I love this birth story by Emily. I think that too often we shy away from talking about the pain of childbirth (we are afraid to scare people) but I love how Emily talks about the pain she experienced and how that pain was a powerful, life-changing event for her that brought her closer to the Savior. I espeically LOVE the picture of her (below) holding on to the hospital bed. The look on her face is priceless, and captures a feeling that most women who have born a child can relate to. Yet, what I love more than the look on her face, is the look on her mother’s face (who is standing by the bed). She is smiling and you can tell that she was Emily’s “angel standing by” lovingly acknowledging that even though she didn’t think she was strong enough, even though she thought it was too much, that she was doing a great job. I have stood by the bedside of many women in labor and I think what I love most is seeing them conquer what they didn’t think they could. It is an experience that always leaves me in tears. There is real power and strength in enduring and overcoming pain, espeically when you don’t think you can do it.
Our Bunny is 2 months old now, and I still have not managed to properly sit and reflect on her birth. Life with my particular 4 children comes at you a mile a minute. There is no down time, and if you do sit still for 10 solid minutes your fatigue will come rolling in like a tsunami to remind you how foreign decent rest has become.
I persist anyway, if only because this promethian marathon version of my life is still infinitely better than my particular brand of being pregnant. Sure everything I do is undone within minutes, but at least I can do it without puking.
Bunny is fitting seamlessly into our household of boys, and already she has a humanizing effect on their bedlam. In many ways she is far more capable of taming the crazies than I am.
So now that she’s comfortably nestled into our hearts and consciences, it’s getting tricky to recall life without her niche filled. I’d better get this remembered and hammered out before my amnesia is complete.
It was late summer when my brain made the connection. I was depressed. Also, I needed to actually do something about it. And God conveniently aligned some synapses to realize that a reasonable first step would be to read the book about spiritual aspects of pregnancy and birth that a blogger I follow had contributed to. It’s called The Gift of Giving Life. And it worked.
A rather fluid collection of thoughts, essays, and experiences, it impressed me primarily in 3 ways. The first being that God is terribly concerned with how people enter and exit this life, and very willing to be an active participant in both. The second being that most women have come to see birth as a necessary evil. In public we make horribly degrading jokes about giving birth, but spiritually affirming stories are becoming rare. Too few women make their birthing decisions prayerfully. And the third being a truckload of insights into the things that women can glean from a spiritual birthing experience. The sheer quantity of parallels between a woman going into labor and Christ facing Gethsemane is staggering.
And so I began to pray. My 3 boys had all been induced with epidurals, and I knew I had prayed very little about those choices. In fact they hardly felt like my own choices. The inductions were always for someone else’s convenience. And I am a programmed accommodator. I felt very little ownership for the experiences I’d had.
So my goal became a simultaneous taking control while giving up control. I wanted to have the most meaningful experience possible, and the one God wanted for me. I played it by ear and attempted to involve Mr Renn in the crazy world of the inside of my head. He was none too thrilled, but thankfully the book includes an essay on how husbands can and should support their wives through pregnancy and delivery, and thankfully I got Mr Renn to read it.
And so factors collided and I found myself with what might have seemed like a worst case compromise. I was to attempt an unmedicated induced delivery. I felt like a crazy person trying to explain it to my nurse. But because God is in charge, it turned out that she’d done the very same thing once herself, and so I didn’t have to endure it with a nurse thinking I was crazy.
From the beginning of the pitocin drip, I just positioned my brain in a place where I told myself it was too late to get an epidural. This was probably not true until my water was broken (many hours later) but telling myself I had no choice but to get through this experience to the other side of it was essential to my morale.
Because, you see, I was simultaneously terrified and comforted. I knew my body could do this, it had done it three times before. I had just never been fully participatory alongside my body. I had elected to withdraw from my own body and to be a mere observer of it’s wonders. And that very choice sounded very sound and desirable to me through hours of not-terribly-productive pitocin contractions.
But I had felt so very numb inside for so many months at that point, that to feel anything that intense was in itself a relief. I felt more alive and present and productive than I had for such a long time. It felt good to moan and bellow and to care.
And then, after more than 6 hours of contracting in circles, my doctor finally arrived and gave the ok to break my water. I had figured out that this would be the magic bullet that would really get things going, and that allowing my water to be broken was going to mean barreling full-speed into the hard, productive, real throes of having a baby.
birth photos by Samantha Johnson
And it was a profound moment, being surrounded by people there to love and support me, yet going into this totally on my own. Having them there for me meant a lot, but there was nothing any of them could do to take it away from me. I was the only one who could deliver her. I knew it wasn’t going to kill me, but I had no idea how close to the threshold of my capacity I was actually going to come. I suppose I still don’t know for sure, but it was infinitely closer to the edge than anything else I’ve ever felt.
I handed it over, with a “Dear Lord, if I am capable of this, it is only because You built me to be. This is Your plan and Your miracle, and I am only the instrument. Do Your stuff.”
My body’s particularly fast approach to delivery meant I literally felt like I was being torn into 3 or 4 pieces. I screamed inhuman screams and felt consistently surprised that my body could make such a noise. I couldn’t open my eyes, I was so certain I would see myself in pieces.
There was that moment when I so terribly wanted it all to go away. And the pressure to push was well matched with the pain that pushing added to my heap o’pain. I had to pep-talk myself inside of my head. “There is no way to avoid this pain. There is no way to avoid this pain. The only thing to hope for is to get it over with, and the only way to do that is to push until it’s over.” And so I managed to push when pushing caused me the most exquisite pain. The sort of pain that would normally make you recoil and never go back. Imagine putting your hand on a hot stove and keeping it there. That was pushing.
I was naively expecting instant relief after she was born. And certainly the worst was over, but I was so exhausted and was beginning to be in shock. And I still had a placenta to deliver and crazy painful contractions going on. Oh, and the joy of getting an episiotomy with only a topical anesthetic. Try taking a stapler to your most tender parts. And once the shock settled in I shook uncontrollably for an hour.
But there she was, delivered. And all I could think when I looked at her was how sorry I was for what she’d been through if it had been even a fraction as painful as my experience. All I could say over and over was that I was so sorry she’d had to go through that, and weren’t we both glad to be on this side of that experience.
What has surprised me is how gradually that experience has come to frame everything that will ever come after it. It wasn’t a magnificent apex all contained in that little labor and delivery room. It’s an entire paradigm shift that I’ll have with me the rest of my days. Every time I contemplate the Atonement of Christ for the rest of my life I will inevitable base my perception on the extremes I felt and faced there. “If it be possible, remove this cup from me,” “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” and “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; “ all meant something they didn’t before. And Christ said himself, “ A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16:21)
And so, I am relieved that I have done it. Especially so that if Bunny herself ever faces that experience I can know what it is. It feels appropriate that I actually experienced labor delivering my first child who might ever know labor herself. I’m not sure whether I’d elect to do it again, and I’m grateful I don’t have to make that choice yet. But I cannot deny it was at least as valuable as it was painful. And considering it was the most painful thing I’ve known (by a long shot), that is a life-changing decision I made, wasn’t it?