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The Tragedy Of Childbirth: If It Hurts, Embrace It


This morning, around 5:30, my wife gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. This baby ended up coming 15 days after his original due date and was born at home, my wife’s first VBAC. Mother and child are both in absolutely wonderful, if exhausted, shape.

The 14 hours or so of labor were utterly depleting, surreal, and some of the most emotionally moving experiences I’ve partaken in. There are a few human experiences which draw out our character and beliefs through situational responses and participating in the birth of a child is one of the most moving and least discussed of these experiences.

I think we often shrug away from this sort of experience because of the amount of hope investment and lack of control available through such a trying time. People can argue statistics day and night about the safety and ethics of homebirth v. hospital birth or vaginal v. C-section, but in the end I think our prefered stance really comes out of our capability to accept life-threatening and potentially tragic situations without attempting to control them. No one wants to stand by and watch tragedy befall their loved ones, but it is a constant and real possibilty. While we understand a lot about the human body and how to “successfully” modify its efforts at the birthing process, the truth is that it knows what it’s up to and often our attempts to improve upon its effects can just as easily thwart an ideal outcome.

So why do we insist upon an ever more informed and proactive approach? I would agrue that it is generally out of a fear of experiencing the emotional gravity of a situation out of our own control. We would rather trust a professional and work to create the outcome than trust fate or nature, though the professional always knows less than what the natural body is capable of.

_________

As we slowly labored through the evening and the night, we experienced all available emotions. My wife was eager then scared, prayerful and penitent, cursing her existence and submissive to God’s will. She prayed for strength at time and at other times she prayed to die. She accused us of lying to her and of not trying to help her. She was a wreck and then she was utterly calm. She kept believing that she was incapable of birthing and it would never happen. Overall and through this, she was like a warrior whose battle was within her own mind and body.

I was there to help her as best I could through every contraction. Even though I didn’t experience any on the birthing pain, I got a front row seat to see the physical aspects of the pain. I shared in all her emotional fears and more. The sheer exhaustion of physically fighting a body as it tries to work a baby out creates insanity. Mostly I assumed that all the midwives thought I was a terrible husband. At times I thought of telling my wife to suck it up. I wanted to run away because I knew I wasn’t good enough. I sat in awe of her resolve. I decided that she should have tried to deal with the pain more efficiently. I knew at some point that my muscles would literally give out. Overall, we both went back and forth between having hope and losing faith. We had times of trusting each other, the birthing process in her body, the midwives, and God. We also separately experienced times of condemning one another, the entire experience, the people we had chosen to rely on, and the will of God.

Human beings need these definitive experiences. We need to run marathons that we have invested our very lives in, completely draining and testing our commitments and our trust. We tend toward shallowness and half-hearted relations. We don’t want to experience hardships that test our true merits and expose out faults. Hardships might provide solid feedback and consequences.

Pushing ourselves to emotional, physical, and spiritual brinks provides us with increased strength and knowledge of the reality of our current beliefs and what we are fit to accomplish. My wife did more than either of us originally wanted her to or expected her capable of, and she showed herself to be a hero of mine. Our son’s life is the memorial of his mother’s strength.

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I’ll leave you with this transcript of a comment from comedian Louis C.K. on the value of experiencing emotions to their fullness instead of living in distraction.

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard. . .

(After hearing a song that brought back sad memories.)

And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.

And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.

The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die.”

_________

Related reading

How To Get Rid Of Faith

Our Decisions Make Lives

What Daughters Should Expect From Their Fathers

17 comments

  1. Sending congratulations your way on this wonderful event! He is very sweet and I hope you both enjoy every moment with him. Thanks also for sharing the thoughts you experienced during his birth. We often hear what the woman is thinking but rarely do we get any insight into the husband’s turmoil. Very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much!

      Women who birth babies (through any method) and act as mommas are mighty impressive people! The birthing process obviously takes a far greater toll on them, but for a dad there are a lot of unique fears of loss and inadequacy as well!

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  2. So if you believe in “”embracing risk danger and potential tragedy”…why did you hire a midwife? Seems to me you are shying away from the risk involved in home birth by having a medical person attend your wife.

    If her uterus had ruptured, – you would have stayed home, right? After all – embrace the risk of a dead wife and baby.

    My congratulations to your wife – she did what billions of women have done before her. She’s a unique momma-warrior.

    Like

  3. Congrats to you and your wife on your beautiful boy. This is a well-written post and I agree with your sentiment about living life deeply.

    I think the above commenter is saying that it’s inconsistent to wax romantic about the value of facing sadness and grief and death related to a situation where everything turned out fine. Not all people who choose home birth are so lucky, and some of them end up facing life-scarring consequences. That’s why this post comes off as a little shallow.

    I agree wholly with your general point and I think it is a deep and meaningful one. We do often run away from challenge and sadness that can help us grow. Yes, most of us live in the comfort zone too much in this country and culture.

    I can see Samantha’s point: risk-taking is not black vs. white, comfort vs. growth. It’s a matter of the comfort, growth, and danger zones. The danger zone is very real in a post-dates VBAC homebirth birthing situation. Seeing loved ones harmed can damage people psychologically for life. There are other ways to experience life deeply that don’t involve putting your child and wife at risk of death.

