birth story, breastfeeding, pregnancy, Suffering

Jesus doesn’t care about your epidural

November 24, 2014

… At least not any more or any less than He cares about your harrowing trip to the dentist sans novocaine, your half marathon finished under 2 hours with a stress fracture in your tibia, or your heroic push through to bedtime while your better half is away on business and the natives are restless. And pooping in the bathtub.

I’ve observed an uncomfortable phenomenon in the Catholic blogosphere whereby some moms seem to be trying to out-suffer each other with gruesome labor tales, stories of timing contractions to correlate with each mystery of the full, 20-decade rosary and, my personal favorite, uniting the incredible pain of labor to the mystery of Christ’s redemptive suffering on the Cross. Because holiness.

This is right and good. It is what we as Christians are called to do: unite temporal suffering to the salvific passion of Christ.

But, here’s the thing. There are as many ways to suffer virtuously as there are human persons on this planet. And there is nothing uniquely efficacious about labor pains and the grueling achievement of birthing a fresh human being. Aside from the fact that in modern day 21st century America, it might be the closest many of us come to true physical anguish for the first time in our lives. And I totally get that. That is powerful.

But there is nothing about labor – particularly labor sans meds – which makes the suffering incurred more holy or more effective than any other cause of suffering. And there is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to forgo or mitigate some of that incredible physical pain with modern medicine. It doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It doesn’t make you less of a hero. And it definitely doesn’t make you less of a mother.

Look, I’m all for a good birth story. God knows I’ve penned a few in my day. But let’s cut the crap and stop trying to one up each other in the delivery room (or in the birthing pool, as it were.) It’s not a competition. And you are not more holy than what’s-her-name if you did it all without a needle stuck in your back or an incision across your bikini line.

We live in a time where medicine is available to mitigate the pain of labor. And God did not say “though shalt not numb thy nether regions for to give birth is to remove the stain of original sin.”

That’s actually what baptism is for (the stain removal, not the numbed nether regions. But I digress.)

I love that some women are prepared to enter into the birth experience with a clear mind and veins absent of any controlled substances. My two best friends have birthed 7 children between them using nothing stronger than castor oil. Good for them!

And if that is your story too, then good for you! May your child know of the real sacrifice you made, for whatever reason, to bring them into this world au natural.

But may you never presume that the months of sleepless nights with a newborn, the horrors of mastitis, the hell of postpartum depression, or the pain of recovering from a c-section are somehow lesser sufferings. We each carry our own crosses. And no two look the same.

There’s no one way to have a baby. Thank God for that.

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  • Reply Ellen Johnson November 24, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Did you write this just for me, Jenny? Because I love it & thank you.

  • Reply Heidi November 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Oh, my decision to go epidural-free for #2 was entirely motivated by the consideration of the pain & suffering involved . . . the 1/2-hour of pain-free pushing with #1 courtesy of a spinal block translated into 6 weeks of feeling like I’d been kicked btwn the legs & all the pain of pushing – but no epidural – every time I used the bathroom. No epidural with #2 (and no purple pushing), and I felt better that day than I did six weeks after #1. Not saying that would be everyone’s experience! Just saying – some of us choose no-epidural childbirth for some of the same reasons that other women choose the epidural!

    • Reply Jenny November 24, 2014 at 8:57 pm

      Great point, and that’s my point…we all have our own reasons. I have definitely heard some epidural horror stories too!

  • Reply Nell @ Whole Parenting Family November 24, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Hell yea. Thanks for your brilliance!!

  • Reply Mary Wilkerson November 24, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Thank you so much for saying this- It’s something I really believe. Over-theologizing (i don’t think that’s a word, at the very least spellcheck does not think it’s a word) things like medication free birthing, breastfeeding, cloth diapering, etc… is a VERY dangerous practice around the Catholic mothering sorts. I actually read a blog one time about how formula feeding is participating in satan’s plan to live selfishly. It’s pretty darn discouraging- so blogs like this right here are a very important sensible voice in a sometimes cray-cray blogging world.

  • Reply Francine November 24, 2014 at 8:47 pm


  • Reply Keelin Cromar November 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you. Just thank you.

