The following is a transcript of the audio. Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Laura: Welcome to another episode of Risen Motherhood. I am here with my lovely sister-in-law Emily Jensen. This week we’re talking about birth plans – when birth doesn’t go according to plan. If you tuned in last week, we were talking about making the birth plan and how as we make a plan, it’s a good thing to make decisions and think about what we want in our birth, what we want it to look like, or what medical care we want, but at the same time, we can’t hope and trust in anyone but God.
This week we’re going to be talking about when it doesn’t go according to the plan which happens – I think I looked at some stats - for 70% of women, it doesn’t go according to their plan.
Emily: That’s a super-common experience. Even if you didn’t have a super-hard birth, or super-unusual experience; maybe you had good medical care, there can still be that feeling of disappointment, that you’re like, “I gave in to the epidural, and I said I wasn’t going to.” Or maybe you knew you were going to do that, but it just took so much longer than you thought. Or maybe a family member stepped in the room, that you didn’t really want there, or your husband said the wrong thing, and you were not happy about it. There’s a million examples like that. It’s hard to deal with afterwards
Laura: It’s hard because we can be disappointed by something small. I’ve heard other moms say, “You know, I really was bummed out when my baby came so late and I had to be induced,” or “They came super-early and I wasn’t ready for them.” It’s so funny because birth is so out of our control, and we're all about the plan. We're like, “Okay, I listened to all the deep breathing CDs, and my essential oils are all lined up, and I’ve got my focus picture, my hospital bag;” we’ve got all these preparations and plans and even the best laid plans do not go to plan.
For first-time moms, we go into birth feeling super-confident, feeling like, “I can do this, I have prepared, My husband knows exactly the place for counter pressure, [laughter] we’re going to nail it,” And then you come out of it, and after going through the experience, we are way less confident, and we’re like, “What happened?”
Emily: Laura and I both have friends who have had great experiences, and I literally love hearing their stories. So if you’ve had an experience that you’ve loved and you treasure, I think that is awesome; there’s totally room for that too. With birth, there’s always people involved and whenever there’s people involved, there’s also relationships that become strained. This can be a marriage, or like Laura said, if you had a nurse that was attending to you that didn’t say something graciously, or an anesthesiologist, or a doctor, there’s a whole range of things that can happen relationally as well.
Laura: There’s huge pressure these days to have this perfect birth experience. It gets so built up especially if you’re anywhere online. It can feel like, “You have the power to have the exact birth you want, and you’re in charge, and if you just grit your teeth enough, and if you just plan enough, and if you have enough mental stamina and physical energy, then you’re going to get that perfect birth.”
But most of the time it doesn’t happen exactly as we planned it in our head. Then we have all these different kinds of feelings that come – and they come in different forms and they come at different intensities at different times. But some of the things that Em and I were tossing around are feelings like, shame and disappointment, anger, frustration, pride - feeling like your pride was crushed potentially, or proud of certain areas that happen – questioning your womanhood and feeling less maternal, or feeling inadequate, blaming others, guilt, comparing yourself, like, “Why didn’t mine go like hers?” or “I did everything that she did. Why did she get that perfect experience?”
And one thing that we want to make perfectly clear today is that sometimes, these feelings after birth can result in birth trauma or in post-partum depression. However, we want to clear today that we’re not going to be talking about those. I personally have experienced a traumatic birth which is on the docket for Emily and I to talk about, and so is post-partum depression. We know that that’s a really common thing, and we want to address that for you since we’ve had some requests for dealing with those issues. But we want to make it clear that today, those aren’t the things that we’re talking about.
Emily: For me, it’s gotten harder to process my birth as I’ve gone through them. My third time around, I was like, “Okay, I’ve been through this. I’ve done this twice now and I kind of know what it feels like. I’ve been to the same hospital too. Aren’t those births supposed to get a little bit easier? Aren’t they supposed to get a little shorter? Don’t I know how to handle contractions by now? [laughter]
It’s gotten almost more disappointing as I’ve worked into the situation more prepared with more things [laughter] that I know, and it still hasn’t gone according to my plan. I’ve had the hardest time processing my most recent birth - my third birth – than I did my first one because on my first one I was just like, “Well, I didn’t really know what I was doing and I couldn’t have known that. I couldn’t have known what that labor was going to feel like [laughter] and I couldn’t have ...” All of those things. Now I am like, “Oh, I don’t have those excuses any more." I’m like, “I did know how bad it was going to be," or, “I did know this”, and I think for me, the shame was even deeper this time.
