Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Flashbacks: Maternity

I woke the other night and realized I was having a flashback. The scene stuck in my mind was my mom silently writhing on her bed with afterpains, a day or two after giving birth (at home, unattended, again). The first time I saw her in pain this way was when I was six, and the pain was more intense with each baby. With the later ones, it was the only time she would take over-the-counter Motrin. One time she was so miserable that she called another homeschool mom, who came over and made her a tea with dried weed plants that grew out in the field. I felt so helpless.

The time I was six, Mom pushed the baby to me to hold till the contraction passed. Other times, I was in her room to look at the newborn, or to bring Mom something to eat. Sometimes she would ask us to leave because she was trying to protect us from seeing her misery. Later, I knew enough to leave discreetly. I have no doubt Mom thought she was doing what God "made her for". I thought so, too. But it scarred me forever.
"A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
I was nine when Mom had me read the Emergency Childbirth manual for firefighters, just in case Dad wasn't home when she went into labor. The book assured that most births were so uncomplicated, a child could handle them. On the other hand, the Bible and classic literature were full of stories of births that went very badly for the mothers. I was proud to be trusted, but I was freaked out at the same time. And every time, I was anxious again. Would she be okay? If something went wrong, would I be responsible for mothering the rest of my siblings?

While Mom was giving birth to one of my sisters upstairs, I was downstairs alone in the living room reading Larry Christenson's The Christian Family. I was in my late teens or early 20's. My sex education had consisted primarily of the miracle of conception and birth, I had never had a boyfriend, and imagining a birth canal made me horny. To discourage myself from longing for a family of my own, I read Christenson's thoughts on marriage: "God did not give this law of wives being submissive to their husbands because He had a grudge against women; on the contrary, He established this order for the protection of women and the harmony of the home. He means for a woman to be sheltered from many of the rough encounters of life." Clearly, childbirth was not one of the rough encounters from which women were meant to be sheltered! When I heard a high-pitched baby's cry from my parents' room, I shoved the book back on the shelf.

I had three midwife-assisted homebirths myself (on the recommendation of a physician who was also on Bill Gothard's board of directors). With the last one, the postnatal contractions were worse than the delivery itself, and interfered with getting to know and love my baby during her first few days. I knew that if there was a next time, I would deliver at the hospital simply so I could get drugs. Later on, I realized I did not actually want to be pregnant ever again, and that I could make that choice without feeling the least bit guilty.

Becoming a wife and mom myself has made remembering my poor mother's pain more agonizing. I can feel what she felt, to a degree. I wish I could make it stop. 

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