Thursday, August 28, 2014

when pain gives way to joy (salem's birth story)

My baby boy has been in my arms for over 12 weeks.

I've wanted to share his birth story here for awhile now, but this has been a summer (or winter, for those of us in the southern hemisphere) of much trauma and pain across the globe.  I don't think the world is getting any worse off as there is much positive change, healing and reconciliation as well.  We are all just more connected, more aware perhaps?  But still, news of our shared brokenness across this spinning planet leaves us reeling and confused and fearful - will we slowly destroy ourselves?

I won't write about how vulnerable and reckless it feels to care for tiny, dependent people these days, I'm sure mothers have felt that way for four thousand years.  Are we crazy for thinking this is a good time to have children?  No, we are brave.  Expecting good and hope for our children's future is courageous, and it's only born out of a deep trust in a God who creates and commits and promises all things new.  I wonder if we've done the right thing in creating more people to be dependent on us, with the capacity to suffer and grieve.  But the world needs new tiny humans, whose imaginations are free, humans capable of love, forgiveness, peace-building and conflict resolution.  The world needs people who will sing their hearts out and lay down their swords.  Even God decided to arrive as a baby; that wasn't the safest option but somehow it was best.  

Pregnancy and birth do not always go to plan, I know that well, and many other mothers and fathers know that much more painfully than I do.  There are many, many variables to birth and some of them are completely outside of our control.  Like anything, we learn as much as we can, do our best and keep our chin up.  There's nothing to prove, just tiny babies wanting to be in the arms of their mothers, however that may happen.  Sometimes the stars align and babies come gloriously, the pain evaporates into a distant memory and mother bonds freely with child.

When the incredible pains of labour (that can nearly swallow a woman whole) are able to bring a real baby - screaming and alive - into the her hands, and even leave her body in need of no repair, the memory of the pain quickly melting away - this is a sign to us.

The world's suffering, and our own, is all going somewhere.  Just as we feel we have lost everything and there is no hope, it will surrender itself and give way to joy.  And all the boots of the warriors, all the garments rolled in blood, all the F-16s and tear gas bottles, riot gear, disease, chaos, racism, tanks and drones will be burned like fuel for a fire.

For we need to boil some water; a child is born.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace. (Isaiah 9)

So I'm sharing the story of my son's birth and I wear the memory of it deep in my body, a reminder and a sign.  Pain and suffering in this world do not have the last word.

//

(Prepare yourself for some graphic details written very bluntly.  Feel free to turn back before it's too late.)



The baby's due date was the 25th of May and I expected to give birth around that time; both of my other children were born at 40weeks + 2 days gestation.  I was half expecting a long labour and half expecting the child to slip out onto the floor spontaneously.  I processed pregnancy fears surrounding giving birth and felt like I moved through them in a new way, I felt pretty sure that whatever happened, God would be midwife:  present and GOOD.

I found most of the pregnancy exhausting and the last six weeks pretty painful as I got huge - I gained 28 kgs/ 60 pounds and I was caring for my other two young children.  My husband should be writing this part as I'm sure he can recount properly some of my misery.  :)  I wrote at the end of my 39th week that I was holding together pretty well and then I promptly started to fall apart.   I was having some pretty intense pre-labour pains off and on, especially in the night.  Ina May Gaskin talks about how for some women labour can try to begin as many as five times before active labour actually kicks in. This was priceless information especially as I hoped to have as little of my labour at the hospital as possible.  Some nights I would lie in bed trying not to time the waves of pain as they came but unable to sleep through them for a few hours at a time.  One night I really thought it was the real deal (how can you know but in hindsight?) and spent so much of the night awake.

I spent the days doing a lot of walking, 35 kg of toddlers in the double pram, hiking up the hilly street we lived on.  My friend on the corner would always ask if I was sure I wasn't having twins which is a great question to have to answer multiple times.

