When Birth Disappoints You

“I’m just so disappointed,” I told Daniel in the weeks following my delivery of Seth. After two miscarriages and a complicated pre-term delivery with the twins, I just wanted some normalcy in my birthing experience. I wanted all the warm fuzzies that come with a screaming, slimy freshly born baby being thrust upon your chest. I wanted the adrenaline rush that propels mothers into the rigors of the newborn days. I wanted calm. I wanted to remember it all. I wanted an experience I could share with my friends when they visited me, and my plump nearly nine pound newborn baby. I wanted an experience of strength, knowing I did something powerful.

Instead I got twenty six hours of labor, a baby out of position, a dropping heart rate, and a blood sugar crash (I had gestational diabetes). What started with promise ended in a C-section at 3:50 A.M.

And to this day, I barely remember any of it.

More than anything I just wanted to hold my screaming baby the moment he emerged from my womb. The twins were silently whisked away, barely croaking out sounds from their far-too early lungs. I didn’t even see them until close to two hours after they were born. I didn’t hold them until thirty hours after they were born, and even then it was not a guarantee that I could touch them every day, let alone hold them.

I just wanted to hear a good, healthy cry and hold my newborn baby close. But I didn’t get that. I heard a cry, but even that is foggy to me still. For days I would ask Daniel to recount the moments of his delivery because I simply couldn’t remember what happened. When they offered him to me, after stabilizing me and cleaning him up, I was terrified that I would drop him because I was so weary, so shaky, and so panicky after his delivery.

I heard a screaming baby, but I barely held him for those first few hours. And there are moments that my heart aches for that.

Sure, I would admit to anyone who asked that I knew birth could go wrong, or that a C-section was possible, especially considering I had one with the twins. Prior to his delivery, my uterus had already seen a scalpel four times, so a C-section didn’t scare me. I wasn’t naïve. But in my head, I thought I deserved something different. Nothing had ever gone according to plan for me in any of my pregnancies, so surely this time would be different, right?

I believe God knows exactly what we need, and that no experience happens to us outside of his loving and sovereign control. In the days following Seth’s birth, I had to come to terms with what I believed in my heart about God and his purposes for me, and my growing discontentment that, once again, my pregnancy and delivery experience did not go according to plan. Like so much of my path to motherhood, Seth’s birth was marked by uncertainty, fear, and disappointment that my body had failed me again.

A few nights ago I spent the evening with some friends. All of us had given birth. All of us had a story to tell. And all of us could tell of the unexpected happening—whether it was from the pain being worse than expected or the birth going differently, we all experienced some element of “I didn’t anticipate that” during one of our births. Of course, every woman doesn’t experience birth disappointment (it’s a real, cultural thing now), but every woman will likely experience things going differently than expected. We would all be the first to say we are thankful to have been pregnant at all, and even better, now the mothers of healthy babies. But even with a healthy appreciation for a baby in our arms, some must wrestle with the reality of life in a fallen world and the desires that they had for their delivery.

I want to tread carefully here. As one who once had an empty womb longing to be filled, I run the risk of turning some of my readers off completely. In many ways our disappointment with birth is owing to our privilege. We are privileged to carry a baby at all. We are privileged to live in a country where women don’t routinely die during delivery. We are privileged to afford healthcare, where we can talk about disappointment as our primary emotion following birth. We, the disappointed, are likely very privileged.  Unlike many women who have gone before us, or even live in present day, planning our birth with all its calming music, skin-to-skin contact, and breathing exercises is a luxury most women have never even thought of. They just want to live through the next contraction, or in other contexts, simply find transportation to the hospital or afford the expenses incurred by the pregnancy and delivery. So I recognize that a discussion on this topic is mute point to many, but it’s one that comes up regularly with women in my part of the world.

In another real sense, our privilege allows us to forget these other awful realities—that birth is scary, unexpected, and life-threatening to many women for a variety of reasons. So, how do we reconcile the longing for normalcy with the crushing blow of reality? How do we remain content with our plans going awry, while still holding the tension of disappointment that marks so much of the Christian life?

I think we carry them both with us. Every disappointing experience, every longing left unmet, every dream dashed on the rocks of real life is reminding us that this is not our home and this is not our final resting place. Our longing for normalcy and comfort is not so we can set up our home on earth, content to stay here forever. It’s designed to propel us towards that final resting place, where all of our longings will be met by the God who created us, saves us, and sustains us when life disappoints us.

Birth of all things should be the metaphor that reminds us of this, right? We know from Genesis 3 that the pain, sorrow, and difficulty we face in childbearing are owing to the brokenness of this sin-cursed world. It’s not how God intended. We know that the world itself is groaning like a woman in labor, waiting for its redemption—how much more are we, broken and disappointed women, yearning for this same redemption of our futile, weary lives?

Our privilege feeds us lies, telling us that birth can be all you hope it to be. Our bodies tell us otherwise. Of course, for every crazy birth story there is one of beauty and calm, but this is all of grace, not to be expected anymore than anything else is to be expected in this life. We are looking for a better life to come, one that frees us from this world and all its disappointments.

It’s been almost a year and a half since Seth left my body and was welcomed into our arms. In a lot of ways it’s taken all that time to come to terms with how he made his grand entrance. And that is the most disappointing part of all for me. How much did I miss in those early days because I was too busy longing for a perfect life, rather than the one I had been given? Graciously given, at that.

When birth disappoints you, sister, don’t be alarmed. In the words of C.S. Lewis, it’s simply a reminder that you were made for another world, one where all of our longings for normalcy find their perfect normal in the person of Jesus Christ.