Laura: Interesting Em. What are some of the areas that your birth didn’t go to plan? How soon into birth did they not go to plan?
Emily: Immediately, [laughter] but I know you want specifics. This last time, one thing that was … I keep saying disappointing but I don’t have a great word for it.
Laura: It’s a good point though Em, that sometimes it’s hard to describe what exactly it is that we’re feeling about it, or to pinpoint exactly what it was that made the birth feel like that. So it’s totally fine.
Emily: My baby was posterior this time, and this was my second delivery that I’ve had a posterior baby. For those of you who’ve been through it, you know it really changes the way that you have contractions. It can also impact your progression and labor. I just remember feeling like I had done all of the ball bounces and the appointments, and I was contorting my body the right way on the bed, [laughs] and feeling like I was dying through it; all those things. He didn’t turn for a really long time, and my labor went poorly – I think as a result of that. That was really hard for me because it was something I didn’t have a lot of control over, and yet it had such a huge impact on my birth. Still, almost a year later, I am like, “What if I would have done this thing or that thing?” or “If my doctor would have just broken my water earlier, maybe he would have turned and maybe it wouldn’t have been 24 hours and maybe he would never have experienced trauma.”
Laura: We start to place blame on other people. We feel anger, or we feel sad. Mine was the same way; like immediately – I think it was literally the moment when I went into labor. I had a midwife and she ended up being on vacation for the births of both my children. [laughter] It was just funny because then an OB delivered – I had nothing against OBs – I saw an OB for the first half of my first pregnancy – But it was just so disappointing to feel like the midwife whom I had spent 40 weeks with wasn’t going to be there. Immediately, I just felt a lot of disappointment.
During my second birth, I had hired a doula and she was sick! It was [laughs] unbelievable. I knew the moment I went into labor that my care team wasn’t going to be there, so it was like a million things that went differently. I planned with them, prepared for all these natural births, went to all the natural birth classes and I really desired a natural birth. For both births, I ended up with an epidural, and ended up with Pitocin for one of them. I joke that the only thing that went according to plan was that my lights were dimmed when I walked in there [laughs] and I was kind of like, “Ah. Well, I got something!”
Anyway, the question we want to ask is, “Why doesn’t birth go according to plan”?
Emily: We know that it is because of the curse and the fall, childbirth is now extremely hard, and it’s been very hard through history. It’s been life threatening to both the mother and the child and now we have enough medical advances, at least where we live, so at least that’s not as much of a factor. If you want to know more about why birth doesn’t go according to plan, and more about the fall, and some of God’s grace, then you can definitely go back and listen to our previous show.
But today we want to address questions like, “What are we supposed to do afterwards?” When maybe we didn’t have something traumatic happen, as Laura mentioned, which we’ll talk about in later episodes. But today, if you’re like, “Hey, I feel like I shouldn’t feel bad about this, but this is hard for me to process," then where do we go from there?
Laura: The first thing that I had to remind myself was that God is sovereign over everything that happened in my birth, whether or not it went according to my plan, it went according to His. Sometimes that can be a real hard truth and it’s the same in a lot of areas of life, anytime we’re dealing with suffering or frustration. I think it’s one of those things that we have to remember that God is still good. The God that I worshipped yesterday is the same God today, and He is still good even if my birth wasn’t according to my perfect plan.
It’s like, “I want my will be done, not Your will be done Lord” – That’s kind of how we can act. But He’s still good and He is still sovereign over that. It’s an important truth to remember and believe, and even go into saying, “I believe. Help my unbelief."
Emily: It’s easy to want to leave the hospital with an invisible label on your head that’s like, “I am the mom who didn’t survive the natural contractions and had to beg for the epidural.” [laughter] We can start to associate our identity with that instead of going, “No. I am in Christ. My identity is secure with Him. This is one part of my whole life, and it doesn’t define who I am. It doesn’t define me as a woman.” We need to be cautious and not wrap up our identity in how our birth went, whether that was positive or negative. We can also do that on the positive side too and say, “Wow. I did such a good job by doing this and the other. I prepared so well that this went awesome.” All of these things have impact, but ultimately that’s not who we are.