I liked to think that every night could possibly be THE night and then when I woke in the morning I wasn't too disappointed.  Until the morning of June 2nd.  I woke up quite a mess, around 5:30am.  At 40 weeks +8 days  I couldn't believe I hadn't gone into labour yet, I was only a few days away from being induced.  My midwife had done two stretch and sweeps, at 40+3 and 40+7, each one leaving me slightly more despairing.  I still didn't truly trust my body to cooperate with the natural process of birth.  Both of my other labours had been full of interventions and I desperately wanted to give birth the way I know it is meant to be.

When I woke up on June 2 I read an email from a good friend of mine in Canada.  She had been praying for me and felt like I should make sure I was informed about cesarean birth - she didn't think I would have one but knew that many people do have one without having any sense of preparation, and processing that possibility could help me face any lingering fears I have surrounding the birth.  I was so upset to read this, already on the verge of tears upon waking and realizing my baby was still inside.  I sobbed and sobbed and wailed and sobbed in my husband's arms.  My face filled with snot and I had trouble breathing.  I wanted to be out of my body, I was shaking.  I hadn't felt that low in a very long time.  Chris said he would stay home from work, and he did, even though I told him I didn't need him to be home. Ha.

I took a Panadeine and fell back asleep for three hours, waking around ten am.  I was still crying when I woke up.  Chris had read the email and told me he thought my friend was right, that I should make sure I face any lingering fears.  I did read a short article on 'natural cesareans' but mostly I just let go of all of my hopes for an intervention-free birth.  More than anything, I wanted that baby in my arms.  I didn't care how he or she was born, I just wanted them safe in my arms - whether that was via cesarean or vacuum or forceps, with or without syntocinon.  I didn't have anything to prove to anyone and more than anything I just wanted to know this child, face to face.

I was still weepy but was able to get out of bed and take a shower.  I messaged with another friend in Canada, a midwife also heavily pregnant.  I mentioned to her that I was having some kind of contractions but I had been there so many times before in the past week that I wasn't getting my hopes up.  Around noon my daughter woke from her nap and I nursed her for quite a while as I texted with a friend, making plans for the next day.  I noticed things were getting more intense but we were planning to take the kids out since Chris was home for the day.  Chris went to get some hot chips for the kids before we left and I reckoned I should time the pains, which were coming every two and a half minutes.  I called my midwife, still unsure if this was really labour and she said she thought it was, that I should come to the hospital.  I cried endorphin filled happy tears.

Our friend came to be with our children and my friend Hollie arrived for birth support.  We drove to hospital together, arriving at 1:30pm.  I had about five contractions walking from the outside of the hospital upstairs to the maternity ward, still able to talk through the pain and so flipping happy that my body was in active labour on it's own, for the first time.  I was all smiles as I hugged my midwife and we got comfortable in the spacious birthing room, which had a bed, a shower and a bathtub.





I could feel the pains increasing in intensity and length.  Soon I had Chris putting pressure on my lower back during each contraction and I stood with the moveable shower head on my tummy with very hot water.  I preferred to be standing up, swaying, trying to keep my body relaxed.  I told myself that the baby was safe, that I was safe, over and over again.  I could chat between contractions for the first 90 minutes or so but needed to quiet myself and focus through them when they came.  At 3pm my midwife checked me for the first time and I was 6-7cm dilated with my membranes bulging.  What my midwife didn't tell me was that the baby was occiput posterior and if she had I think I would have freaked out as my daughter's labour had been posterior as well.  I kept labouring and spent some time in the bathtub.  In the end I couldn't get comfortable in the standard size ceramic tub, but I did do a big push at one point randomly and my midwife thinks that's when I turned the baby into a better position.

By 4 pm the pain was very, very intense.  I couldn't believe I was going through this again, even though I had been here before (and this time without any augmentation) it was still fiercely overwhelming.  I had to fight all the thoughts of needing interventions.  I had to be very focused - during contractions I would say to myself "One two three, baby's coming" and I slowly breathed in and out and swayed side to side, still with lots of lower back pressure from Chris and Hollie.  I was either in the shower or rocking on the toilet and if Chris had stepped away I would yell for him as soon as the contraction began.  Between the the pains I would say to myself, "You can do this.  You are amazing.  You are so strong.  You only have to get through one more contraction and your baby will be in your arms."  That wasn't true of course but it helped me to really stay present.  Chris and I kissed between contractions a few times, like Ina May encourages couples to do.  I tried to keep my face and shoulders relaxed and loose and listen to whatever my body wanted to do.  Even though I ultimately had to bring this baby through my body alone and no one could take on that physical pain for me, my Chris was right there supporting me in any and every way that he could.





