This doesn't get any easier. I have read accounts of women who don't have any significant pain in childbirth. They describe their contractions as "squeezes" or "urges" and boy, is that ever hard to believe based on my own experience of labor. But it's true. Without having any drugs, there are some women who do laugh or smile through labor... or at least don't banshee scream like yours truly.
Even though I have had 7 unmedicated labors, I freely admit...
I am afraid of the pain of childbirth.
They told me that I'd forget the pain in the joy of the baby. And I did forget... mostly... until my 4th child... and then my physical memory started to increase with experience. I remembered everything and even found that certain locations (hospital) or smells (baby wash used in the hospital) would trigger memory and actual physical anxiety. By the time I was pregnant with my 6th child, I was gripped with something rather akin to terror.
It was a hard pregnancy, much like this current one. There was no relief from sickness and fatigue. There was no second trimester "honeymoon." I fought for every coherent waking moment and by the time I hit my third trimester, I was terrified.
Lord, I got nothin'. I can not do this. Show me the way out.
And for the first time in 13 years of child bearing, I was dreaming of an epidural. An escape.
There are concrete reasons that I have always chosen unmedicated birth. NONE of them have to do with me being a hero. One of them actually has to do with me being embarrassingly freaked out about needles in my spine (rather far from heroic). My biggest reasons have just been the details of a prudential decision to make the safest and healthiest choices for baby and me. Once labor kicks into gear, I just take it one contraction at a time and eventually, the baby comes. Banshee screaming from mom and all. Afterwards, I feel like Superwoman. Superwoman in love with a little baby.
But #6 was different. Panic had me in it's death grip and for weeks on end and I clung to only one prayer...
Jesus, I need You to take over this birth. I cannot do it but You can. I don't want that epidural... but You need to take it away from me or I'm going to say yes to that needle. I do NOT want it. But I got nothin. I got nothin.
And I cried. Yes, I did. Like a frightened child I cried. Like I was going to a torture chamber instead of going to meet my baby boy. God heard and saw...
And in the typical fashion of grace, my prayer was answered but in God's own surprising way. I was spared one cross and handed another. The Divine sense of humor showed me that I could handle heavy things... and at the same time, spared me from my weakness.
I had the unmedicated labor I wanted and was not relieved of any pain whatsoever. BUT... the choice to medicate was taken from my hands because you can't get an epidural in the car, elevator, or while delivering a baby... even if you desperately want one.
Labor was about an hour from the first contraction to delivery and an epidural was not possible. Labor was stressful... Shocking even. So God clearly has a sense of humor... and tremendous merciful love.
I can't do this, God.
And He said...
Let me show you that you can.
And He did.
Learning to Move Past Fear...
When I learned that I was expecting #7, I knew that things had to change... because I never wanted to greet another baby with a spirit of fear and panic again. Come what may, I would welcome this child with joy and peace insofar as I was able.
God blessed me with the easiest pregnancy of my life (although it's all relative, you understand) and I was able to spend a lot of time preparing heart and mind for that dream birth. In the end, I did have the easiest, most peaceful and most joyful birth of my motherhood.
A few things I changed...
- I knew that tension and fear increase pain... so I learned how to better relax mind and body.
- I knew that the busy hospital would give me anxiety... so I did what planning I could to make sure I was as unbothered, untouched, unpoked as possible.
- I knew that birth is as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one... so my daughter and husband led a gentle rosary while I labored. The words drifted on and off my own lips, but they were always in the air.
- I knew that the people in the birth room mattered... so I had a midwife who honored my need for space and kept the busy people at bay.
- I knew that I could choose joy even when I didn't feel joy... and so I chose to smile and use pleasant words even when I didn't have to.
- I knew that my body was designed to give birth... and so I tried to reframe the language of pain. Instead of "IT HURTS!!!!!" during transition, I tried to say, "She's coming down the birth canal. She'll be here soon." Notice I said I tried. But every small effort does pay off.
- I was not perfect in labor. I am not a model birther. I am not heroic. I am not particularly good at this. But I do believe that my intentional pursuit of an educated and joyful birth did indeed increase the joy in that birth room.
A New Opportunity for Joy...
Now I'm counting down the days until I labor and deliver my newest little boy (#8) and I'm more committed than ever to welcoming him with joy. I know that God upholds. And I know I will be weak. The best that I can do is to reasonably prepare body and soul and leave the rest in God's hands. I already know I can do it... so the rest is just surrendering the fear.
I have had many labor experience ranging from having a baby transferred to the NICU, delivering during an epic storm and power outage, receiving a fractured tailbone from a posterior baby, etc... so many experiences.
What I have not experienced is knowing what will happen in advance. That is scary. And now, even knowing what I know... knowing what can happen... knowing what suffering can come...
... I also know the joy.
And I claim it.
For my baby... Who deserves to enter this world peacefully and be placed in the arms of joy.
For myself... in recognition of the beauty of God's purpose for my body and honoring my emotional, spiritual, and physical health.
For God... for His greater glory and in thanksgiving for every gift with which He has blessed. The crosses and the consolations. All of it.
I surrender to birth. I surrender to God. I surrender to joy.
Thanks be to God.
* My T-shirt in the top photo reads: "SHINE. Be who God meant for you to be and you will set the world on fire." and was provided by the beautiful ladies at Catholic Threads. You can't see it well in the photo, but the print is metallic silver. It's gorgeous and soft. The sizing is not maternity but I still managed to fit my belly in!