Laura: I’ve read a lot of books, especially after my first birth, and I remember literally telling my husband “I am a warrior!” [laughter] Isn’t that the kind of stuff that they tell you? It’s like, “Oh, your birth can be almost pleasurable!” I am not even going to say some of the words that the books said [laughter], but some of these books, and the cultural mentality these days is just like, “Man! We are power houses!” Tell us that as women, our bodies were built to give birth – which is true – but we’re not the ones who do these things.
We are worshipping the "created over the creator." We have to remember that God is the giver of life, not us. He demands all the praise and all the glory. As Em was saying, if you’re finding pride in your birth story and how well it went, or maybe in one of your birth stories, and then in another one, you're frustrated and disappointed in things that happened and you feel ashamed or less womanly or whatever – and you’re like, “Where was my sword or my warriorness in birth?” I think we need to look at, who are we ultimately trusting in? Are we trusting in our bodies, in ourselves, or in methods, or doctors? Or recognizing that God is in control overall, and that anything less than that undermines who He really is?
Emily: I agree. It’s for his glory. There’s a book I keep going back to every episode - Freedom of Self-forgetfulness – and the author points out that our whole lives are to worship God. We don’t have to obsess over how things are going for us, we can just trust Him. I don’t want to make light of it, but there’s also power in knowing, “How can I use this to bring glory to God?” “How can I choose to be content with what he gave me even though to the world’s eyes, this may not have been a great experience?” How different is that than the way a lot of people handle things? Is that a witness even?
I’ve realized too that a lot of the doctors and the nurses that I worked with are not believers, and even in those moments, I’ve thought, “How can I give glory to God by how I react to them, when they tell me this news that I am going to get this thing that I didn’t want? Or, this going on longer. It’s being aware of, “Wow, they hear my worship music,” and we can’t always have control over how we respond. We need to be aware of that in general and ask ourselves, “How am I going to give glory to God in this?”
Laura: Even the way we retell our birth stories matters. We could do a whole show on birth stories [laughter] but it’s important that we relate to other moms, like when you’ve got a newborn and all the moms come over with the food and they want to hear every detail. I think there’s an article that we’ll link to, and it talks about how Jesus is the hero of your birth story, not you. How can we show in our weakness that He is strong? We need to look for areas that show, “This was frustrating but Christ redeems.” This was an area that I was upset, or I was hurt, but I can offer forgiveness because I was first forgiven. We can look to those areas of how can we glorify God in our birth stories, even in – and especially in – the really difficult moments that maybe we’re walking away feeling upset about.
Emily: Laura, I just wanted to close here, saying that if you yourself are processing through a disappointing birth story, to whatever degree, even if it’s small and you feel like, “This is silly. I shouldn’t be worried about this.” Or maybe you have a friend who’s been processing through something, just know that it makes sense to share with a friend.
I was just thinking this morning, as we were prepping for the show, and I was telling Laura, “I don’t even think I’ve talked about this a lot. I don’t think I’ve let these feelings even a lot of credibility, you know they aren’t there.” I just think it can be helpful and maybe your husband will listen, or a good friend, or even a counselor, or just an older, wiser woman who can help bring some perspective to the situation.
Laura: Someone who’s more removed from birth always seems to have a better perspective. Shame, fear, guilt, and anger, those things love darkness, and God wants us to bring everything into the light. Like Emily said, it’s important to talk through these things and to admit them. When I was going through the traumatic birth, it took me literally 14 months to ever admit even once that, “Hey, this was a lot harder than I am even letting on." I felt such freedom when I was able to finally let go and let people in, and the healing that comes with talking to people.
On that note too, as we talked about at the beginning of the episode, if this is something that you’re like, “I’ve tried those things but it’s not working,” or “I feel like I’ve dealt with it and I am still really struggling,” that might be a sign that you need more professional help. I have a passion point on this because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like.
Emily: We’re glad you guys stuck with us through this 2-part series. This is the first time that we’ve done Part 1 and Part 2 so we’re hoping that it was helpful. We felt like it was too hard to talk about one half of this topic, without addressing the other half, so definitely go back and listen, if you haven’t caught that first episode.
Thank you guys for listening and don’t forget to share this with somebody who you think this could be helpful to as well.