The Truth about Birth

If you are pregnant, it’s probably better to wait until after your birth to read this post…Sorry.

Imagine that you are on a rollercoaster. The one with the 6-story high loop-de-loops, and your brother in the seat beside you saying: “Yanno, I heard someone had a heart attack on this thing last month.”

The rollercoaster starts out not so bad, sort of twisty and nauseating, but then the cars start going clickety-clickety against the wooden (rickety?) track as you start climbing slowly but surely towards the bungee-jump, blood-curdling scream descent. Your brother says something, but you can’t hear a thing over the clickety-clickety and the screaming of the passengers in the front of the train who have already started plunging asphalt-ward.

That ominous ascent, clickety clickety, is exactly how the final months of pregnancy leading up to the birth feel to me. I know there is no way to get off that rollercoaster. And wherever that rollercoaster is going, it’s taking me with it. And that doesn’t make me a very happy or cooperative passenger.

I really do work on thinking positive. I go on a strict diet of gung-ho, ecstatic birth stories a la Hypnobirthing and Labor of Love and Ina May Gaskin. I am careful to steer clear of mothers with newborn babies at the playground, lest they had a bloodcurdling rollercoaster birth and not one of the “breathing in the colors of the rainbow” hypnobirthing type that I’ve been reading and dreaming about.

But now that Tsofia’s birth is exactly a month behind me (mazal tov!) I feel the time has come to state the truth: for the vast majority of women, myself included, birth feels more like the dreaded bungee-jump than the tie-dyed rushes of Spiritual Midwifery.

At the hospital and Recovery Center I heard birth story after birth story which made my own birth sound about as painful as a manicure, and left me walking around in my two-size-too-big slippers with one word and one question echoing through my head. The word was “Brutal.” And the question was “Why?” Why do we women have to suffer so much to do Hashem’s will and to bring a new Jewish child into the world?

And a month later, I still am far from finding a convincing answer (although I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this matter in the comments section).

But as time passes and proceeds to heal all wounds, and my husband and my kids and I celebrate the arrival of the world’s newest Weisberg- caring for her and watching her grow and loving her, my months of obsessive focus on the birth, fearing it and then idealizing it and then resenting it, seem so ridiculously beside the point.

Because the point, to quote Lisa Belkin, was “not to have ‘a birth’ but to have a baby.” And what a beautiful baby she is.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user AJU Photography.

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7 comments

  1. Nechama Paltiel

    Chana, I am not a writer and I usually just listen and learn from all you share, but this time, I am not quiet inside:
    Your question of “why do women have to suffer so much to do Hashem’s will and to bring a new Jewish child into the world?” makes me think. I my self am expecting. I have been a dula for 11 years. I am also currently in the middle of my intership in Midwiffey school. I have been privlidged to be part of many women’s birth experiences, each one a unique experince in itself. Never have I heard the woman say it was “Brutal”, even though from my side of the experience it may have come close to that. I feel that Hashem’s Chesed of birth hormones is an amazing filter on the woman surrounding the birth experience. But it is not enough concidering the birth reality of most women today. The “care” we recieve during pregnancy, during labor and after birth is not care. It does not even begin to touch on the reality of pregnancy, labour, birth and the after birth period. It does not relate to our physical, emotional, spiritual, and familal needs, desires and dreams. No wonder we can read all the right books and block out the bad stories and still end up with an experience that was far from what Hashem really wanted us to have. Part of it is our “Hishtadlut”, we as women have to know ourselves, and know what we need and create our life and experiences and make decissions based on our realtionship with Hashem our husbands and families and communities and our purpose in this world. Decisions that we can live with and not those based on the Medical and Legal models, on which most “care” packages make their decisions.
    I think this is just the begining, I know I have more to say.
    I’d be happy to share with those who want to continue to change the reality and experience birth as an empowering experience. I know I have and so have the women who I have been privlidged to share their births with them. There are already so many midwives and dulas and women doing this already, be brave and reach out and connect to them.
    And I believe that it’s not the point as you quoted “to have a baby”. Because we are not guaranteed that. Even when there has been not baby to take home, the women I have birthed with have been empowered and birthed and touched the infinite.
    With Love
    Nechama Paltiel

  2. It could be birth needs to be this way bc as I heard Reb Tziporah Heller say the two things that make us the happiest and most joyous in our life is: Connection and Accomplishment.