  • Reply Becky November 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Thanks for writing this! Before Kendra’s “mailbag” post last week that touched on this, I had NEVER heard of this or considered this a reason to avoid an epidural. It kind of blew my mind. Great post on the subject 🙂

    • Reply Kati November 25, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      I am the person who sent that mailbag question to Kendra, and just to be clear, I didn’t think of it as a “Catholic” issue at all when I sent it (or when I read her response). I asked her because she has seven kids, and I know she’s birthed them all without epidurals. That’s it. I haven’t seen the other blogs I think Jenny might be referring to here, so apparently there are lots of other people who do see medicated vs. unmedicated birth as a Catholic issue – but I don’t. And I feel pretty confident that Kendra doesn’t either.

    • Reply Jenny November 25, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Yep, it’s definitely a commonly discussed topic… And Kendra’s post was just the latest. But I won’t put words in her mouth that she didn’t write, and I don’t name any names in this post intentionally, because it’s unproductive and unnecessary.

    • Reply Jenny November 25, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      Painfully obvious clarification: some of the COMMENTS on her post. Not her words.

    • Reply Kati November 25, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      Yes I agree Jenny, it did come up in the comments. And I didn’t address it in my responses to those comments, because I just thought it was such a weird twist on the conversation. I am wholeheartedly agreeing with your post here. I’m going to go ahead and say, not every single decision in life can be categorized as “Catholic” or “not Catholic.” (How bold of me! I know!) I think childbirth is definitely one of those things! And I’ve had almost every kind of birth so I feel solid in my position here. Turns out all my kids are Catholic regardless of how they entered the ex-utero world, and I still am too!!

    • Reply The English Major November 25, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      I’m confused by this topic, and by your post, Jennny. I have never heard anyone refer to the decision to have mess or not for birth as a religious or faith-based one. The first time was here, with this post, the second when reading comments on Kendras post. But there, the only people making comments about Catholicism were those who had medicated births, who seemed strangely defensive in bringing it up. The majority of commenters had a very healthy attitude of do what’s right for you. So why this aggressive post? Where is this an issue? Just curious, and, incidentally, killing time while I wait to go into labor myself (late. Sigh.)!

    • Reply The English Major November 25, 2014 at 6:28 pm

      “To have meds,” not “mess.” Autocorrect irritation. The mess, of course, goes without saying, no matter the circumstances of birth.

    • Reply Jenny November 25, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      I’m so glad you’ve only ever heard the litany of holy parenting choices a handful of times…spend a bit more time online or in mom’s groups and, unfortunately, I guarantee you will hear aaaaaaaall about it.

      Good luck and prayers for a safe, speedy arrival!

    • Reply Jenny November 26, 2014 at 3:37 am

      And @Kati, thank you for your comments!

  • Reply Ashley Anderson November 24, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Amen. I could write a million and two words about this. I’ve yet to experience birth in the traditional sense. I have 3 beautiful children & two c-sections etched into my past. I think it is beautiful that women experience what appears to be a liberating & empowering experience through birth. I also want to tap some of them on the shoulders & tell them that really, really you can’t judge another woman you know who didn’t do the same and that her story (and it’s lack of a great big climax of framed & clear sacrifice through birth) may have little to do with her virtues, research, doctor, patience, pray life, experience, strength, or what not (or rather, lack there of). We shouldn’t temper our joy just because of others’ suffering. But I do wish some women could understand that the other side deserves a bit of empathy and compassion too. Just sayin’. Those c-sections…they cut the heart in a way…not easy to put into words (even when you’ve got a million and two of them). Thanks for writing this!

  • Reply Katrina Rose November 24, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    True, true, true!

  • Reply Eva November 24, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Lol–I love it! I had two unmedicated labors–one of them was relatively easy and didn’t require medication, and one was excruciating and in the end damaging to my relationship with the baby, but I was too proud to get pain relief! Years later I see the error in my thinking, and if any of my future labors resemble that labor in ANY WAY, I will demand an epidural!

