My midwife is also a nurse in the maternity ward at the hospital, and she told me the story of a fellow nurse who had given birth naturally without pain medication. That nurse had told her, "I thought I was going to die." My midwife replied, "Yeah, I know - all women think that in labor. They all think, 'I can't do this,' and 'I am going to die.'" The nurse said, "No, really. I really thought I was going to die." To which the midwife replied, "All women really think they are going to die."
The other night I had a pain in my gut that I remembered from when I gave birth to my first child. "Oh no," I thought, "It's about to start." It turned out to be nothing and quickly went away. But in that moment the dread of what was coming seized me. I am going to do this without pain medication. "I'm such an idiot," I thought to myself. "Who in their right mind would do this?" And I had to get back in touch with the reasons I have chosen this path.
I think we are suppose to die in childbirth. I think there is something about the pain that really kills a part of us. Biologically and hormonally, the brain is reworked. All defenses are stripped away by the pain and there is nothing left to do but choose to embrace suffering to the point of death for the sake of another's creation. I think this a gift from God. I think it is a wise way of remaking a person into his image. After all, embracing suffering to the point of death for another's sake is exactly what he did for us. And it is exactly what he calls all of us - both men and women, clergy and laity - to do for the world.
The God I know in Christ is not a monster who thrusts punishments at people vindictively. "Eve, you sinned and so now - ha ha ha - I'm going to have women suffer in childbirth!!!" No, the consequences from God found in Scripture tend to ultimately reach toward the goal of redemption, of creating new life well. God is on the side of life, not destruction. He is on the side of being in relationship with us, not of pushing us further away. Of making us back into his image, not of contorting us further. God's decision for pain in childbirth when sin enters the world is for good, not for evil.
There is an African proverb that two births take place at the birth of a child - the birth of the baby and the birth of the mother. To be born as a mother, I can no longer live the life I lived before the baby entered the world. In that sense, I really have to die. And so I await this death. It will happen any day. I am a little scared, a little overwhelmed. But then I look at Jesus. His arms are opened wide, to the point of death for me. He has walked this path, he knows the way through, and he will be with me. I am so glad he loves me, and I pray that I will become one who models this great act of love well. God help me.
(Note: There is no escaping this. I have spoken with many women who had C-sections, and they all say the same thing - recovery was horribly painful. Apparently, because the uterus has to contract to recover from the pregnancy, women experience the contractions following the surgery, and beg for more and more pain medication. One lady who had the C-section commented, "You either go through the pain during labor or afterwards. It's not like you can get away from it." I didn't have a C-section with my first child, but I did use an epidural and had an enormous episiotomy. I remember the weeks following the birth as difficult and painful as I recovered. In contrast, women who give birth without pain medication have very little recovery time - like, a couple of hours until they feel like themselves again. I think my friend was right - even in our high tech society, there is no escaping the pain of childbirth.