Thursday, September 13, 2012

Darkness and Illumination: My Thoughts on Natural Birth

Disclaimer: I know many of you have had medicated births and c-sections and been perfectly satisfied with your experience. I'm not saying that's impossible. This post is merely my thoughts on giving birth without a lot of intervention. And so, just as I have kept an open mind about your experience, I ask you to keep an open mind about mine.

Oh noche que guiaste!
Oh noche que amable mas
que el alborada!
Oh noche que juntase
Amado con amada
amada en el Amado
Oh you guiding night!
Oh night more kindly
than the dawn!
Oh you night that united
Lover with beloved,
the beloved in the Lover
This post came out of an interesting intersection of experiences. The first was that my husband and I were going through an extremely difficult time figuring out how to be successful with his work and a friend of mine who was born in America and raised in Japan wanted a midwife birth for her baby but was moving to Alabama where midwives are illegal. She says that in Japan, the attitude is that no one has ever died simply from the pain and discomfort of labor contractions, so why should we medicate for it? With my husband's work, I came to a point where thinking positively just wasn't giving me the comfort I needed. My anxiety was getting out of control.

One day I went to the library in search of a book that could help me through what I was experiencing and that's when I came across Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth by Gerald G. May, M.D. In his book, Dr. May uses the writings of a sixteenth century Spanish monk and nun to explore adversity and how we react to it. A couple of thoughts from this book include:

  • That our modern health care system places to much emphasis on just making pain go away when sometimes pain and discomfort might be pathways to greater spiritual growth.
  • That while God is apart from us, He also lives within us as well and that prayer reaches through the outer layers of our senses and mind to the deepest part of us to the God within.
  • There is a great deal of mystery in adversity. Sometimes, something we think is a good thing turns out not to be, other things that we think of as disasters are often good things. Often, spiritual growth is accomplished by learning to embrace the dark night, rather than merely wishing things could be light all the time.
  • We can only find out the plan God has for our lives by letting go of the expectations, desires, etc. that we cling to and opening ourselves up to whatever path that God has for us. It's OK to want things like marriage, children, success, whatever, but we have to be able to let go of those things at the same time so that God can use us where He sees fit.
I felt like there were some parallels to giving birth naturally. If I were to pick one word to describe my experience of natural birth, I think I would choose "illuminating", though "mysterious" would be close behind. Funny, huh? Those words seem better suited to saving the Holy Grail from Nazis. Most women have used words like "strong" or "empowering" to describe their natural birth. And there is nothing wrong with that. My birthing experience certainly was strong and empowering, but that's not what stood out to me. I always knew I could give birth without drugs or surgery (even when I was in the middle of it saying I couldn't, I knew I was lying to myself; mostly I think I was just trying to express that it was difficult), so that was kind of a given to me. 

The thing that stood out the most was how the mystery of giving life became uncovered to me. Having children always seemed like something that would happen to other people and not to me. It was elusive,  mysterious, dark, hidden. And so the most illuminating thing I experienced was finding out that what I knew in the deepest part of me- that motherhood was to be a part of my life- was true after all. 

There was a spiritual element. I believe that God designed our bodies to work in a certain way and to me, allowing the process to proceed on its own and reserving heavy interventions for all-out emergencies was kind of like taking a leap of faith (I'm racking up a lot of Indiana Jones references in this post; I didn't plan it that way). But as anyone who has done a lot of research on birth will tell you, being too quick to intervene with drugs can actually cause the process of birth to be drawn out longer than necessary and make it more uncomfortable. (Did you know lying on your back during birth makes it much more difficult for the baby to get through and it makes contractions more painful?) 

I've heard plenty of accounts from women of difficult high-intervention births- hours of agony on pitocin, fetal distress, disrespectful doctors and nurses, uterine infections following c-sections, hours of pulling with forceps, and then the really scary stuff- hospitals and doctors that don't pick up on the symptoms of pre-eclampsia, bags of medicine meant for an epidural accidentally filled with a lethal dose of another medication, birth injuries resulting in severe brain damage, bungled c-sections. (There's a reason the US has the highest maternal and fetal death rate of any developed country in the world.) When people talk about how hard it must be to give birth without pain medication, I don't know what they're talking about because to me it sounds like giving birth with pain medication can sometimes be even more difficult than letting "nature take its course". And so paradoxically, I feel like giving control over to my body and baby actually gave me the ultimate control of labor. I think many of the most illuminating truths come in the form of paradoxes.

But then for all the illumination I experienced, I actually feel that in some ways the process of childbearing actually became more mysterious. Every time I look at my little boy, I marvel at how something with that much personality could start out as just two cells. The physical explanation just seems so mundane and insufficient. It seems impossible that someone so individual could have ever been a part of my body. He seems too separate and unique have just been an extension of me. But maybe he never was an extension of me. Maybe I was just the short term rental for something much bigger than a few cells. But  that again, is something shrouded in mystery. Ultimately, there was a freedom about that darkness and I'm glad that I got to experience it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post and story! I have the same fears about birth injuries but I don't think I would ever be able to do natural birth. Thank you for sharing your story with us.