Not Your Own, and Never Alone

It’s true that often husbands seem oblivious, but any woman who is with another woman in labor can pick up on contractions. You don’t have to be trained to know that one is coming, or is on her, or is almost done. It’s a common sense, intuitive, basic bit of womanhood, to be mindful of these things and sensitive toward them. The woman delivering the lunch tray knows it, as soon as she enters the room, and waits patiently, before she speaks.

And yet they have these things called contraction monitors. I get it. The nurses have too many patients. They can’t possibly watch and chart and bear the liability of them all without machines. This way the nurse can sit at the computer and monitor what is happening in Room 204. Except, of course, if the woman in 204 is moving around and the monitor keeps losing its hold. This can be very frustrating, because the nurse is not chiefly responsible for the patient, but for paperwork.

Why is the mother moving around? She is doing what she must to deliver the child, which is, in fact, the whole point of the contractions. She is working beside them, with them. They are part of the grand design. It is worth watching. These contractions— it’s true that they can be monitored on a screen, we’ve figured that out— but to separate them from the rocking moaning body of the woman, to preside over her “progress” as if she was a mouse in a laboratory… is this progress? 

It has come to this: If a mother wants to be truly helped and cared for, dignified and respected in labor, she must bring those things with her to the hospital. You may be blessed to find them in the heart of the busy, harried nurse, but they aren’t prescribed or written in the chart, or remotely understood by those making policy. 

I have seen a nurse, bless her, move the monitor around to better record the contractions while the mother was fully dilated and pushing.  Finally, the obstetrician, realizing it, said, “Yeah, I don’t think we need that anymore.” 

Everyone laughed, and the nurse said, “Oh I forgot; it’s such a habit!”

How did it become a habit to annoy a woman fully absorbed in the most difficult task of her life?

The policy makers believe that by using machines in place of personal care, they can hire less nurses and make more money. The nurses become exhausted and emotionally diminished. The good desire they had to help people is overridden by overwork, a fear of liability and lawsuits and the frustrated rhythm of just clocking in and out for a paycheck. They feel used.  As greed enters the equation, like sin into the world, truth and goodness take a hit, and quality of care and medical knowledge with them. I could harp for hours on the many ways our birthing system dehumanizes the mother and child and promotes fear and stupidity, but I don’t need to convince anyone, for this kind of thing is found everywhere.

In this wonderful piece by Alan Noble, about simply grocery shopping, he says:

…We’ve freed ourselves from the tyranny of talking with a checker and all it cost us was the presumption of innocence and all human warmth.

This whole experience is predicated on the idea that we are each our own, that we are ultimately only responsible for ourselves and to ourselves. And that means that we don’t owe anyone anything unless it’s contractually or legally defined. The store’s only obligations to you are legal. Their only responsibilities are to profit. When treating customers, employees, or producers as human beings leads to greater efficiency, then they will do so, but only then.

As a young American woman in her birthing years, soon expecting her second child, every word of this article makes me sick with its startling application to our hospital system, where medication is what it’s all about. He goes on to say,

Instead of asking whether our environment is inhuman, our default is to self-medicate, to find a coping mechanism. And even while we self-medicate, we’re also making jokes about self-medicating because it’s obvious to everyone that this is not healthy. It’s not how we are meant to live. 

At the same birth I mentioned earlier, there was a new L&D nurse, around my age. She had been on the floor a couple months and was there to observe, as she had never seen an unmedicated birth before. She wasn’t ready to experience pregnancy and childbirth, she said, but she told us about her “child” waiting at home, a golden-doodle. Everyone started swapping dog stories, but soon stopped. This wasn’t a room for small talk. The mother had been laboring all night and day, and now the time was close. We had been praying for the birth to come before 7:00 p.m. when I had to leave. Although I had been supporting her constantly and she greatly desired me to stay, I was considered a visitor and non-essential.

She was now on her elbows and knees, a very good position to prevent tearing, though unconventional. I was thankful her doctor “let her” do this. Like many women, when I was delivering just a year earlier, I had been told that I “had to” get on my back, though there is no benefit to this position, for the mother or baby. The time had come. I stood at the mother’s head and she held my hands. She knew she could squeeze them as hard as she needed to, and she did. Her husband kissed her and then stood beside the doctor to wait for the sight of the head. 

And that’s what we did— we waited. We all did. She rested a moment. With a cool cloth, I wiped the sweat from her brow. She was not alone. Then the pressure built up once more, one last time…

The doctor said, “That’s perfect! We can see him. He’s coming! You’ve got it. He’s coming! Just a couple more. Just one more…”

And then that doctor, forever bless her soul, just laid that human child right underneath the mother so she could hang her exhausted head and look into his beautiful perfect face. She wept over him. We all did. They were separated now, for the first time, yet still held together with the chord that had pulsed her life into his for forty weeks.

I looked up at the new nurse, hand over her masked mouth, back against the wall. Her face was wet too. We’ve seen this happen so many times, but never before this child, and never again. He will live on this earth, and die and be buried with his fathers, but his birth was a just a moment and now a memory, a good one. 

Good memories about childbirth are not always possible, but they are possible much more often than they are experienced.

The young nurse and her “child” at home— she loves that dog and he has filled a spot in her lonely heart, as we are all greatly comforted by our animals— but we do not carry them inside us. We do not travail over them, and deliver them. They do not stand in the lineage of the human race, a lineage so important to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As much as we care for them, they are not our children. We are not their parents. We are made in God’s holy image, with his fingerprints on our souls, forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage, distinct from Great Danes and Golden-doodles, laboratory mice, robots and the electronic firing of input, storage, processing and output.

The woman sat back on her shaky legs and took up her son, as the mother of Christ did long ago. “He’s here. I can’t believe he’s here.”

I stayed until he was nursing but returned the next day. “How are you feeling?” I asked her. 

“There were many moments yesterday when I felt like I couldn’t possibly do it. When I just wanted a way out, any way out. But now I feel…” she laughed, “Well, I feel like a bad-ass. I feel like I could totally do it again.”

She didn’t feel self-sufficient. She has many times thanked me for my part. She is grateful for her obstetrician. She wouldn’t have wanted to be without her husband. What’s more, she knows she was created to birth, and she was, after all, at the hospital in case something went wrong. What she was describing as “bad-ass” was actually just human. She experienced a beautiful part of womanhood many can not and do not, often, sadly, because they are not helped and supported, and because they simply do not believe in this good aspect of their humanity: that if they are given the gift of motherhood, they are well capable of and created to accomplish the task, in all its many facets, and that they will never be alone.


This is an opinion piece of sorts and different from what I usually write. Forgive me if it seems a soap-box. I have found no other way to continue writing, other than to write about what I see as I see it, and so it is impossible for me not to write about childbirth these days, although I know it is not a present part of life for many.

My friend, Rachel, writes powerfully out of motherhood, and you can find two of her recent pieces with these links: The Contradiction of Healing Prayer and An Unjust Cheap Justice. I have learned much from her.

And my friend, Sarah, had a beautiful poem published in Fathom, but it was this one that gave me chill-bumps

One thought on “Not Your Own, and Never Alone

  1. Sarah, I’m glad you wrote this. Your passion for birth and mothers is so clear. What a beautiful memory for that mom, and for all of you. Childbirth is miraculous, and you’re right, current culture doesn’t want to let birth be what it often wants to be. (I experienced this, too.)


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