Who gets to decide how you give birth?
Who gets to determine what position you are in, how “adequate” your contractions are, how much time you have?
Who will decide who is in the room, whether you’re “allowed” to move, what you can eat, wear, sound like, smell, listen to?
Who gets to determine when you hold your baby, what they are injected with, where they sleep, how long they gestate?
Will it be your insurance company?
A hospital CEO?
The staff surgeon?
A corporate lawyer?
Your doctor's schedule?
Will it be the state government?
The L&D staffing coordinator?
The HR team at work?
An overworked or strictly controlled nurse?
The resident that happens to be on call?
Or will it be you, your husband, and God?
We are born into systems and cultures that may or may not be in our best interest, may or may not be serving our dignity, and may or may not be glorifying God. This is true for every human being from the beginning of time in every culture, era, country, religion. What we are raised with, taught, and absorb from these systems and cultures becomes our normal. For good or bad, we absorb it into us as what is expected and just "how we do things."
But we are created with an intellect and will, given to us by God to inform our decisions, our lives, and even the culture around us. It is GOOD and RIGHT to question whether norms we were born into that we have been accepted as normal are actually good and right in and of themselves. It is our task as Christians to always be asking whether norms in front of us are befitting of the Kingdom of God we are called to build.
We are not talking about questioning the timeless truths of the Church, our biology, and the order of God. We are talking here about the social and cultural norms that may or may not honor those primary barometers of what actually is good and right.
When it comes to pregnancy and birth as well as many other choices in parenthood, we can choose what actually honors our bodies, our babies, our families, and the design of God. We can begin to question whether the norms we have never even thought to question before are actually good, true, and worthy of continuing. In fact, we can say that with the poor maternal and neonatal outcomes in our country, it is actually wise and prudent to question the system responsible for them!
In our current culture of pregnancy and birth, it has become normal for an insurance company to decide where and how a woman gives birth. It has become normal for births to be scheduled at the convenience of the doctor or hospital staffing. It has become normal for providers to put time limits on how long a woman "should" be pregnant or in labor. It has become normal for government politicians lobbied by corporate entities to dictate what your doctor or midwife can and cannot do, how they can or cannot serve you, despite their own clinical expertise or your free informed consent. It has become normal for doctors and hospitals to ignore readily available evidence that contradicts their standard protocol. It has become normal to have strangers surround a woman at her most vulnerable and sacred moments. It has become normal for pregnancy to be treated like a disease and for women and babies to compromise their safety and care to fit the needs of the system rather than the system working to fit the needs of women and babies.
But should all those things be normal? Is this good and right? Is this how God intended it to be? Is the current standard model of care working within the design of God and serving the individual? Is it honoring motherhood? Is it honoring physiology? Is it leading to healthier outcomes?
You can choose to just go with the flow, not question, do what you've been trained to believe is normal. You can let your birth be decided by who your insurance covers, by who happens to be there at the hospital, by what your state has dictated is "allowed", by the schedule of your doctor, or by what will make the least waves in your social circles. You as mother can choose to do that.
But you can also choose to step outside the paradigm you were told is normal. You can choose to question whether those norms are actually good and right for you, your baby, your family. You can ask if there's a better way. You can embrace the authority God has given to you and only you as mother of this baby and caretaker of your body. You can make decisions informed by your faith, your intuition, and your biology even if it makes others uncomfortable, upset, hurt, or defensive. Even if it means sacrifice and extra work.
Perhaps for some the “pain of childbearing” comes in the form of winnowing relationships, being vilified or misunderstood, setting boundaries that sting, daring to say no, financial sacrifice, stepping outside a comfort zone or cultural norm, or claiming maternal authority when it would be a whole lot easier to acquiesce it to others. Those all come with some degree of pain at the service of our vocation and bearing life. They all can play a part in claiming mature motherhood.
There are situations outside our control, yes. There may be circumstances in your pregnancy or birth allowed by God that mean you do listen to the voices and advice within the system, when it is wise and good to trust those who are skilled in medicine and surgery. There are absolutely times when it honors God and ourselves to address pathology and seek the care and gifts of healers and doctors. But always remember that it is our right and responsibility to discern, to question, to plan, to be the primary decision makers for ourselves and our babies. Remember that we answer to God and our families first, not fallible systems, cultural norms, or manmade authority. We can claim and embrace that in our own unique circumstances. We can question with confidence. We can choose or we can let it be chosen for us.