childbirth without fear
Yesterday a friend brought his two year-old child to our house so I grabbed the most toy-like thing we had on hand–my matryoshka dolls–and set them out for his entertainment. When he took them apart and pulled out the smallest doll, he said that he’d found a little baby and seemed pleased. I started gazing at the curvacious dolls in their dissembled state and realized that I strongly identified with none other than the very largest. I’ve crossed a size line in the last few weeks; even my maternity shirts and elastic waist maternity pants are feeling and looking too snug. Like the largest nesting doll, I encase the smaller versions of me inside, and further down, the real prize, a little baby.
My friend Violet asked me which I feared more, going through labor, or the first few days with a newborn. I said I was more afraid of the first few days with a newborn. Later I decided that the question was faulty. Sometimes I fear and sometimes I don’t, but when I do, the fears are not limited to either the duration of labor, or the first few days of motherhood. Fears brought on by the pregnant state seem boundless in time, space, and variety. An occassional bad dream reveals to me my hidden anxieties. I’ve had dreams that I forgot to start nursing my baby after birth and the hospital nurses took it away and started bottle feeding it formula without my knowledge, thus permanently robbing me of the chance to get it started on breastmilk. I had another dream where I left the hospital too early after the birth, even before the baby had been weighed, and it missed all of the important tests and measurements that confirm its health.
Other fears are less irrational but more odious. What if my child inherits only the worst personality traits from both sides of our family? What about Sudden Infant Death Syndrom? What if, one day, our child gets injured or killed in an accident that Jeff and I, in a fluke of carelessness, fail to prevent? Then there is the petty category. What if my curly hair and Jeff’s curly hair combine to give our child the wildest, most unruly head of hair imaginable? What if the child becomes a teenager with embarrassing taste in clothes, hobbies, or social tendencies? Then there is the twice-removed petty category: What if my stomach looks forever like curdled milk after childbirth and I have to give half of my favorite clothes to the Salvation Army because they will never fit again? Fear begets fear, begets fear. The ones I’ve written here are only the ones I’m willing to admit on a public blog. There are worse ones.
I’ve stumbled over inane thoughts, one at a time, in the late hours of the night. But at unexpected times I have also demonstrated a hardy resistence, and I’m proud of these instances. One happened when I was discussing the baby’s September due date with a co-worker and she pointed out how awful it would be if it were born on September 11. Another happened when I was talking to my well-meaning Mom, who after saying how excited she was about the baby, added that she only regretted the scary future it would be born into (thank you, Fox News). In both cases, I was remarkably impervious to these potent suggestions of fear. I even found myself thinking: Let my child be born on September 11; it will be born for martyrdom. Let the future be scary and my child be a light for frightened people.
I think I’m most proud of these reactions because, quite simply, they were sincere. I didn’t think them because the little thinker in me decided they were appropriate. And for that matter, they weren’t even really thought out. They were simply visceral, which means that they were already in me and ready to assert themselves in the darkness. Later, of course, I was able to fill in theological details. We depict Christ as being born in a cave, which represents a tomb, for goodness sake; this is comparable to being born on September 11. And moreover, he was born to die on a Cross, which, let’s see, qualifies as a scary future.
But all is supremely well in the redeemed cosmos.
Not to carry the matryoshka doll metaphor to a nauseatingly literary extreme, but I’m realizing my faith is like the innermost matryoshka doll, hiding under the outer doll husks, fat with this-worldly fear. I possess the prize of non-fear that will get me through childbirth, into motherhood, and well beyond.