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Are We Asking Too Much of Our Birth Stories?

Nynne Schrøder on Unsplash

Eight years ago this month, my expectations met their death.

Like millions of parents before us, we rejoiced at the faint pink line that showed up on our positive pregnancy test in the early morning hours. We went to work as different people that day. We went hopeful. We went excited. We went with smiles on our faces, knowing we had a secret.

I made my first OB appointment in my car while on my lunch break, lest anyone find out I was pregnant. I wanted to tell people on my terms, in my way.

I never got that chance.

Instead I had to tell my boss that I was pregnant and miscarrying all in the same breath. Just like that, it was over. I was pregnant, and then I wasn’t.

Month after month after month passed until the months became years, and we still didn’t have another faint pink line. Tests and medicine and more tests and more medicine and surgery all promised something—a baby. All failed us, until one morning we saw the line again.

Pregnant.

Our story is a broken one. We miscarried, we were infertile, and then we had twins. We miscarried again, we had Seth, we nearly lost Ben (and me), but we are here—a family of six, with two in heaven.

Is a Normal Birth Too Much to Ask?

My birth stories are scary, and not what we like to think of as “normal.” So when I heard about a documentary that talks about birth trauma, I looked into it. As I watched the trailer, one line in particular struck me: “Is it too much to ask for a woman not to have a traumatic birth?”

I resonate with that question. It’s a visceral response to a poor outcome, one we’ve been told over and over shouldn’t be the case: We shouldn’t have to settle for a C-section. We shouldn’t have to settle for formula-feeding our babies. We shouldn’t have to settle for a body ravaged by the childbirth process. We shouldn’t have to settle for a doctor or nurse not listening in a moment of great pain.

These are the gut responses to things not working out the way we wanted. I can sympathize. My responses to my babies’ births ranged from disappointment to severe depression.

Perhaps we are asking too much of our birth stories. . . . Every birth story is broken.

It’s no small thing to bring a baby into the world, even more so in ways you didn’t expect. But I’m not sure the question being asked by the documentary is the right one. I’m concerned that when we talk about birth we forget that, while our bodies are doing something amazing when we bring forth life, we are doing it in a post-Genesis 3 world.

Telling Post-Fall Birth Stories

What this means is that everything can go wrong (from doctor error to our bodies failing us). It doesn’t excuse bad behavior from medical professionals. It doesn’t remove the pain women endure because of horrifying and traumatic deliveries. It doesn’t even remove the disappointment women feel when it doesn’t go according to plan. But it does give a theological framework for understanding it.

We aren’t in Eden anymore. This means our births and bodies don’t always do what they were made to do.

There’s a lot at play when we talk about birth, far beyond the scope of this article. There are systemic issues that contribute to poor outcomes for women of color, as The New York Times recently highlighted. Doctors and nurses are human, and sometimes they sin against us. There are also insurance complexities, family dynamics, hospital regulations, and a whole host of things that can contribute to a birth going poorly. On top of this, all women must confront the fact that our bodies are broken.

Hope for Broken Stories

I care about this not just because I have faced my own (and my kids’) mortality in birth, but because I have met so many women who find their bodies coming up short. I’m concerned for women crushed beneath the weight of mantras like “Your body can do this.”

What do you tell the woman whose body clearly can’t? Whose body doesn’t do what it was “made” to do? What about her? Or what about the woman who doesn’t have a choice about how she births her baby? Is there room for her?

I’m concerned for women crushed beneath the weight of mantras like ‘Your body can do this.’

Perhaps we are asking too much of our birth stories. Perhaps in Eden, birth would’ve been two pushes and warm feelings as the baby latches on moments after delivery. But this just isn’t the case now. For every perfect story there are probably five where something went wrong. Welcome to life this side of Eden, life in a cursed world.

As believers, we can rejoice in the birth stories that go well and weep over the ones that don’t. We understand that every birth story is broken, since every one of us is tainted by the effects of sin. As we mourn imperfect hours in the delivery room, we cling in hope to the One who suffered in our place, removed the sting of death, and unites us to himself in his resurrection.

While we often feel frustrated and disappointed when we experience physical pain—and it’s not wrong to desire relief—we often fail to see our suffering through the lens of our theology. We live in a world where systems and tools fail, births can be deaths, and everything is crying out for the redemption of all things (Rom. 8:22). On the hospital bed or in the birthing tub, we groan with pain, adding our voice to the universal groan of all creation.

Let’s not pretend that birth always makes for a picture-perfect post. Instead, let’s tell the truth. This world is broken, and so are we. But Jesus is coming again, and when he does, he will make all things new—even our broken birth stories.

Editors’ note: 

A version of this article first appeared on the author’s personal blog.

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