At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Recently a friend sent me a recommendation for a book written against the natural child birth movement. I haven’t read it, but whenever in life I actually have time to do so I want to read it along with the book I keep hearing about from the woman who started the natural childbirth movement on a farm. I’ve become pretty intrigued at trying to understand how these women come up with their philosophical positions concerning childbirth. On the one hand, the natural childbirth movement argues that the process is totally natural and should be left alone. On the other hand, the doctor writing the book my friend recommended argues that pain is not natural, nor is it considered a human good; therefore, the pain of childbirth should not be considered natural and something to leave unmedicated. Suffering is not something people should view as “normal” or “natural,” and we should attempt to alleviate the suffering a woman experiences in childbirth. I find this ideological divide fascinating, particularly for what it says about the secular world we live in.
Apart from an understanding of creation that maintains it was designed to be good, and apart from a belief in the fall and resulting curse of that which was designed to be good, I’m not sure how you would navigate the conundrum of childbirth. Apart from the seemingly Biblical idea that pain in childbirth is not natural, I think the natural birthers have the philosophical upper hand. Totally apart from the fact that the natural birthers only get to focus on the experience and believe the things they believe due to historical privilege (natural childbirth can only be romanticized the way it is given the availability of medical intervention for situations that go wrong and our dramatically low mortality rates compared with the rest of history), I think they are at least ideologically consistent in promoting the idea that women should not be afraid of something that is at its most basic level natural to their bodies.
And yet, the natural childbirth movement is inconsistent in their idea of pain. Where else in life do people glorify natural pain – as opposed to chosen pain in order to achieve such as an athlete would endure – and make it meaningful and transcendent? To believe that everything about childbirth is totally natural, and therefore totally good, you are pretty much left with concluding that either women are the most screwed over biological entities on the face of the planet evolutionarily speaking, or that pain and suffering in childbirth is somehow the only place in the world we believe physical pain to be a holy, meaningful experience. If the pain and threat of childbirth is truly natural, then women are the biggest losers of the evolutionary game. If not, and we still want to maintain that childbirth should be left unmedicated for the natural spiritual experience it provides, might we not call it masochistic?
Pain seems to be a reality that neither side of this debate really knows how to adequately grapple with. The natural childbirthers make it integral to the identity and substance of womanhood, accepting evolution’s luck of the draw and attempting to bequeath it with meaning. The medical system rightly understands that suffering should not be inherent to anyone’s identity and that in order to protect the dignity of women, it is good to prevent or limit the pain which can so easily reduce women to vulnerability and misery. Yet in the process, the medical world so often forgets and overlooks what is good and beautiful about childbirth – that in some shape or form it is what women were created to do. The medical profession, as represented by the doctor writing this book, equivocates childbirth and a broken arm in order to suggest we are foolish not to offer women medical intervention; but arms don’t naturally break and women’s bodies do naturally produce babies.
Only the Biblical idea of fallenness seems really adequate to hold both realities together – that women’s bodies are made to do this thing and should be given room to make it work (natural childbirth) and that along with so many other things about our physical existence, childbirth is fallen and can do real, serious, and lasting harm to women, which we should try to prevent (medical intervention). More than anything else I can think of, childbirth stands at the crossroads between the glory and the shame of humanity. Only in childbirth do we catch such a crystal clear glimpse of what was meant to be – the power and strength of humanity exerting, maintaining, and producing life. And only in childbirth are we confronted with the futility and misery of life severed from fellowship with God, smashed into the fragmented remains of his image. For both woman and child, birth is a beautiful, glorious, God-imaging moment that cannot escape from the confines of suffering and death, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves of its transcendence.
Oh the beautiful, breathtaking mystery of the incarnation and the redemption it ushered in. The glorious marvel of Jesus is not only that the incarnated Son of God suffered death, but also that he suffered birth! How often do we contemplate the mysteries of the incarnation, marveling at Christ’s embodiment without thinking about his birth. His birth was not romantic and transcendent for Mary; and this is not because it was in a manger, but rather because it was just like every other birth. It involved the same mundane, banal pain that every woman and every baby has felt since Eve. The mystery of the incarnation not only involves the mystery of Jesus’ smallness; it involves the mystery of the God of the universe experiencing the banality of birth itself, since what was intended for glory can only ever offer pale reflections of the original design once it is fallen. In the cross Christ paid for sin. In the resurrection Christ finished death. And in his birth Christ redeemed the very idea of life itself.
About the Project
This is a very personal project. It tracks my growth and development as I journeyed toward motherhood over the recent years. It doesn't document every experience I had, and probably neglects my more joyful and peaceful moments in the frenzy of trying to communicate my fears, anxieties, and doubts. If you are a friend or loved one, please do not let anything you read here overshadow what you know of me personally. If you are a stranger, please remember that a living and flawed person stands behind these words. To all my guests here, please understand these are not political statements and try to extend me grace, even as I share my failures and foibles - I have repented of much of what I share. I don't share this journal as an exemplar, but rather out of the desire to share my hope that entrance to motherhood does not need to be a fearful thing - despite the very real fears I have fought against. Motherhood is simply a part of life and one through which I am discovering more of myself and my God.