Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thoughts and Ramblings on Pregnancy and Childbirth....from a first-timer

In our 21st century American culture, we have this mainstream idea that pregnancy is miserable and childbirth the most excruciating experience of a woman’s life. We’re given lots of sympathetic looks while pregnant, and many “I’m sure you can’t wait to have it over with” comments. We hear about how terrifyingly painful childbirth is, but that it will be over before long. Well-intentioned, yes. Accurate portrayal of God’s plan for pregnancy and childbirth, not so much so.

Our modern-day ideas about pregnancy and childbirth are not only inaccurate, but are cheating thousands of women out of experiencing what God intended to be one of the most incredible experiences in a woman’s life. They’ve far distorted what God had in mind for child-bearing women. Pregnancy and childbirth are one of the biggest things a woman will go through in her lifetime. For a woman who understands God’s plans, it’ll be one of the most amazing experiences of her life. For a woman who’s educated by our culture, it’ll be horrific and terrifying. For both, it’ll be an unforgotten and life changing experience.

Pregnancy and childbirth don’t have to be terrifying experiences- God has a better way. I believe God designed this phase of life to bless a woman, as much as to bring children into the world. He wanted women to be able to embrace having children, enjoy the process, and become even more fulfilled as a woman through it. He designed it to be work, which isn’t always comfortable, but not to be terrifying. In His love for us, He gave us the gift of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

If we want God’s path of pregnancy and childbirth, we have to seek to educate ourselves. Most women who suffer in childbirth do so only because of their and their doctor/midwife’s lack of education, as well as a tainted perspective. I think it’s of greatest importance that each woman research and educate herself thoroughly.

I also believe doctors, midwives, doulas, etc., have a responsibility to educate themselves thoroughly, and pass on that wisdom to their clients. We live in a society that assumes medical professionals know everything and will do what’s best for us. While this is irresponsible on the part of the general public, it’s also an opportunity for medical professionals to use their positions to help women experience the best pregnancy and birth possible, or to mislead them.

Women should seek to educate themselves about God’s perspective, how her body functions, and how each aspect of pregnancy and childbirth works and is working for her. If a woman’s in tune with her body, she’ll be more apt to appreciate discomfort, knowing it’s working for her in one way or another, or at the very least, providing a reminder of life. It sounds strange, but I was really excited when I started feeling more lower back and pelvic pressure, because I could tell the baby had moved down, preparing for birth.

Further, education gives confidence, which naturally tears away fear, and therefore, pain. Fear is a large cause of pain in childbirth, and fear is caused by a lack of education or being misguided. If every woman was educated about her body and how pregnancy and childbirth are designed to work, we’d be well on our way to incredible experiences. An educated woman is a confident woman.

Another area we’ve erred in is blurring the line between discomfort and pain. When someone tells you their childbirth was “pain free” they aren’t necessarily saying it was a walk in the park. Childbirth is work, and like all other forms of work, generally brings some level of discomfort. If you’re going to run a marathon, you’re going to put some uncomfortable work into it, and likely put up with rather sore muscles afterwards. If you spend 15 hours canning tomatoes, your feet will likely not be feeling their hottest at the end. But you wouldn’t be likely to classify any of these activities as painful. Likewise, in most cases, childbirth shouldn’t be painful- only a lot of work.

When a woman acknowledges something as “pain”, it serves only to ignite fear, causing more pain. It’s a vicious cycle, and a large percentage of women fall into it. As humans, we naturally shirk away from pain. We do anything to avoid it- we’ll even work to avoid pain. So when a woman anticipates pain in childbirth, she naturally tenses up and becomes more fearful.

All this said, I do recognize there are some pregnancies and childbirths which truly are unavoidably painful, and I don’t discredit that. There are certain valid complications which the best of education or mind set could not swerve around. There are women who have to be on bed rest their whole pregnancies, women who can’t keep anything down during pregnancies, births where things go wrong, emergency c-sections required. There are non-pregnant people who deal with intense pain everyday of their lives, too. We live in a fallen world, and therefore, we will experience pain at different points.

The problem: pain and complications are exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. And in our culture, we’ve made pain and complications the rule. Only a small percentage of women experience truly difficult pregnancies or complication-riddled deliveries….yet we’ve been taught to believe that this is just what every woman must endure if she’s going to have children.

