Now that I’m no longer pregnant, I feel more comfortable saying that I found pregnancy almost entirely miserable. My pregnancy could be measured in symptoms: First mind-numbing fatigue, second vomiting, third daily migraines, fourth crippling pelvic separation, fifth false (or “practice”) contractions, sixth freaking hives.
Before my pregnancy could end, I had to go through labor and birth. Labor, like pregnancy, gets continually worse before it ends, so the desire to move toward an endpoint is married to the awareness that more pain is coming. I chose to labor and birth naturally, which means I did not use any painkillers. For the majority of my labor, I felt like I could handle it. Even toward the end of active labor when I was crying and shouting during the contractions, I felt that those actions were part of how I was managing the pain. Between contractions I was still calm, serious, and committed to continuing without drugs. The transition between active labor and pushing was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. This is the only part we usually see in the media, when the woman says things she doesn’t mean, makes impossible requests, and shouts at people who are trying to help her. This is what Sylvia Plath described as a “long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain.” Out of 34 hours, this lasted about 2 ½, or so I’m told. When my midwife told me I could start pushing, I felt an immense sense of relief. Now I could do something to move the process forward, I could use my strength, the might of my warrior woman, to end my pain and start my daughter’s life. At the climax, the space in which the highest peaks of agony and joy touch for just a moment, I gave my last push through the ring of fire. I pushed despite the fact that I could feel the pushing breaking me, partly because I chose joy over an absence of pain, and partly because I had no choice.
I was told that I would forget all my discomfort and pain when my baby was born. I did not forget it, but I also don’t regret it. That long, hard ascent to the peak of physical suffering is completely eclipsed by the sheer joy of my daughter’s mere existence. She does not erase the pain; she is the purpose of the pain.
Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus suffered on the cross because of the joy that was waiting for him. That is how I feel about pregnancy and birth. I did not suffer because suffering is a virtuous thing to do. I didn’t suffer because I wanted to be refined into a better person. I didn’t suffer because I have a martyr complex, or to have an excuse to complain for the rest of my life. I chose to suffer for one reason and one reason only; for the joy of being Pearl’s mother.
I have only sobbed for joy twice in my life. The first time was after I walked back down the aisle with my husband on our wedding day. I cherish that moment, when I couldn’t hold all the wonder and beauty inside for another second, and my new husband held me while I trembled and cried for joy. That was a small taste of what it was like to hold my daughter for the first time. She is miraculous in many ways, not least of which is in the simple and unbelievable fact that this complete person had just emerged from my own body. She came when we’d given up hope for children, she came despite my lack of faith in a God who keeps his promises, she came and grew and was healthy in a body that also is growing cancer cells, she came with a name God gave us before her conception. She is a true pearl, emerging from struggle and agony to grace the world with a pure and flawless beauty.