After another hour I started to feel a lot of pressure and naturally took a position more on my hands and knees, still in the bathroom.  I did a big push and my waters exploded everywhere.  There was some meconium present but I was in the zone and trusted my midwives so I barely paid attention.  They had to wrap some monitors around my belly to trace the baby's heartbeat but I was able to stay on my knees in the bathroom. I heard my midwife say the meconium was present because my baby was so overdue and not to worry because baby was fine, but it was a hard moment for my husband.

I wanted to really let my body do the pushing since my other births were very directed by this point.  I felt very connected to the universe at this point, it was primal, like I was the most human I had ever been.  I felt very much alone but also safe and cared for.  I could feel the baby's head with my fingers and as my body would come to the middle of a contraction I would have an irresistible urge to push.  I wouldn't push for long, and only once with each contraction.  I may have had five or so contractions until the head started to crown.  Birthing the head was a crazy and excruciating couple of minutes and my body desperately wanted the baby to just be out.  I let out a little scream and started to panic but my midwife sternly told me to stay calm and to pant.  I wanted to pull this baby out of me as the feeling was so overwhelming but I was able to breathe and pant and only just barely push gently.

Once the baby's head was born I had to do another big push for the shoulders and then I brought my sweet child up to my chest.  It was a whole new world.  I couldn't believe the joy, how quickly it had all turned around, how the pain had surrendered itself once this baby was in the world and breathing for the first time, soon screaming glad deliverance cries.  I held the bald baby close and kissed it's beautiful face, I thanked my midwife who had believed in me, empowered me and watched over me through the whole process.  She asked what I'd had and I said I didn't even care, I was too busy kissing this child.  When I looked I started laughing because this whole time I'd been mostly expecting a girl and the baby growing 41 weeks inside of me was a little boy.

It was 5:30pm on June 2, 2014 and we named him Salem.








//

We are all over the map when it comes to seeing painful situations in our lives give way to joy and healing and laughter.  We groan under the weight of the suffering at times, with no end in sight.  Take heart, friends.  We have not been left alone.  One day all things will be made new.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

packing boxes and stirring up dust (for chris)

We packed up nearly three and a half years of belongings that we'd bought, found, written or been given into a hundred boxes and bins and buckets.  We only moved a street over and a few more up (or down) but it's a bit of a different world leaving an upstairs not quite two bedroom flat for a little house with a washing machine inside and no massive flight of stairs to climb with three children in tow.  Choice is a luxury and we made the decision quickly as it was the best time to do it and also the worst.  I couldn't believe how much dust got stirred up everywhere, especially between us.

The actual moving day was a breeze because somehow we know lots of people with strong arms and spacial awareness.  It was the packing and sorting and choosing and unplugging and cancelling and fixing (oh the fixing) and scrubbing that did us in.  The scrubbing is good for us though, isn't it?

If only we could have moved house with all of our stuff when we were just engaged.  We would have been so much nicer to each other.  But in five years of marriage there is a comfort and a solid feeling and who we really are is brave to come out a little bit further.  We've never had so many consecutive evenings of arguing, each wave receding but only increasing in intensity the next night.  We got through it, a little wounded of course but also knowing our vows were still wedding us tight, and that's a beautiful thing to know.

Two days after the move, boxes EVERYWHERE and I still wanted to go to church because I'm a pastor's kid and that's what we do.  I was driving home with our two littlest in the backseat of our station wagon.  Our girl asked where we were going and I said, "We're going home".  She started to cry, "Not going home!! I want to go see my brother!"  She thought "home" was the name of our now empty flat; though she spent her whoooole life there that space meant nothing to her if her brother was somewhere else.

