Labor sounded like a scary thing.
It looked excruciating on television, and the plethora of drugs and interventions we learnt in medial school to alleviate its suffering only attested to the reality of its ferocious reputation.
Yet, the idea that labor should be a beautiful experience lingered. Part of me was fascinated by its possibility, but never knew if it could be reality.
After all, having delivered babies at hospitals, assisted in C-sections in the operating theatre, and sutured episiotomies myself, the myriad of unfortunate outcomes etched themselves deep.
The idea of a drug free, natural home birth was exactly that- an idea, an option for hippies perhaps, but not people like us.
Or so I thought.
After all, this was our first child. We were moving to a new place with an unfamiliar healthcare system. Logically, it didn’t make sense.
Yet, through it all, we felt God guiding us graciously. He was with us from beginning to the end.
Never have I felt so desperate to want pain to end and yet be so eager to embrace it. Never have I understood God’s heart for us when we experience pain, that it very often is a friend we need to embrace, not a fiend to push away.
Never have I been so consumed and overwhelmed by suffering and yet so assured of its purpose, so aware of its temporality. Never have I felt so torn apart from my own flesh and yet never closer to the rawness of its reality.
In that space of magnified reality and surreal dreamspace, I found God right by us, filling the room as He led our entire labor, from the beginning to the end.
As much as we felt it was one of the most audacious decisions we’d ever made in our lives, one which we never knew might materialize because of the real possibility of being transferred to hospital anytime, we also knew it felt strangely right, God-led in so many ways:
…that we found a midwife at all so late in my third trimester when people said it would be impossible was a miracle in itself, to find out that she was Director of her own clinic and willing to go on-call for us because we were a “special couple,” to learn that she loved home births and she actually asked, listened to and understood why a drug-free experience was so important to Cliff and I, our “stumbling upon” research advocating why a natural birth is so beneficial for mother and baby… All added up to His way of showing me that He cared about my prayer of wanting to know if labor could be a deeply beautiful and profoundly spiritual experience.
Through labor and its pain, Mama learnt many lessons, lessons that she hopes would also touch and transform your life as you make some of your own audacious, counter-cultural decisions for God someday.
Perhaps the biggest lesson Mama learnt through pregnancy and labor, is surrender.
The week you were due, Mama got increasingly anxious because people kept asking about you, and she had no clue when you might arrive or how.
Surprisingly, most doctors we met in Canada weren’t supportive of home births. Two we chanced upon gave their unsolicited opinions- “Labor hurts like hell, so get your epidural early on. You won’t endure it otherwise.”
“It’s your first birth, so make sure it’s at the hospital. A umbilical cord could strangle your baby and your midwife may not be so competent.”
One complication, and off to the hospital we might go. An epidural, pitocin, and a C-section might ensue.
Thinking about the endless possibilities only drove me up the wall, and it was an act of surrender, to say “God, You’re in control, You’ve led us this way thus far” that gave me peace to know you would be born beautifully at home, surrounded by His presence and angels to welcome you.
The day Mama started feeling contractions, Baby, Mama wasn’t even sure if it was the real thing: Papa took her out to a Hong Kong cafe for her favorite fish dish. After that, we went to a supermarket to get our groceries, and our last hour-long walk in the wintry woods blanketed with beautiful snow and magical sunlight. Papa needed winter gloves, so we went to get those, and then Mama forgot avocados and popcorn, so we stopped by a second supermarket to shop. All this while, Mama had contractions on and off which stopped her in her tracks but our day went on. Mama went home, made dinner for Papa, and texted our midwife you might come the next day perhaps.
But right after dinner, our midwife arrived, and was shocked to find Papa and Mama still laughing between painful contractions, because well, Mama was very much dilated and close to active labor!
What followed after was a blurry blitz, Baby.
A wave of pain hit Mama like a ton of bricks, then another and another. She remembered the naysayers who said this was all a big mistake, that labor should happen at a hospital, under intense monitoring, with an IV drip, epidural, pitocin and CTG monitoring, not in the warmth and comfort of a cosy apartment overlooking the starry skyline and city lights.