*I choose to distinguish between the words “pain” and “discomfort” not because one word is better than the other, or because it’s a sin to refer to the discomfort you deal with as “pain”. Rather because, in our society, pain is seen as a frightening thing that we shirk from, and has a lot of negative connotations. It’s not really a matter of what word you use, it’s your perspective, and the mental pictures each word gives you. If used negatively, it seems unproductive to constantly toss around the word, educating everyone else on how painful/miserable childbirth is. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a particular aspect of childbirth was painful…in the sense of “this hurt, or was uncomfortable”. We’re talking here about the fact that a woman’s picture of childbirth shouldn’t be someone shrieking in terror and pain, beyond miserable- it should be one of joy even through the strenuous work, and sometimes discomfort of labor. It’s perspective and the associations we have with certain words, not the words themselves.*

My pregnancy was a wonderful experience. I owe at least part of that to the health I’ve been blessed with, but I think an even larger amount is owed to my mom, for her perspective, and the education I sought out.

My mom is the perfect model of a top-notch attitude towards pregnancy. If every woman was like her, we’d have a lot of round, happy women! Her pregnancies aren’t perfectly easy, per se. In fact, though I know some women who deal with more issues than she does, most women I know have pregnancies with much milder “side effects” than hers. She has excellent 2nd and 3rd trimesters, but her 1st trimesters aren’t ones very many would want to trade for. Nonetheless, she loves the way God created the female’s body, and all the details He put into designing us for carrying and giving birth to children. I’m really grateful for the head start Mom gave me with her attitude!

In addition, I invested some time, both before and after marriage, in seeking an education in pregnancy, childbirth, and all the functions of a female’s body. This was really helpful! Some of it was from books, some from talking a lot to my mom, midwife, and other moms who’ve already been there and done that. I had a fair amount of time for reading during my 1st trimester, since I was too sick to do much else on many days, and delved into a variety of books. Some I appreciated, some I didn’t. I sought out books that had a positive perspective towards the child bearing season of a woman’s life. Books where pregnancy and childbirth were encouraged as a beautiful, natural thing, not just books that prepare you for the worst, and encourage that you’ll make it through eventually.

I also realized how important a healthy attitude was. While a positive perspective didn’t make everything clear sailing, or take away all the morning sickness effects, it was helpful in continuing to look forward, and express gratitude for what God had chosen to bless us with.

God provided me with a very healthy 2nd and 3rd trimester, free from any complications, for which I’m extremely grateful. I feel so blessed to not have any complications, or reasons for concern. Not every woman has this blessing, but I would guess the vast majority do. Some have really healthy 1st trimesters, but complications arise in the 3rd trimester. Some have more issues all the way through. Sometimes, education only goes so far- you might be able to find cures or aids for the things you struggle with, or you may not. However, while it doesn’t cure either, a healthy attitude will go a long ways, too, as I’ve seen in action from some of the women I respect the most around me. I’ve also seen the effects of a negative attitude from other women.

My pregnancy has had some typical discomforts (nothing out of the ordinary, or like some of the special complications some women have to deal with), especially towards the end, but I’ve been able to thoroughly enjoy them, understanding what each thing is doing. Some of them “felt” more uncomfortable before I understood what was going on. For example, I’ve had a fair amount of lower abdominal cramping. I personally just don’t like cramping, and find it to be uncomfortable. When I learned that it was just caused, though, by preparations my body was making, and by the position of the baby at that particular moment, it didn’t bother me very much. Instead, it just became a reminder of the little one God had blessed us with, who was preparing for her entry into the world. As mentioned earlier, because I knew what was causing it, lower back and pelvic pressure wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I could’ve classified it. Contractions were welcome signs that my body was slowly preparing for the big job ahead. No, the various “complaints” weren’t always comfortable, and there were times when I had to slow down or adjust something to accommodate them. But they weren’t a bad thing at all, and I think that’s mostly because I knew it was my body getting ready for the birth. I felt really privileged to be able to feel my body and the baby preparing for the birth, and with each passing day, began to anticipate the coming event all the more, as my body prepared for it, and I prepared the surroundings and checked off items on my to-do list.

Viviana’s birth was a wonderful experience. It wasn’t perfectly “pain-free” per se, and had its discomforts and difficulties, but over all, it went really well. It was a longer labor, ending with a long pushing session, but it was a beautiful process, and what God designed my body for. God created my body to give birth to Viviana, and realizing this, I was really excited about giving birth. Was I tired by the end? Absolutely….but so is one who’s just run a marathon or spent a long day on the job. While it didn’t go “perfectly” according to some definitions, I felt like it was living proof that attaining joyful child-birthing is entirely possible. Being first time around, my body had to work a lot harder to prepare for something it’d never done before. I also learned things through trial and error- generally we all learn plenty from hind-sight. I was grateful for what I already knew through study and talking to other moms, as the knowledge of what was going on, what I needed to do, and my perception of childbirth affected it in such a huge way even my midwife commented on the fact. After 30 hours of labor, I learned that it takes a whole lot of concentration and work to relax through contractions- and being really tired, I didn’t succeed through each contraction on that account. But I took something else from the birth, too….I lived out the fact that birth is a beautiful thing, a gift, God gave to women. Though it’s work, it’s rewarding, with so many beautiful emotions. I lived the fact that childbirth is nothing akin to torture (though I could also see how, if you prefer it to be that way, you can make it so!). You might not be able to make your birth a walk in the park- some things just aren’t comfortable- but you can choose to make it a good, rewarding experience which you look back on positively and share with others positively. Moreover, you can, as I did, have an experience which makes you look forward to experiencing it all again, instead of driving fear and dread into you.

