As I approach the birth of my third baby I feel a sense of profound peace about it— but that’s not what I felt the first time around. The Internet is full of all sorts of helpful (but somewhat overwhelming) information about little birthing details like cord clamping and skin-to-skin contact. Now, I’m grateful for the medical advances that give me the ability to care about these details. I’m still going to show up with a “birth plan” this time. But, in having both “types” of births, I’ve learned an important lesson: Birth is always going to be beautiful and life-changing. It’s worth doing your research but it’s not worth obsessing over the way it all happens.
The birth of my firstborn taught me a lot about what I was capable of. It taught me those things they tell you that natural birth will teach you— about how great the body is, about how strong a woman is, about the power of the mind, and so forth. After twenty hours of labor with no progression and the likelihood of a c-section, I made a desperate plea to my baby. I walked him through what he should do and how he should do it. I told him not to be afraid. I told him I was ready for him. Within an hour of this little talk, my baby was out. The nurses and doctor were shocked. I was shocked. I felt stronger than ever. I trusted my own intuition, bodily awareness, and motherly instincts. I didn’t have drugs running through my brain. I was wearing my own clothes from home, in a room with my husband with candles and flowers set up around us. I felt alert and proud and bonded to my son. Shortly after, I was walking around and eating pregnancy-forbidden soft cheese and prosciutto. Three days later, I was well enough to celebrate his baptism. I felt triumphant, having avoided a dreaded c-section. My body did what it was meant to do. I felt like I did what I was meant to do.
Two and a half years later, laying on an operating table, half my body numb and hidden from view, hooked up to machines, in a drab hospital gown, under ultra-bright lighting, and afterwards, partially sedated with valium, I delivered my second son by c-section. And it was no less beautiful. Now, my c-section did not teach me how great the body is (although it did teach me how great medicine can be). I was very proud of my general lack of anxiety (no valium until the baby was out!), but I didn’t have some triumphant mind-over-body moment. I felt very brave, for sure— but I didn’t really feel strong. In fact, I felt very weak. I felt extremely vulnerable and helpless. My c-section made me feel like birth was not something to be conquered or controlled or mastered. My c-section made me feel like birth was a miracle. When I saw my second son lifted up under those harsh, bright lights I didn’t think I did it! I thought, HE did it.
The birth of my first son taught me a lesson in believing in myself and the birth of my second son taught me a lesson in believing in God. Both matter. Both are essential lessons for parenthood and for life. So when people ask me which type of birth I preferred, I don’t have a simple answer. I wish my second son had gotten more probiotics and I wish I wasn’t so loopy when I held him. I wish I didn’t have the longer recovery or the increased general risks. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to be reminded that a woman’s body can’t do everything. And no woman should be ashamed of that. Parenthood is no different from the rest of life: You do your best. You give your best. You ask God to do the rest.