It was then that Mama remembered, that what is right for everyone else may not be right for you, and vice versa. And with that, with God’s provisions, peace and leading up to that point, I knew you would be born right there in our home without any medical intervention.
The key is- you have to know what God means for you uniquely, and have the trust and faith to follow Him through it, no matter how crazy, absurd or illogical you or other people think it is.
That lesson applies to your calling, Baby, which we have been praying for you every day even before you were conceived, and is probably one of the most important lessons Mama hopes you’ll ever learn.
You see, if you are made and called differently to a unique destiny, then you’ll have to do things that are different, things which other people will object to and discourage you from.
The fact is, at the end of your life, you’ll be accountable to God, and yourself. Not the throngs whose chatter and banter made your head spin, or the naysayers who trumpeted their beliefs.
There’s one road out there that’s meant for you, preordained from the beginning of time by your Heavenly Father, and it’ll fall right in place with your heart’s calling if you stay true to who you are and what you’ve been called to.
Know that, Baby.
Having a home birth with Papa and you was the best and most amazing decision we ever made. It may not be right for everyone, but it was right for us.
Papa was involved in every contraction when labor hit Mama, he held and stroked and rubbed her till he was sore all over. He was there to set up and pack up with the midwife. He was there to catch you when you slid out and cut your cord. Papa was involved in your labor in every way from the start.
It was the most beautiful and memorable experience and we would not have had it any other way.
Baby, we pray every day that you’ll be a resilient child, one who’s not afraid to follow God and put aside what naysayers have to say. Because our lives aren’t going to be easy. We’re going to go on adventures to places where God calls us to, and some of these places won’t be safe, or clean or where people call them responsible places to bring a baby.
Mama and Papa are going to get flak and face opposition, just as how Mama was told she was “medically irresponsible” twice, once when she let Papa go to Uganda when he couldn’t take the yellow fever vaccine because of his liver transplant, and secondly, when she and Papa decided to have you at home.
In the one year we served in Uganda, Papa never got malaria, or yellow fever, and was probably the healthiest he’s been all his life. That’s not called luck or coincidence. It’s called God’s grace, protection and favor when we obey Him.
You survived a home birth and did so well throughout, without any heart decelerations, umbilical cord issues (we just untangled your cord round you as you got out), or breathing problems. Mama didn’t suffer any post-partum haemorrhage or need an episiotomy. Mama never tore, she could cook, pee, poop the very next morning just like any other day. In fact right after delivery, she had a piece of cake and walked by herself to take a shower.
It’s not called luck or coincidence, Baby. It’s because we prayed, God led, and we obeyed.
Mama and Papa have been praying for you every day, that you’ll be so filled with joy and peace, resilience and hope, that you would so enjoy the adventure of following God obediently, and be faithful from the womb, just like your name says.
You are Sarah-Faith. A child filled with faith, who will become a mother of many nations. You are ??, a child whose heart is filled with love, truth, compassion, thanksgiving and God’s grace.
In life, we cannot avoid pain, Sarah-Faith. But we, very often, can choose the kind of pain we want to endure. What we end up choosing, then determines the lessons we glean and take away.
Not one kind of pain is superior to the other, lest we become proud, sweetheart. You see, Mama wouldn’t say that a home birth or long term missions is for everyone. Just because she and Papa chose it, doesn’t mean they’re going to become hard-sell advocates of it.
Everyone is different, and we’ve got to respect that. But you just got to know what God has called you uniquely to and the values He calls you to, and stay true to that. Because that’s the only way it’ll get you through the pain you’ve chosen.
God’s call is seldom pain-free, dearest. But remember, what He does call you to, He will provide you the grace and joy you need to carry you through- from the beginning of active labor till the end, it took only 3 hours to have you, a record timing for a first time mum having a home birth, according to our midwife.
God was with us, He will be with you too.
So whatever pain you choose in life, remember one thing- make sure it’s what God has called you to, be it stepping out of your comfort zone to invite someone you dislike to your first birthday party because you know it’s the right thing to do, or something bigger like giving up your life to serve in the mission field.