I'm glad our children have a house with rooms that will better suit our needs (and my sanity, as you are well aware).  I'm glad we are a bit further from the pub noise on weekend nights and closer to the playground and some dear friends and the sea.  I love our bright white walls and big kitchen table and I'm so glad you'll have a little space in the back to make music, I can hear you strumming a a tune even now.  But more than anything, more than anywhere, I want to keep hanging up my curtains with you.

Someone could offer me the biggest house in a neighbourhood with no strange men or stray dogs, with a promise that all my laundry would be taken off the line for me, folded and put away daily and stacks of paper would cease to accumulate on counter tops - but I would turn them right down if you were going to be somewhere else.  Even if there were laundry piles everywhere.



Monday, July 7, 2014

a few words on writing

I'm a big fan of D.L. Mayfield's writing - it's usually crazy good and the things she writes about are what I need to keep me uncomfortable and examining my life.  I was super flattered when she said some very nice words about my writing and 'tagged' me to write about the process.  

I don't have much of a writing process right now as not too much writing happens around here.  But the new baby is pretty happy cuddled up with his dad watching Saturday Night Live so I'm giving it a shot.  (And now a week later I'm frantically editing while the baby sleeps and the big kids are out.)

1. What are you working on?

I apparently cannot grow babies or raise babies and do very much writing at the same time.  Hopefully I'll increase my capacity to write when I can but for now I rely very heavily on 'happy feelings of inspiration and confidencewhich I don't seem to have much of these days.  Most of my process happens in my head so I'm probably 'working on' things for quite a while before I actually start writing.  I did write an essay for SheLoves Magazine called "These Universal Labour Pains".  I just gave birth for the third time and had three very, very different experiences - I look forward to processing that a bit here, hopefully soon.

I really love to write music and that happens much less often than writing words, but when a song is finished (and even recorded sometimes - I married the right boy!) it is extremely satisfying for me.  One of my favourites is called "Come be You".

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre? 

The dominating factor in my life right now is that I've given birth to three children under the age of four in my first five years of marriage.  Much of my writing here (so far) is thoughts on pregnancy, labour and birth, pursuing gentle parenting and every now and then I'll write about the boy who rocks the babies to sleep at night.  These topics can be fairly exclusive depending on how they are written and many people carry wounds in these areas, especially around birth.  I often think, 'What if a woman read this post who wasn't able to breastfeed, or their baby died during childbirth?  What if a reader is divorced or single or hasn't been able to become pregnant easily?  What about someone reading who is from a different faith background, or none at all.'  I want to make space for everyone in what I write which is slightly noble but I'm not sure if it's possible or the best pursuit.  Sometimes these questions cripple me and sometimes they just keep me quiet for awhile.  I want the things I write to be true, but not just for a fairly privileged white, married girl.  I've got a long road to walk in that regard, but I'm walking.


I've had experiences in different cultural contexts, especially with women, and they shape how I think and write.  I'm also drawn to write about suffering and where God possibly is in it all.  Although I had a very safe childhood I've experienced trauma and loss a few times in my adult life and I like to write through the layers of it all when it comes up.  I've also seen miracles happen and want to honour the variables, the unknown, the mystery surrounding healing that sometimes breaks into our space and rewrites our future, and sometimes, sadly, does not.   


 And I want to write again and again how I've found nothing, nothing, nothing but good in God's heart.     

3. Why do you write what you do?

What really encourages me to write is meeting someone who has read my stuff and hearing that they've really connected with it.  That happens occasionally (usually a friend of a friend) and it's such a deep and genuine blessing to my heart.  I want people to process through and find healing in their experiences, to connect with people they would have otherwise passed by, and to think crazy, crazy things about God's love for the whole world, and even (and especially) for themselves.  I have a pretty small audience but it means so much to me when what I write is meaningful to someone.  I know I should write even when nobody cares, but that's hard at this point in life. 

Having a public space to share my ideas encourages me to actually think a bit beyond my day to day activities (two wild children, so much laundry and a newborn) and to work through them a bit.  The fact that I even have a little piece of online grass in the sunshine encourages me to grow something when I have the time - I'm not sure I would write much at all if I didn't have this blog.  That's sad, but at the moment it's true.  