In conclusion, God designed the child bearing years of a woman’s life to be beautiful and full of abundant life and joy. They aren’t always perfect, and there are discomforts along the way, but God created our bodies for this season, and child bearing is a part of who we are. Our very name, “woman”, implies that our wombs are a beautiful part of us. Nonetheless, each woman is unique. God wrote each woman’s life story individually and your story will never look like anyone else’s. How many children God blesses you with, your pregnancies, and each birth, are uniquely your life. All your birth stories will be different, and some may be riddled with complications. Some might be more “pain-free” than others. None of my future birth stories will be like Viviana’s. Some pregnancies or post-partum seasons may have more issues than others, and each birth will be unique. But the bottom line is that this is what God created us for, and we’d be doing ourselves and those around us a favor if we embraced His plan.

Let’s seek to educate ourselves so we understand better what God’s plan is, and follow it up with embracing who we are as women. Let’s encourage each other and counter our culture’s mindset about pregnancy and childbirth, spreading light and a positive perspective.


  1. Hello there,
    I've been following this blog for quite a while now and congratulations on the birth of your little girl. God indeed works in marvellous ways. I'm very encouraged by Ben's writing on how he patiently wait for a partner and how he carefully commits this relationship to God and seeing how God has blessed you both with a marriage and now a girl.
    Congratulations and keep writing.

  2. Samantha and I are doing a recipe box as a wedding gift for Abigail Paul
    We have a cute old fashioned metal box that holds the 3x5 recipe cards.

    I am sure she would be delighted to receive a recipe from you.
    You are welcome to send to us 1 or 2 (or more!) recipes.
    You can either write them out on a card and send it to this address:

    (email jacnsam at gmail dot com for the address!)

    Or if you can't do that, please feel free to email them!

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
    We hope we can get enough response to fill the box!
    We've also asked Abigail's sister, Susannah, to help and pass the word along.

    We'd like to have the recipes here by the end of September as the wedding is on October 9th.


    P.S. And if you have the email addresses of any of her friends/fellow HW subscribers....please pass this message along! We need all the help we can get to spread the word.

  3. Great post...and I agree with pretty much everything you said! Have you seen the documentary "The Business of Being Born"? It's so eye-opening...

    And I'm curious which books you found the most helpful in preparing for your birth? I'm always on the lookout for good natural birthing books... :)

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it! That title sounds familiar...but I can't place seeing it- I must've heard someone else mention it. I'll have to check it out!

    My all time favorite birth book is "The Joy of Natural Childbirth" by Helen Wessel- I have a couple extra copies just so I can loan them out to various people; it's that good. :-) Have you read it? I also liked the Sears' Birth Book...not quite as totally natural as The Joy, but had a lot of good info (and def. leans natural) and felt like it was a good prep for birth. How about you? What were your favorites? I'd like to read some others, at some point....

  5. I hadn't heard of the "The Joy of Natural Childbirth" before...I'll have to read that one. I've heard a lot of good things about the Sears' Birth Book also, but haven't read it yet.

    A couple weeks ago I just finished reading "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" by Ina May Gaskin and it was SO informative! The first part of the book is a collection of birth stories and some of them can get a little weird and New Age-y, but you can definitely skip those if you want to...they're not really crucial to the rest of the book. The second part of the book is full of information on birthing, and there are several chapters on the different procedures that are "routine" at most hospitals and the benefits and risks associated with each one. I thought that information was some of the most helpful in the book because I know that a lot of times in hospitals, they don't tell you the risks associated with inducing labour, C-sections, etc. and I think that women need to know both sides of the issue. So I found that book very helpful to read...both in preparing myself for our homebirths, but also to have information to give to other pregnant women who are maybe considering the different hospital procedures, etc.

  6. Thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to jot down that title and see if I can locate a copy at some point.... Some of the new age-y stuff gets rather weird, but you get used to pulling out the good and discarding the bad. :-) The Joy of Natural Childbirth can be difficult to find...you might check your library or interlibrary loan....otherwise, the only place it's sold new is directly from the website- which I can look up if you want. Sometimes you can get a good deal on a used copy on Amazon....some of the copies go really high, too, though, because of the assumption it's out of print- which I discovered last winter it isn't.