When I first became pregnant at 22 years old I really didn’t understand or appreciate the miracle that was taking place within my body and viewed many of the changes of pregnancy in a disconnected way. I had naively assumed that it would all just happen and that it shouldn’t require any effort or preparation on my part. I did not read much about the physical changes and demands of pregnancy, labor/delivery, or breastfeeding and so was not able to appreciate the beautiful benefits that can come from psychologically preparing yourself to give your body over to these processes. Instead I was caught off guard by the challenges and began to view pregnancy and motherhood as more of a cross to bear than a blessing.
The nausea and vomiting made my first experience of pregnancy less than idyllic and left me feeling more a victim of my fertility and childbearing abilities than a blessed vessel carrying new life. I shared in an earlier post how this was the first time in my life that I could understand why some women choose abortion to escape the misery of pregnancy. I went into labor and delivery with a “Save me!” mentality and was rewarded with a pitocin induction, an epidural, and 27 miserable hours of labor. Then after I met my beautiful baby, I continued grudgingly down the road of new motherhood by developing a uterine infection and becoming massively engorged that first week postpartum trying to figure out breastfeeding.
My second child was another very difficult pregnancy and delivery (hyperemesis, premature rupture of membranes, pitocin induction, epidural, poorly positioned baby, 33 hours of back labor, and over 4 hours of pushing). During that difficult day and a half of bringing him into this world, I began to have visions of Christ’s Passion and death on the cross. At the height of my contractions I would have vivid flashes of Him falling under the weight of the cross. I could see Him struggling to get up and go forward knowing that the end would bring Him death. I began to wonder if I was dying too! I don’t think it was a coincidence that my son was born at exactly Mercy Hour, 3:00pm after 33 long hours of labor. This was a spiritual lesson for me and I felt somehow more connected to our Lord after this birth. I wasn’t sure at the time what the lesson exactly was, but in my third pregnancy and delivery I was able to reflect back and see what God was trying to teach me.
As I began my third pregnancy in four years with two young boys at home to care for already, I felt exhausted and not sure if I trusted God to handle my fertility and family planning from here on out. I was dreading the difficulties of pregnancy and was terrified of the pain of undergoing another long, hard labor. I felt disappointed about my two previous births, yet didn’t know how to voice that and still be thankful for my beautiful sons. There was something about those first two births that left me feeling unfulfilled and discontent, but I couldn’t find the words to describe it properly.
I took my anger and confusion to Our Lord in confession and was given wonderful advice from a priest to just “have it out with God, He can handle it”. So I took a long drive that day and loudly voiced my discontent with my situation. That priest was right, God could handle it. As I drove I began again to have those same visions from my last labor of the Passion of Christ and could see Him struggling to go forward under the weight of the cross. I remembered with dread the pains that came with carrying my own cross of pregnancy and delivery and started to feel sorry for myself. But this time as the visions came I could also see that Calvary was not a place Jesus was dreading to arrive at, but rather was a place of fulfillment for Him. It was His goal and He was repeatedly getting up and going forward not because He was afraid of the pain of the soldiers’ whips, but because He knew relief and accomplishment, and most importantly the completion of God’s plan for Him awaited Him at that place.
He wanted to get to Calvary. He was not afraid of Calvary. He trusted the Will of the Father so much so that the suffering He knew He must endure to reach His own death did not deter Him from going forward to meet it.
Now I suddenly remembered the Garden of Gethsemane and His prayer only hours before asking the Father to spare Him from this pain; but not that His own will but the Father’s be done. I realized suddenly that I was in Gethsemane begging God to spare me from the trial at hand and hoping He would release from the impending pain. I looked over and saw Jesus doing the same thing as I was. But then as I watched Him, I saw the peace that eventually settled over Him as the Father held Him and reassured Him that His body had been created for this exact purpose. I could see the consolation He was feeling as He placed His trust in His Heavenly Father and the confidence He gained in the realization that His body would not fail Him. The knowledge that God had made Him to do exactly this thing helped Him to go forward not as a victim, but as a willing participant in His own suffering and death. I realized suddenly that my reluctance to embrace the difficulties of pregnancy and childbearing was not actually a physical struggle for me as I previously claimed, but a spiritual struggle.
I didn’t trust God. I couldn’t believe that He had made my body capable of doing what He was asking. I was holding back in embracing the abilities of my body because of the associated pain, and therefore was never arriving at my Calvary with the dignity and accomplishment that I desired. It was like I was being dragged there by the soldiers, complaining about every rock and bump that they dragged me over! I was being symbolically dragged to my births and dreading the culminating moments of God’s plan for my life. Not exactly Christlike.
As soon as I clarified the thought in my mind I knew it was true. I doubted that God had made my body to do this. I doubted that I’d ever go into labor naturally or that I was capable of pushing out a baby and nurturing it with my body without problems. I doubted my ability to understand my own fertility in planning our family. I feared the failings of my body and internalized them as some sort of personal handicap. I blamed God for continually asking me to accept my fertility and motherhood without acknowledging my struggles. Now I was finally realizing that my fear and doubt were holding me back from reaching my goals and that until I moved forward with confidence in His love for me, I would not feel the accomplishment and joy that I longed for in this experience.
From this point on I took a different approach to preparing for birth. I surrounded myself with positive messages about the abilities of my body and prayed for the faith to trust God’s plan for my family. I read hundreds of amazing birth stories and learned about the spiritual benefits of breastfeeding. Slowly my entire view of the gifts of fertility, childbearing, and breastfeeding changed. I could see these uniquely feminine abilities as the blessings they are to our world and began to see that by embracing them, I was embracing a message that God had to share with all women. “Woman, you are created good.”
My third labor and delivery went very well and I finally had the unmedicated, uncomplicated birth I had been hoping for from the very beginning. It only took 3 hours to have my daughter in my arms when I finally stopped dragging my feet and went forward with excitement to my Calvary. My fourth birth went even better with a waterbirth in the comfort of my home that lasted under an hour! I played my favorite cd by an amazing Christian artist, Danielle Rose, and by the end of it had a sweet little boy to cuddle up with and go to sleep with that night.
The temptation for me to despair and feel fear about the pains of labor has never gone away. As I near the birth of my fifth child this next month or so, I continually have to remind myself to release myself over to God’s will. I understand that there is always a chance something might go wrong that is beyond my control and that God may choose to challenge me in different ways with this child and birth, but now I am able to more clearly see His hand in this aspect of my life. God, the Creator of my body, the Third Person of my marriage, the Guide of my family knows what is best and will not ask more of me than I am able to give. I know I have many more lessons to learn in this life and am thankful for a God that doesn’t give up on providing us opportunities for the sanctification of our souls. I can only go into this birth and accepting this child with the attitude of trust and confidence that He has it covered. Whatever will be, will be. And I will not get in the way of it. I will walk and not be dragged because I know that He has asked this of me and that He will not abandon me in my time of need.
Jesus, I trust in You.