4. How does your writing process work?

I usually have an idea gestating in my warm dark brain for quite awhile before I have a chance to write about it.  I've probably pitched it to Chris (fanboy) or maybe a close friend.  If have the energy and motivation to write, it's in the evenings.  It has to be an early bedtime evening for the big kids (around seven) and then I type furiously for a couple of hours, usually writing it all in one sitting.  Occasionally I will edit in the morning but usually Chris pressures me to just publish.  It's often around ten pm and that's when 'grumpy becca' comes out (I don't function well past 9:45 which many people in my life can attest to) so Chris is the one who sizes the picture and posts it to Facebook for me.  I'm usually falling asleep brushing my teeth at that point.  And being grumpy.  It's great.  Chris really believes in my writing and encourages me to write any evening we are free; 9 out of 10 times I'll accuse him of being bossy and suggest we watch a show instead.  He reads every post and often gives me editorial suggestions which I either accept or yell, "Chris!  I would never say that!  Get your own blog!"

//

I'd love to tag two of my favourite writers, one is a friend in real life, Michaela Evanow, and another has become an online friend, Kathleen @Becoming Peculiar.  Both are mamas who live out their values intentionally, have a child to care for and one growing inside so I'm curious how they make writing happen when they do.  





** Bonus Picture for No Reason:  This is the lunch I packed for my first date with Chris, when he had just flown across the country to see me for the first time in over ten months.  He tells me now, seven years later, that he was slightly horrified.  He knew what he was getting himself into, that's for sure.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

These Universal Labour Pains (Posting for SheLoves Magazine)

I wrote a guest post for SheLoves Magazine




There are moments in which I’ve felt naked against all the darkness possible in the world.
I have never felt this way so much as I did when I gave birth to my first child. I remember thinking that if I just left him laying on the bed, just walked away from him, he would die. I couldn’t believe how all-consuming his need was for me, how he searched for my milk, my comfort, my sustenance every hour or two around the clock, every single day. I had never experienced this kind of terrifying dependency. I’d been responsible for other people on many different levels and even in “dangerous” parts of the world, but this sense of responsibility, well, there was nothing like it. Exacerbated by a wild postpartum hormone cocktail, it could nearly crush my heart if I let my thoughts wander rabbit trails to all of the possibilities of us being separated.…
____
Head on over to read the rest of the post!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

our baby of peace

This announcement is slightly overdue, but so was the baby. :)

Salem John Elias was born June 2nd, at 41 weeks and a day.  The labour and birth were painful and so beautiful, the way birth is meant to be but isn't always.  I was very surprised to see we'd grown a boy, he was 3.775 kg (8 lbs 5 oz).  My recovery has been very easy, it's been good to have Nana and Papa here visiting from Canada here to ease the load.  Big brother is adoring and surprisingly helpful.  Big sister fawns over "Say-yim" but struggles with feeling a bit usurped.

Salem is another form of the word "shalom", which means peace inclusive of justice, wholeness, wellbeing and security which comes when people and all of creation are rightly connected.

John was Chris' grandfather who died when Chris' mom was young.  This name came to Chris while Salem was literally being born, even though his gender was still a mystery to us at that point.  Good thing he was a boy. ;)

Archbishop Elias Chacour (just retired) is a Palestinian priest who has spent decades working for justice, peace and education in Galilee.  He wrote a book called "Blood Brothers" that I read while studying in the Middle East in 2001, it was foundation shifting for me.

We're extremely happy that Salem is in our arms (my husband is typing for me and I'm dictating because Salem doesn't like to stop nursing in the evening hours).  I'll write more soon about how the birth went for those interested, but I only had about five hours of active labour.  Chris and my dear friend Hollie were pretty incredible birth partners in so many ways.

I'm grateful for everyone who supported, encouraged and prayed for us throughout the pregnancy and even during labour.  There are so many variables surrounding birth and it's impossible to know why they sometimes line up so well.  I just feel really grateful.