    If birth was not an “accomplishment” but an easy ride, we would not feel that same joy and appreciation that we do when we meet our new child.

  3. Mirele Rosenberger

    From a mother of 8 children, the last 7 of which were born with relative ease, I must comment on the previous comment. I absolutely felt incredible joy with each new life that was entrusted to me and my husband. I remember saying to myself that I appreciated the miracle of birth more with each new baby. A mother does not have to endure a rough road during childbirth in order to appreciate her new miracle more fully. It’s all in one’s perception and gratitude for whatever one is given by the Creator.

  4. My dearest Jenny,

    Everyone has their own nisayonot (tests) in life and we all perceive challenges differently. We can never judge….

    I will tell you though that my heart is saddened by reading your words. I’m so sorry that you have this outlook on birth! 🙁

    How much aching- to have the merit to carry a child, to birth a child, to raise a child! How much merit to feel Hash-m’s presence so close (leida- le yad Hash-m). Of course it’s a challenge, a test.

    Our perspective determines in large part how we pass the test…

    Today I was in a taxi and the driver told me, “Everything is good. Why? Because it’s from Him.” Those words resonated in my soul.

    It’s oh so important to focus on the goal, on the end result-especially in pregnancy and birth…a baby, a neshama, light in to this world.

    May you only be blessed with simchas,

    with love,

    Elana

  5. Great quote. I also wonder why we have to suffer, even with the “in sorrow/pain you shall birth” after Eve’s sin. Why does it have to feel so hard/painful/intense, etc.? As a thrice birther, and as a doula, I wonder.

  6. Hadassah Aber

    Mazal tov on your latest addition/edition of your family. much nachas from her and all her siblings. Why do any of us have to suffer at any time? We don’t know the challenge is what we do afterwards, and during. Only our response is in our hands.
    I was very blessed to have given birth 8 times without any medications or interventions and experienced contractions as just that contractions, not pain per se with the exception of having back pain during back labor. Some of my births went smoothly others involved posterior presentations which means the baby was face up instead of face down as he/she came through the birth canal! My sunny side up kids – much more uncomfortable for the mom. But the point is we each have our challenges, tests, or obstacles in various stages of life to overcome, or grow from and through. Do we come out grateful, appreciative of our blessings and with increased emunah, or biiter and resentful? What about the child itself? I have a 34 year old down’s syndrome son born when I was 23. that was and is an ongoing challenge to be able to foster his growth, independence, and the rest of the family’s interaction with him so we all do the right thing. Birth process is just a relatively short period of time compared to the entire life. By the way my sentiments prior to having a baby mirrored yours except I felt I was on a mountain and had to ski down but didn’t know how!
    May we all know only revealed blessings and strength to deal with whatever comes our way!

  7. I am so, so happy you write this because that’s exactly how I feel! After doing all this hypnobirthing thing and relaxation techniques, it came as a shock to me that birth is so, YES, brutal and enormously painful. I spoke with a lot of women afterwards, and the general concenus is that if the birth was ok, then you’ll have problems with breastfeeding or something else- bringing a child into this world is just never easy.

    I am so sick of all these “empowering birth stories” because exactly these made me feel so disappointed after my birth- I though all the right thoughts, so how come…?

    I only know one answer: After all, it’s HaShem’s will how your birth will be, and no raspberry tea or breathing exercise in the world can change that. A Rebezzin told me mine might have been a tikkun for something, and this was much more helpful than reading how I could have had a better birth if I just would have done xyz.

    I am also thinking about why we have to suffer so much, but I am far from angry on HaShem, I just would love to know.

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