It was unanswerable, up to now.
Over and over, people would ask me, “How did you go through labor at home without drugs? Is that even possible?”
The way it was asked, it always seemed rhetorical, so I never had to answer. Few occasions provided the circumstances where answering wouldn’t make someone squirmish anyway.
Labor is, after all, pretty graphic.
It’s a relief I never had to face the question head-on, because it was not until recently that I found the answer.
And no, it has nothing to do with how high my pain threshold is, how “brave” I am or any special visualization techniques. It’s far more simple than that.
In natural labor, there is stage called the “transition point”, where the mother feels like giving up- and it is very, very close to birth. It is the point where contractions pile up one over another and the pain becomes overwhelming, giving way to an inexorable desire to push and birth something glorious.
In our first birth, this point came deep in the night, hours after contractions had begun in the early morning.
This time, however, it was all a blurry whiz.
We were having lunch when I felt like perhaps, Baby would arrive that evening. Cliff tried to convince me to let him call our midwife while I tried convincing him that finishing my spring roll was of greater urgency.
“Just a few more minutes,” I said, looking for a bottle of Thai sweet chili sauce, while our firstborn toddler pointed to her Paw Patrol book and said, “MAMA, READ! READ PATROL!”
Another contraction came, throwing me on my hands and knees, at the perfect level to read to our toddler, who was oblivious to the drama about to unfold.
“I’m calling Barb now,” said Cliff.
For both births, the pain that followed quickly intensified. They were drug-free but certainly not painless.
Later, our midwife told me, “You’re not the first woman I’ve delivered a baby for with a drug-free home birth but you’re certainly the first who’s never ASKED for pain relief during her labor.”
As I reflected on why the entire ordeal felt so painful yet drug-free, an intense spiritual lesson emerged.
I realized why it was that this labor felt so frightening, but passed even more quickly and smoothly than the first- After all, is it not true, that it is precisely when we feel so overwhelmed and helpless, that God’s power becomes tangibly present and manifest in our circumstances?
I learned, in both labors, that to overcome and triumph over real pain, is not to reject, push or run away from it, but instead, to lean into it.
In life, our instinct to pain is to fight or flee. When something hurts, we want out immediately. In today’s instant culture, any quick-fix to numb our pain is alluring.
What labor taught me, however, changed my life forever.
For every contraction that came, instead of yelling, resisting, or straining like in the movies, I remembered what Cliff had told me about his strategy in completing his IronMan endurance event- “I relaxed the whole way through the marathon, after the swim and bike. The key is to relax- I pretended to hold a potato chip with my middle finger and thumb in each hand instead of clenching my fists while I ran. It was that simple.”
Since labor was an endurance event, we felt I could apply the same. So I did.
Whenever a wave of pain came, instead of fighting it, I relaxed. At the peak of the pain, I leaned into it, like a hug.
It was counterintuitive. But it worked.
It worked, because the pain that overwhelmed me was the very pain needed to bring the baby to birth.
In the same way, when we are overwhelmed by life’s trials and challenges, do we believe that our pain has a specific purpose, and if we allow it to do its work in our lives, it can bring forth something more precious than scars- perseverance, endurance, faith, and bring to birth some of the deepest dreams in our hearts?
I am learning- that Pain, when leaned into, can birth some of the most beautiful and glorious things in our lives.
I realized, that what was needed, was not for me to try and manage the pain or get on top of it, but to simply trust its purpose and let it do its work in my life.
Leaning in always feels excruciating in the moment- we may be forced to face our greatest flaws, our deepest doubts, our darkest hurts. But when we choose to, will we not find, looking back, that it was the most meaningful way for us to grow in greater grace and deeper maturity.
Life’s sufferings become bearable, when we fix our eyes on the joy that is set before us, that is to come, even when we cannot feel it in the moment.
As the contractions intensified and piled continuously above one another, there came a point I believed I could not withstand it. In this labor, this transition point came far sooner, so soon that it made me afraid I wouldn’t withstand the long and trying road ahead. What I didn’t know, was how quickly it would pass.
Just four minutes after the midwife’s assistant walked through our doors, I picked up our baby in my arms, through tears of joy.
So often are we that close to receiving our breakthrough. But we waver, not realizing that the length of our struggle does not determine the probability or nearness of our breakthrough.
Yet, if we continue to press on and lean in, trusting that God has permitted the pain in our lives for a purpose, trusting that our responsibility is not to numb but embrace it, will we not come to enjoy the great reward borne out of our deepest, most desperate cries?
I was in pain. I felt utterly helpless. I was too far into labor to ask for any kind of relief. And yet, once I surrendered to the pain, our baby popped out, head first, with my umbilical cord wrapped twice round her neck and the rest of her slipped out, all pink.
On my knees, holding her, I cried and laughed all at once, not realizing how this short but intense labor had reflected the past season we had journeyed through- filled with pain but also glorious God-filled hope at the end.
Minutes later, I found out that in spite of the speed of the labor, I did not suffer any tears or require any stitches. It was then that I remembered what I read somewhere- that serious perineal and vaginal tears can happen when one strains too hard or resists the contractions.
Likewise, often, when we fight the pain allowed in our lives and strain against it, we can create serious collateral damage that can take even longer than the pain itself to heal from.
If you are in pain this season, trust Him and lean in. At the peak of your suffering, when you think all is lost and you feel like giving up, know that your breakthrough is near.
When you do, I promise, the most beautiful gift of joy and reward will surely be borne out of it.
May your eyes then, like mine were, be filled with tears of joy and laughter.
Happy First Month, sweetheart.
For all the joy you’ve brought into our world,