Friday, May 23, 2014

heavily pregnant ramblings, and a song.









Every night I've gone to sleep for the past two weeks thinking this might be the night that our baby comes.  I've been happy about that.  And every morning I've woken up (and usually multiple times in the night to pee/comfort a child) and realised I was still pregnant.  And I've been happy with that.  It's a good place to be, this cozy spot somewhere in the midst of hope and belly-bulging expectancy resting up against contentment.  I can't remember the last weeks or days of my other pregnancies being like this and I may not feel this content in another week or so.

In the day to day I'm tired, I'm often uncomfortable and my cortisol levels are through the roof, I'm pretty sure.  I become very upset at my children when they are doing things that suddenly feel extremely dangerous - like chasing each other up the stairs to our apartment or slamming each other into couches and coffee tables.  They've noticed my temperament shift - my husband was home for lunch so I had a lie down for a few minutes.  When I came out, my nearly 4 year old said, "NOW will you be LESS grumpy with us?"  He also dictated for my mother's day card, "I hope you feel better once the new baby comes out."  mHm.  Let's hope so.

But in the deeper places I feel really peaceful.  I feel joy.  Friends and strangers say I look great, so relaxed for someone who is a couple days away from being 40 weeks pregnant (although they should probably check in with my husband about that).  I'm under no illusions that labour will be easy and I'm under ABSOLUTELY no illusions that three kids on the outside is going to be easier than having two on the outside and one on the inside.  My children are a beautiful rip tide and I am only just learning how to swim horizontal.  I watch them grow while they grow me up, the most sanctifying mirror I've ever had in my life.  I remember what I wrote a few years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter, 


Asking God to come and plant His dreams in us is costly - to carry the things of God we must be willing to change, to grow, to stretch and ache; our bodies will never be the same, our hearts will have a new capacity for love and for pain.  We will steward an exciting and terrifying responsibility - one we will only be able to parent and never control.  

Whatever it is that God lays before us, I think we can never truly grasp what the cost will be.  And still we say yes, we are willing, because we know it will be Good.  

//

At 37 weeks I found out that I'm not eligible to try for a home birth through my local hospital's program that I've been apart of through this whole pregnancy.  It was reviewed by multiple people and because of my 900 ml blood loss following my first birth I am not eligible.  I have had so much peace with that decision.

It was massive for my husband and I to spend the pregnancy deciding together whether we wanted to have this baby at home.  I really did.  I was certain I would labour more effectively at home, not having to transition to the hospital where I had a very traumatic first birth.  My husband was scared, having seen our baby almost die and his wife lose a large amount of blood quickly, he wanted to feel like someone was going to be in control, that emergency personnel would be right at the door if need be.  We had some very difficult conversations over the months, spoke out lots of fears, read articles and watched documentaries, talked to friends who had given birth at home.  We explored the many factors that contributed to our previous births and ultimately we decided, together, that we did want a home birth.  We decided to not only trust my body and the birth process, but trust the systems that were in place - my midwives and the hospital twelve minutes drive away.  

And part of us trusting the hospital is submitting ourselves to the decision that I'm not eligible.  I appreciate that I was even considered seriously and that Chris and I were able to make our own decision first.  I think it was a very important road for us to walk and I honestly believe that it would be extremely safe for me to have this baby at home.   But I barely feel disappointed, especially in light of pregnant and labouring women around the world.  I'm going to have my baby at a world-class hospital, my birth covered by the same midwives who helped me deliver my daughter and I've known now for almost three years.  I don't want to find myself complaining about being so well cared for when many women have no access to the healthcare they need to survive.  

//

I'm so grateful for the friends who have been praying for us through this pregnancy, and even those who are in places of longing and grief when it comes to babies of their own, have supported and reached out to us.  I've felt acutely that our ease and joy throughout this pregnancy could cause others whose hearts are broken and arms empty to feel their grief even more deeply.  Somehow there is grace to journey together, carrying each other's burdens and celebrating each other's expectancy.  I think the healing reign of God is there, arriving gently and quietly when we open up our hearts to make room for someone else, even when it's really, really hard.  I have some really beautiful friends.