    And if you truly embrace the risks, fine, but I doubt you would have chosen to birth at home if you knew 100% that either your wife or son would have died. I don’t think it is fair for anyone to say they accept the consequences of a potentially life-threatening situation unless they actually go through that situation.

    You were lucky to have an experience in the growth zone. I am so glad it was positive for your family, it just doesn’t turn out that way for everyone. Anyway, just some thoughts.

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  4. Congrats to you and your wife on your beautiful boy. This is a well-written post and I agree with your sentiment about living life deeply.

    I think the above commenter is saying that it’s inconsistent to wax romantic about the value of facing sadness and grief and death related to a situation where everything turned out fine. Not all people who choose home birth are so lucky, and some of them end up facing life-scarring consequences. That’s why this post comes off as a little shallow.

    I agree wholly with your general point and I think it is a deep and meaningful one. We do often run away from challenge and sadness that can help us grow. Yes, most of us live in the comfort zone too much in this country and culture.

    I can see Samantha’s point: risk-taking is not black vs. white, comfort vs. growth. It’s a matter of the comfort, growth, and danger zones. The danger zone is very real in a post-dates VBAC homebirth birthing situation. Seeing loved ones harmed can damage people psychologically for life. There are other ways to experience life deeply that don’t involve putting your child and wife at risk of death.

    And if you truly embrace the risks, fine, but I think most people who have lived through it would doubt anyone would choose to birth at home knowing 100% that either his wife or son would die. Just my perspective, but I agree it is unfair for anyone to say they accept the consequences of a potentially life-threatening situation unless they actually go through that situation.

    You were lucky to have an experience in the growth zone. I am so glad it was positive for your family, it just doesn’t turn out that way for everyone.

    Like

    1. So you’re saying that one can only be considered to have experienced real tragedy if someone dies? We should disregard any experiences or reflections from people who don’t lose someone? How can I judge whether someone else has experienced sufficient losses in their personal life to know they are worthy of the emotions they exhibit?

      What lifestyle changes can I make so that my wife and children will never be at risk of death?

      I can understand that going through a horrible personal situation and then reading someone else’s statements about a possible similar situation transpiring in their life can be really really hard to cope with, but mocking or questioning someone because they didn’t experience the things you did doesn’t help anyone move forward.

      The biggest flaw in this logic is assuming you have a grasp of what pains another person’s life has dealt them. Empathy and forgiveness are powerful tools, but just for caring for others, but for personal healing.

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      1. I think Mr Landers may have missed the point these commenters are making. There is a difference between growing through tragedy that is unavoidable, as opposed to courting a potential tragedy by choosing a high-risk course that threatens the wellbeing of two human beings.

        Running a marathon may involve a lot of sacrifice and effort to get fit, then a lot of pain both during and after the event, perhaps for days.

        Having a uterine rupture at home during labor may result in a dead or disabled mother and/or baby.

        Why would one intentionally court that type of grief – just in order to grow?

        Like

  5. I think it’s a lot easier to romanticize risks when everything turned out well. My son was injured during a traumatic homebirth. Lifelong and it effects his life every single day. The guilt, the emotions, the change in our lives… it’s a whole different life than we ever thought we’d live. So different than what I wanted for him. I used to think, “Well, there’s risk to everything.”, but after my son’s birth I learned that the statistics have faces to them and to really take into account the risks as a real possibility and to avoid the unnecessary ones. There has been good that has come from my son’s special needs because we’ve made the best of it, but by no means would I want to go through this again or do it the same if I had the chance for a re-do. Knowing my son would have been born healthy in a hospital, what did I do differently for my next births? I didn’t invite more unneeded trauma into our lives, I went to where the risks proved to be smaller for my other children. A blessed, lifesaving hospital.

    There are risks in life, but there are smart ways to go about them. Do my small children help on our farm? Yes. What ways do we minimize the risks of them getting hurt? They don’t mess with cattle that can run them over, they don’t run underneath tractor loaders, I don’t give them the needles and medicine to help give meds to sheep because they might slip and fall on a manure covered syringe, my husband only takes one at a time to build fence so he has only one child to keep track of, etc.

    After inviting risks on ourselves with our homebirth and receiving the consequences (well, my son did mostly), I agree with what you say about risks. They are a part of life. But I certainly try to go about risks smartly and with the idea to avoid the ones I can avoid! I do want to control the ones I can and so would our great-grandparents and their great-grandparents! Whether it be sitting by my son’s hospital beds as he cries in pain for hours or my Grandma being quarentined from my paralyzed father’s hospital room because of polio or my Great-Grandma fearing for my very premature great-aunt’s life as she placed her in a little box by the cookstove day after day after day… What would we have done differently to reduce the risks (though my relatives would have jumped at the chance to reduce the risks while I invited it)? I would have gave birth in a hospital hindsight being what it is, my grandma would have had my dad receive the polio vaccine, my great-grandma would have welcomed drugs to stop premature labor and the care of a hospital for her baby if the drugs would not have worked.

    Anyway, my point is there can be beauty that comes from accepting risks and good from tragedy, but most of us want to avoid the risks we can because life looks a lot different when the risks plays out.

    Congratulations on your new bundle of joy. I am very happy it went well for your wife and baby!

    Like

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