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Give me an epidural...STAT!

There is nothing quite so nerve racking or beautiful as a “natural birth.” But with modern advances in pain management, why women choose this route is hard to understand, even though I did it three times! By the fourth child, however, I concluded I’d had enough of “all things natural” and decided on the other, blissfully-pain-free-method: drugs, drugs and more drugs. The only hardship I endured bringing life into the world was some itching from all the narcotics. And being roused from a deep Benadryl-induced sleep (given to counter act the itching) in order to push. “Can’t I just nap a little while longer?” I begged to no avail. Nope. The moment of reckoning had come. A few contractions later and Benjamin was welcomed by a room full of onlookers, including his three wide-eyed siblings. In our homeschooling world, I considered this a valuable learning experience. “No school today kids, we’re going on a field trip to the hospital—yay!” I’m not sure what sounds crazier: three natural childbirths or having my children watch, as their drugged up mom pushed their little brother out from between her legs, and called it science class.

Recently my husband and I were blessed with the arrival of our 5th grandchild. I was honored with the privilege of being the only outsider invited to witness the momentous event of a firstborn son being born naturally, at home. It was completely nerve racking and beautiful beyond words. In the days that followed I meditated on what I'd witnessed and I was struck by how natural childbirth is like following Christ. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” In Jesus day, a medicated birth wasn’t an option. Every birth was a “natural” one. There were no hospitals to turn to in the event of a complication or emergency. Birth was and still is a beautiful, traumatic, and often dangerous, experience for both mother and child. It is a death of sorts from one kind of life to another.

As soon as the sperm and egg meet, hormones are released and sent throughout a woman’s body with the message that something has changed. Her body is no longer her own, it carries the seed of another. She is designed to yield and adjust to this new life as it grows and makes unrelenting demands, "Rest, eat, vomit, stretch!" As her frame expands to accommodate her baby (very often leaving permanent marks), every mother gives herself away in a multitude of daily self-denials for the life of her child. Time, patience and a new wardrobe are required as this unseen life ripens to maturity. Finally the moment arrives for the bearing of fruit. If only it were as easy as picking apples from a tree. Most labors take many hours, and sometimes days, of painful effort that leave the mother exhausted and wondering if she can really do it. Doubts, fears and relentless suffering must be faced and conquered if life is to come forth. She must persevere and dig deeper that she ever thought possible in order to find enough strength to complete her mission. There is no going back, there is no giving up. To do so would mean the end for one, if not for both of their lives.

The midwives who attend these births are there to offer their incredible expertise and encouragement. Screams of pain, and cries of doubt, “It hurts too much! I can’t do it!” are met with calm assurances. They have seen and heard it all before with the same wonderful outcome—a healthy baby and a jubilant mom. They love what they do. Not because they take some sort of sick pleasure in seeing women writhe in excruciating pain but because they know what that pain means… life is on the way. They know that in order to experience the joy to come, pain must be accepted and embraced as the way towards it. What a clear and tender picture of the deep spiritual reality that there is no abundant life except by way of the cross. “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” What a sobering thing to ponder.

When it comes to the Christian life, modern techniques can't be applied. There is no epidural, no medical interventions, no drug to help us cope with the pains of spiritual growth. Growing in faith is au naturel. But in a culture that finds no positive value in discomfort, let alone suffering, any hindrance to personal happiness is viewed as an enemy to be subdued not a blessing to be accepted with fortitude. The notion of denying oneself or persevering through adversity for the sake of another is utterly offensive. And so we misunderstand and fight against the trials of life that are meant to nail us to our daily cross for a greater purpose. Instead of welcoming them as our friends to aid in our sanctification, we cry out in despair for rescue or relief. We feel like God is angry with us. Or we wonder if maybe He just enjoys watching us suffer. But the truth is, God is like the midwife. He knows that painful trials are only half of the story. Life is on the way. If we trust Him and cooperate with the process, we will eventually give birth to the fruits of the Spirit and Jesus will be formed in us. From one glory to another we will grow up to become in every respect the mature body of Christ that God intends. May Thy will be done, Lord, on earth, AND IN ME, as it is in heaven.

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