On Mother's Day at church a woman shared about losing her first child, a baby girl, a few days after her birth.  The baby had a congenital heart problem and her mother, left with no picture of her, has written her a birthday card every single year, her fortieth birthday would have been this month.  As she spoke I cried quietly and didn't know how I would get up and sing when she was done sharing.  I pulled it together somehow and sang a song I had written in 2005, while volunteering at a hospital in southern Nigeria.  I made it through most of the third verse, 

"Emmanuel, can you hear us now?  The whole earth groans in labour.  Can you birth your kingdom here?  Will heaven come despite our fear?

And we pray to you and we hope in you and we wait for you expecting you to come."

I sang the word 'come' with all of my greatly pregnant body and heart, broke a string on my husband's guitar and broke down into sobs.  I kept strumming and after a minute or so I continued to sing …

"Come Lord, Jesus
We need you to deliver us
We are exhausted and the pain is strong
Tell us it won't be lo-ong
For the pain is strong"

I want to allow these labour pains, whenever they come, to connect me into creation's own labour pains - in the lives of people I know intimately and my sisters and their children around the world.  There is something beautiful and holy, not in experiencing pain, but in choosing to share it.  It's something of God born into the world.



(this is a very rough and old recording of the song, with my friend Cale on the harmonica)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

misconceptions: facing the inevitable pain of doing hard and beautiful things

I'm writing some short posts inspired by Naomi Wolf's book "Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood".  You can read my first post here and my second post here.
 
 

Giving birth is painful.  Amen?

Naomi Wolf writes, "Traditionally trained doctors and nurses often deal with the pain of childbirth by assuming that women can't handle it and medicating them at the earliest onset.  Naturalists on the fringes of the movement, on the other hand, can treat pain in a way that borders on puritanical.... [they] sometimes romanticize the pain either by minimizing how excruciating it can be or by idealizing women who choose to undergo it without resorting to drugs.  They use euphemisms such as "discomfort" and "intensity" to describe the pain of birth, or "rushes" and "surges" to describe what can be agonizing contractions." (184)  Wolf recognizes these ideological naturalists as being on the fringes of the natural birth movement, which is truly made of up of people (like Ina May Gaskin, a naturalist who is also a realist) working hard to "humanize in the United States what should be the normal and --dare we reclaim it?--beautiful experience of giving birth. (185)

Does this seem like a contradiction, Naomi Wolf writing about the agonizing, near torturous pain that usually accompanies some part of labour for women giving birth and then calling the whole process still a 'beautiful experience'?  Does preparing women for how extremely painful birth likely will be necessarily bring fear into their experiences or can it actually empower them to face the pain with more resilience and tenacity and courage?

My first experience with labour pains was when I lost our first baby very early in pregnancy.  After a couple days of spotting which became heavy bleeding and an ultra-sound showing our tiny baby with no heartbeat, the pain began.  It was a few hours of the most excruciating cramps I'd ever experienced and in some ways it rivaled the pain of labouring with my two living children.  There was no rhythm to the pain, and no relief.  I rocked on all fours on our bed sobbing, a hot water bottle against my abdomen, my brand new husband of two months rubbing my back and quietly praying, having nothing to offer but his presence in my very physical grief.  After a few hours the pain lifted and the hardest part of the loss was over in my body - so many of us know too well how long lasting the pain is in our hearts.  I'm still amazed at how physically painful the miscarriage was even at such an early stage of pregnancy - but it helped me embrace that something very real had just happened, something very dark and difficult, something that would be written into our marriage and onto our hearts.  That precious honeymoon baby was not a dream, and the loss of that life was not something I needed to quickly brush aside because I was young and fertile and would likely have healthy children.  The pain was able to unite my memories to my actual physical body.

