My first baby was hard to push out.
After an extended length of pushing he was born and we saw that he’d had his elbow up by his head (try reaching your arm to your opposite ear and you’ll have the right position, except he was so flexible his elbow was in line with his head). His unusual arm placement explained why pushing had been so hard and it also explained why I ended up with a really bad tear. It took the midwives almost an hour to sew up… not much fun.
Emotionally that tear took a toll on me. I felt like I had been split in two. I felt vulnerable, sensitive, and overwhelmed.
Two years later when my daughter was born I only ended up with a minor tear (which needed one stitch) but again it sent me on the same emotional rollercoaster. I remember changing her diaper and looking at her perfect, beautiful little girl parts and sobbing about how torn apart I felt.
So understandably one of my biggest fears about giving birth again was tearing. When I was pregnant with my third baby my midwife taught me how to give myself perineal pressure as his head crowned. That seemed to work and when he was born I didn’t tear at all. I was amazed at how much better I felt afterward and how much easier my recovery was.
Several months later I attend a birth as a doula. The mother was doing great but, like most women when they reach the final stages of labor, she was beginning to doubt herself. As an exceptionally hard contraction swept over her she screamed out, “ I can’t do it! I am going to rip in half! It is tearing me in half!” Twenty minutes later her baby was born, she hadn’t torn a bit, and she was ecstatic. But her exclamation really struck a chord inside of me and when I got home I pulled out my scriptures and read the story of Christ’s crucifixion. It was this scripture (which is given just after Christ dies) that I was searching for:
“And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. And the graves were opened; and my bodies of the saints with slept arose. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Matt. 27:51-53
As I thought back to my birth experiences and the exclamation of my doula client I realized that, in many ways, giving birth is being split in two. No matter how a woman gives birth her body must open– be rent in two– and allow a new life to pass through. This can be seen in the cervix (which is normally closed tightly) which must thin out (efface) and open (dilate) to allow the baby to be born. It seems so normal, because women all over the world do it everyday, but just think about it for a moment. How incredible is it that a woman’s body voluntarily opens it self wide enough for a baby to come through and then voluntarily closes itself back up again?
It is really a miracle. Like parting the red sea.
Birth is also a splitting in two because the baby which has grown in your womb for nine months is literally a part of you. Every cell and every molecule is a part of your very body and the baby is literally made from your flesh and blood. So as that child leaves the safety of your womb it is like loosing a part of yourself… a part of yourself that can never be gotten back. That splitting can be painful, and in the case of cesarean birth a woman is literally cut in two in order to bring mortal life to her child.
Yet the beautiful part is that what we endure to bring children into this world is symbolic of the sacrifice that our Savior Jesus Christ made for us. The motions our bodies go through, the pain, the sacrifice, the sensations we undergo are not meaningless; they are beautiful symbols that can– and should– turn our hearts towards Christ.
I recently gave birth to my fourth child and, while I didn’t tear this time either, her pushing experience was intense. At one point I sprang forward onto my hands and knees and, in my husband’s words, “howled” like a crazy woman– “Just get it out of me!” The sensations I experienced were so overwhelming that I literally felt like the baby was going to tear my body in half. Yet I pushed through it and minutes later she was in my arms.
My veil had been rent and a new life had emerged.
And let me tell you… it was so worth it.