and tests we have here on Earth help us grow and progress in a way that nothing else ever could. Perhaps childbirth (and being a parent after that) was meant to be just another bittersweet experience that allows us to become better.
5. The greater test is for the man—it would be so easy for him to walk away from the consequences of his decisions and allow the pregnant woman to fend for herself. Perhaps this gives him a chance to step up and be better and face the consequences—and be more harshly judged by God if he doesn’t.
6. It's to guard the virtue of the woman—the virtue that God so highly prizes. If a woman knows what the consequences can be, maybe she will be motivated to be more careful with her body.
7. It gives the woman the sense of accomplishing something truly difficult and truly great.
8. It's so the man will feel sorry for the woman and buy her chocolates.
I don’t know the answers, but I am going to continue to search for them. It’s therapeutic for me to write out these thoughts as I process the stories of my sons’ births and the prospect of having more children further along down the road.
Will I give birth without an epidural again? I don't know if I will. I haven't decided. But everything else aside, maybe the most important question of all is this:
Is childbirth worth it?
Yes, I think it is.