*The following post is written by my lifelong friend, Leah. Check out some of her work by clicking here.*
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
Have you ever thought about this verse? How interesting! Why would someone who mourns be considered blessed or another use of this same Greek word is happy. So… happy are they which mourn? I don’t know about you but I am not happy when I am mourning.
I recently learned about this portion of scripture and thought it very applicable to my profession. I am a Doula. The word doula means servant or slave in Greek. But today a doula is what is known as a non-medical support for a woman giving birth. Some refer to a doula as a birth companion, coach or advocate.
Several months in advance I will meet with a mom-to-be. After she decides that I am a good addition to her labor team, a new relationship begins. Close to her due date, I am on call for her at any hour of the night. At the onset of labor I am notified and hours later (usually) I am requested at her home to help her and her husband with comfort measures, positioning, relaxation techniques and other support.
Usually a mom requesting my services is one that desires to have a natural birth. By natural I mean an unmedicated, vaginal birth. At this point in telling people what I do I either get an eyebrow furrow coupled with a slight head tilt or I get a smile and a nod. The first expression indicates “Why on earth would a mother choose no medication for birthing a baby when the medicine that is available is used by millions of people and is proven to have positive effects…I know from personal experience.”
The culture we live in today wants nothing to do with pain. I dare say that there is some type of medication to numb every kind of perceived pain – emotional, physical, and spiritual. But is that really how pain should be handled? Is that how God intended pain to be treated? Or is there some greater purpose to the pain that we experience?
While all of the pain that life brings us can and should be addressed individually, I am only going to address the pain of childbirth. Starting with all of the risks of medication would be an easy way to scare people away from its use, but first I would rather shed light on some potential benefits of making a decision to forgo medication in childbirth.
The verse above indicates a very REAL truth: Those that mourn will be comforted. One of the most amazing benefits that I have seen in natural childbirth is the bonding experience that takes place between a husband and wife. It’s hard to comfort someone that seems to be handling things on their own. The few times that I’ve seen an epidural administered I’ve also seen a complete dynamic change. Now, there’s nothing for the husband to do – just sit and wait for a doctors instruction. He will start watching t.v., playing on his phone or sleeping. The pain medication has now taken the place of the husband. On the opposing end, I have seen how attentive, caring, empathetic and comforting even the sternest of husbands are when they see their wife, a person that they deeply love, working so hard toward a goal. I can speak from experience when I say that the birth of our son left a deep and lasting impression that further sealed our love for one another. For him it was seeing a vulnerable yet strong woman and for me it was his service and attentiveness toward me.
Another benefit I often observe from women that choose natural childbirth is the inner confidence they have as a mother. The use of medication can leave a woman feeling like they barely played a role in the birth of their child. And becoming a mom can be a very confusing time with lots of learning and questions. “Am I holding him right?,” “Is he getting enough to eat?,” “Is he sleeping too much?,” “Is he not sleeping enough?” All questions that I hear asked time and time again. After going through the difficult and trying moments of labor (especially transition) and coming out at the other side realizing “Wow, I did it!” You have an inner confidence in your body, yourself, your ability to mother and the God that designed it all.
Talk to any Obstetrician and if forced they cannot deny the “Cascade of Interventions.” This phrase means that with each intervention used during labor, a greater risk to the mother and baby exist and further it can require yet another intervention to “fix” the latest intervention which often times results in a c-section. Right now the U.S. C‑section rate is at 33% (that’s 1/3 of the population born by C‑section). Before you think “It’s a good thing we have modern medicine to save so many women and children” consider this: The World Health Organization states that the best outcome for women and babies occurs when cesarean rates are between 5%-10%. Any more than that is doing more harm than good (childbirthconnection.org).
While going into an operating room may not seem like that big of a deal, remember: This is the first time you are meeting your baby! You are either unconscious or in a very uncommon state; your baby is in a cold, sterile environment where it first gets suctioned (most likely with a tube down the throat, which makes breastfeeding more challenging later), weighed, wiped down, diapered, blanketed and THEN given to you. Furthermore, mental and physical recovery after this operation requires hours. You have just had a major operation and are expected to care for an infant that needs to be fed every 2-3 hours through the night. Holding the baby and breastfeeding are painful. After the early, difficult problems subside, there are long-term effects: an increased chance of uterine rupture each time you have a c-section and doctors that don’t like to take on vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) patients.
What I just described is not completely certain to happen to you of course. There are particular instances that end in necessary cesareans. However, wouldn’t you rather understand the risks before you concede to a birth without pain? It can come at a cost. I believe that God’s design – to experience pain in childbirth – ultimately is a great gift that has significant rewards that are hard to comprehend unless experienced.
I want to be very clear in saying that I do not believe that the use of medication is wrong. Please don’t misunderstand me. But I encourage you ask the question “Why am I experiencing this (physical, emotional or spiritual) pain?” Seek to cure the source rather than simply eliminate its effects. Use pain as an indicator of something deeper.