It doesn’t matter what people say or think, as long as you know you’re obeying God. You can weigh in on their advice and consider them. But never, ever let them discourage you.
If Mama and Papa had listened to the things people had assumed and said to them, you would not have been born this way, or born at all.
One other thing which helped Mama in our drug free home birth, when the pain sent her to her hands and knees, was remembering that pain is temporary.
Pain passes, Baby. But God is always there.
The first crescendo of every contraction is always the most intense, and they get more and more so nearer the end, as one engulfs and overrides the other.
Just like pain in a triathlon, (which was partly what brought Papa and Mama together by the way), however, pain never lasts forever. You train for it by making decisions every day which make you resilient to it, so that when it comes, you’re mentally focused to deal with it. Up to the day of labor, Mama was exercising every day even when she didn’t feel like it, even when people said she shouldn’t, because she knew labor would be a marathon.
When Mama was in labor, and when Mama and Papa were in the mission field, there were times she wondered if they would pull through. There were times Mama wanted to quit and go home (Papa did better, of course.) But like many things in life, pain is transient, sweetheart.
It could be your heartbreak over your first boyfriend, your disappointment with unanswered prayers, or your first rejection letter from a position you applied for- but it will pass. For every peak of pain that Mama thought would debilitate, crush and destroy her, Mama just told herself that it would pass. Even when one contraction crashed into another to magnify itself, Mama kept saying out loud, through her exhaustion, “It will pass.”
You see, no pain lasts forever.
What will last for eternity, however, is the character, values and lessons you walk away with from the pain, and the attitude you carried through it.
During labor, our midwife kept asking us why we were so joyful, even when the contractions got so intense, hard and close to each other. She couldn’t believe it that we had spent the afternoon out and about, visiting a cafe, two supermarkets and a department store, and by the time we had called her, I was already 7 out of 10 centimeters dilated and ready to deliver.
You see, when you’re so grateful for what God has given you, yes even pain, that attitude of thanksgiving is going to bring you a long way through life.
That’s why your Chinese name is ??, which represents a pure heart of thanksgiving and praise.
From labor, Mama learnt so much.
She learnt that Pain exists to weaken and humble us, but only temporarily, so it’s up to you to glean and retain those precious gems and lessons which you can keep for life. The sad thing is that very often, we are humbled by pain temporarily and get all proud again when it ends. Don’t let that happen to you, Sarah-Faith.
Pain is precious. Remember why you chose that pain, what it taught you, and God’s grace in enabling you to overcome it.
Don’t let the world tell you that you can numb your pain through success, wealth or prestige.
Rather, let the reality of life’s pain always shape you for the better, however bad it seems at the time.
Through this drug free home birth, Mama became a stronger person, she learnt that she could get through anything in life with Papa, God and you.
For every wave of pain, Papa never let Mama go. Papa rubbed her back with the same intensity that the pain hit Mama, a pain she had never felt before in her whole life.
When our midwife told us we might need an episiotomy if your heart rate dropped at what she called a “sticky point” of the birth canal, that was when Mama knew this was business. Every push had to count and be worth it’s full worth.
The midwife told us, that her most memorable moment was when, at the last bit just before midnight, Mama cried out, because she was so exhausted, “Cliff, please pray!”
And as soon as Papa did, you slid out like a fish, not gasping or crying, but calmly and beautifully, with a thick inch-long crop of long, jet-black hair, and suckled immediately as you were placed skin-to-skin on Mama’s chest. You never cried, never fussed. Just went straight from womb to breast in one fresh breath of life, as the stars above us and the city glow below twinkled just before the clock struck midnight.
I was surprised later to hear from our midwife say, that she’s never witnessed a quicker home birth for a first time mum, nor one who had never asked for some sort of pain relief. It was all God’s provision, His grace, His presence which overwhelmed the room.
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t, because it’s difficult or “hell.” Determine first if its what God wants for you, and if it is, you can count on it being the most supernatural, miraculous and incredible adventure you’ve ever had.
I know it was that way having you.
And if we had to do this, naturally at home, all over again, we would say yes again in a heartbeat.