When mothers describe their experiences with natural childbirth, in books and movies and blog posts touting its benefits, they'll often describe feeling empowered, exhilarated, strong.
When I gave birth to my second child, one of my nurses affirmed, "Girl, you're a real woman." Never once did I cry out for an epidural; miraculously, I didn't even consider asking for one. Pain meds had no place in my schema.
But here's the thing: Natural childbirth is really, really excruciating. While I understand that many women indeed feel empowered by delivering new life into the world, I don't share the feeling. Childbirth is the most painful, breaking experience I have ever had. And, I must remember, why shouldn't it be? "To the woman he said, 'I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children....'" (Gen. 3:16). Like my sister, Eve, I am under the Curse.
I prepared well for my son Jesse's birth two years ago. I went to the classes, read lots of Ina May and the like, even held ice cubes on my wrist for various lengths of time to practice pain management (and did pretty well with those cubes, I might add). But at a point during the long and exhausting labor, I lost the sense of peace and control I had worked so hard to establish. In that moment, I screamed, stricken and defeated, and felt a dark sense of failure envelop me.
The pushing seemed eternal, and while Jesse's appearing brought great relief and joy, my body was spent and my spirit broken. The expectations I had going into labor—expectations of what labor would be like and expectations of how I would handle it—had been majorly amiss. The physical and psychological pain was nearly unbearable.
Thankfully, I worked through the psychological junk from that experience, and my daughter's labor and delivery were free of those cobwebs. I screamed plenty, free and unashamed of myself, and the labor was mercifully short. I was ready to push when we pulled up to the hospital, and Ruth was born 20 minutes later.
In the midst of delivery I again felt broken and completely incapable of the task at hand, possibly in new ways because of the unrelenting speed. I can honestly say that I don't know how it happened, how she came out of my body, because at the time that seemed impossible. Despite the brevity of my labor, the process felt perhaps even more painful than my first. I was at the mercy of those brutal waves and could barely catch my breath.
In the dark early morning hours after Ruthie's birth I was able to reflect quietly on what I had just endured. I wept and whispered to the Lord. I praised him for a complication-free delivery and for my beautiful, healthy girl--blessings too wonderful for me. My gratitude overflowed. But I cried also for the Curse--the small death that occurred in me as I faced the incomprehensible task of pushing a person out of my body, the inexhaustible pain that battered me in those hours and again shattered any sense of strength or control I had.
In that intimate darkness I had a sense, for the briefest moment, of the Lord weeping with me. I could liken it only to Jesus weeping for Lazarus' death. He knew the life that was ahead for Lazarus, yet he assumed in those minutes our pitiful and pained perspective. Mary and Martha were not put to shame. They were not admonished for faithlessness. They were met deeply and sweetly in their grief and then given one of the greatest earthly gifts they would ever receive.
I, too, sensed the Lord's pure sympathy. I sensed him saying, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry that, yes, you too are under the Curse in this life, my daughter. But this trial is over now. You went through it. I love you." There was a real blessing in those moments. He was near.
Mercifully, life comes forth from such a death. By God's design, the brokenness of labor is not an end—it's a means—and I have experienced just as fully the joyful, overwhelming end of my labors. As I write, I have a six-day-old baby girl in fleece duckie pajamas zipped up in my hoodie, asleep on my chest. It's really quite wonderful—a far cry from just a week ago, when I entered the throes of labor and delivery.
If I have it to do again, I can already say I would choose the same unmedicated path, daunting as it is. I don't choose it because I come away feeling strong or invigorated. Rather, I choose natural childbirth on principle: because I believe it's the safest route for my baby and for me. I guess I don't need to feel empowered.
In fact, maybe what I need, what we all need, is to feel weak. Maybe we need to feel out of control and completely dependent on the mysterious strength and ability of God and his design. Maybe we need to feel broken and torn so that we can be met there in those dark, quiet hours of the morning.
Sarah Scherf writes about motherhood, marriage, and faith. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, two babies, and a beagle.
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