During pregnancy I never was too entranced by the idea of having a pain-free birth; I saw the pain as a rite of passage, something that would be preparing me for the extremely grueling task of mothering real live humans.  Most of the really good things we do in our lives are also really, really hard.  I won't go into the details of labour with the two children who are asleep in our bedroom as I type, but they were both very painful.  No orgasmic birth experiences here.  I had to fight very hard to keep myself on top of the contractions mentally as well as practicing lots of active birthing techniques to keep my body upright and moving.  

Both of my labours unfortunately involved Synotocinon (Pitocin) at some point which increased the intensity and frequency of contractions to an almost unbearable pace.  I look forward to labouring without any sort of drugs increasing the pain to my body, but I do know that even without syntocinon, labour can be extremely painful.  Even my friends who had very peaceful births found the experience at some point to be shocking.  One friend is an experienced midwife whose home water birth felt like she was being torn apart in the process and she worried that she wouldn't be able to handle being with labouring women ever again.

It took some time, but she was able to process her experience and it increased her capacity for empathy when her clients were in the throes of labour.  She knew how close they felt to death in those moments, how they were not being dramatic or weak but were facing some of the greatest pain that humans can experience.

Wolf writes,

"No one informed me even remotely in our birth classes about the kind of courage you need to tap into during labor.  Yet women who are prepared psychologically and physically for extreme pain - prepared, perhaps, to do battle - may well be better able to manage the trial of labor with less fear -- and possibly with fewer medical interventions." (p 93) 

What if pregnant women were helped to understand how physically painful and difficult labour can be, and all the million dark places your mind will take you in those hours?  Rather than suggesting quick escapes from the pain before it begins or minimizing the grueling intensity of labour, what if women were given as much support as possible to face the pain head on? 


People experience pain in unique ways based on many psychological and physical variables - there is no place to judge each other and our decisions when in the extremely vulnerable place of active labour.  For some women, labour is just hard work and for others it is so much more excruciating than that.  I have friends who had extremely long and difficult labours and found an epidural to really help them cope mentally and their body to relax enough to continue the labouring process.  I have friends who were encouraged to have epidurals not realizing how close they were to being fully dilated and ready to push and in hindsight wished they hadn't.  When women are given good support and accurate information they and their partners can make good decisions for themselves.  I think that those decisions can look very different for different people and that women whose labours and births go many different ways can all feel very proud of themselves.  What's sad is when a woman feels they have no choice, no options, and that they were unsupported and unprepared for what labour would bring.

I wrote in my last post about how I erupted into joyful sobbing when I was deep into active labour with my daughter.  That wasn't because the pain had eased, but because I felt so alive and strong and free in the midst of incredible physical pain and emotional uncertainty.  (That being said, when my labour was later augmented with Syntocinon for the last two hours, I relied heavily on nitrous oxide (gas) to help me not completely fall apart.  I was extremely close to accepting the epidural that was being offered to me by a doctor and that was within only twenty minutes of being on the drip.)

At 34 weeks in this pregnancy I can say that I'm looking forward to labour again, even though neither of my previous births went the way I had hoped or anticipated.  While I don't have any assurances that things will be miraculously different this time, I'm still really expectant that they can be.  There are choices we will make differently that will likely increase our chances of having a peaceful birth but ultimately bringing a child into the world is a wild, beautiful, holy thing and nobody is fully in control.

If I believe anything to be truer than true about God, it's that we're never left alone in our pain.  As I wrote in a song, one of my most profound experiences of God has been as a midwife, who labours with us all night.  When we desperately fear pain and avoid it at all costs we miss incredible opportunities to connect with the human experience and the Divine presence.  If we are naive about how joy and pain in life are inextricably intertwined, we will often bypass the risks required to experience life more fully.  And if I believe anything about pain - whether it's the pain of healthy babies born or the pain of grief, loss and chaos - it's never wasted.  Not that all pain inherently has purpose like labour, but God can write meaning and purpose into our very real experiences of pain.  Jessica Kelley writes about this eloquently on her blog after losing her four year old son to brain cancer.  We can partner with God to see green living things come from the black ashes of our burned out forests.  And we can trust that one day, the whole world will be born new, free of suffering and fully alive.

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Do you resonate with what I've written here about pain, or maybe you see things differently?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.