  • Reply Eliese November 24, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    Amen. The issue is unnecessarily and divisively moralized. I’ve done it with and without (in that order), and regret neither! Chose without this time purely because I was curious if I could do it (and only after I decided to do it that way, I felt strongly compelled to – don’t laugh! – offer it up for an intention dear to my heart). Without actually seems to work better for me since I only pushed 8 minutes as opposed to 1+ hour with the other two, because I could feel what I was doing, and my recovery was better. And that’s what should matter: what’s best for mom and baby, WHATEVER way that is! If going without an epidural was supposed to make me a saint, then something went wrong because I am NOT there yet! 😉

  • Reply Elise November 24, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    As I think and pray about the labor & delivery of my first child {due in March} this is a hot topic for me, personally. Thank you for writing this, Jenny!

  • Reply Jessica Carney November 24, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    But God still cares that I follow the paleo diet, right?! RIGHT?!?!? Must! Feel! Superior!

    (Paleo people, calm down, I try to follow it myself.)

    (But seriously Jenny–this is great. You so smart. Keep up the typey-type.)

    • Reply mary November 25, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Sometimes I read a comment and think, ” I think I would like this person in real life.” This is one of those times.

  • Reply Molly Walter November 24, 2014 at 9:30 pm

    Interventions, some med free labor time, epidurals, a c-section, natural miscarriage, D&C’s, antepartum depression – God’s given me ample chances to meet him on the cross without natural labor. Naturally delivery mama’s I salute you, but that’s not my cross… at least not yet… and I still get my mommy merit-badges 😉

    Thank you Jenny!

  • Reply November 24, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    Hear, hear!

  • Reply Laura Rose November 24, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Amen! Having done it both ways, I am happy to report that I don’t feel any better or worse as a person for doing it either way. Different times and situations merely called for different measures. Thank you for pointing out that we all need to stop COMPARING ourselves to others. True holiness doesn’t seek to do that anyway, and we as women especially need to STOP. Comparing only discourages and tears down, instead of encouraging each of us to be the beautiful and unique woman God designed us to be. Can’t wait to see how #4 labor and delivery end for me…only a few more weeks and I’ll have another birth story to share–but not one to compare. 😉

    • Reply Laura Rose November 24, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      *women God designed us to be*

  • Reply Emily Barnes November 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Amen. Thanks for this!

  • Reply Loveisneverdefeated November 25, 2014 at 2:29 am

    My first birth was epidural free, with a midwife and also a terrible painfull experience. which took me months to get over. My 2nd was with an epidural and an OB, and was for me preferable. I remember actually being happy when the baby made her entrance not scared and traumatized. Although part of me wishes i could deal with the pain and go med free,I just don’t see that happening in the future. I will offer up my stitches instead!

  • Reply amy November 25, 2014 at 5:09 am

    Preach it. I’ve done natural births 3 times (once a planned homebirth, 2 of them waterbirths), and even *I* don’t get the hype over how awesome natural birth is supposed to be. I’d be way ok with a stork bringing all my babies. For seriousness. I mean, why do they even tell that to little kids EVER? I think Dumbo ruined me for having births.

  • Reply Amanda November 25, 2014 at 5:25 am

    Yes. Yes to all of it, from this mama who has had two cesareans. Thanks for writing it!

  • Reply Katie November 25, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    I just learned of the no-epidural for Catholic moms this year on the blogosphere, and I’m like, ummm, what? As a cradle Catholic with 4 happy epidural births under my belt, I only know that every delivery is different AND my husband and I have a ball after the epidural is in. Thanks for sharing to help any younger Catholic moms have oodles of peace and love for their own journeys.

  • Reply Jennifer November 26, 2014 at 4:56 am

    Seriously… This post was an answer to prayer as I impatiently wait for #3 to make his/her arrival.

  • Reply Amy Caroline November 28, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Amen. There is nothing worse then making moms who have just given birth feel like they have already failed.

  • Reply Kristi December 26, 2014 at 6:01 am

    I am reading this late but hope to add a thought to the discussion. 🙂 I agree that the decision to have or forego an epidural is not a Catholic one, and also that going one way or the other does not a better/holier mother make (yikes). But, please correct me if I’m wrong, but the tone of the article (& some others I’ve seen on this subject) seems to suggest that it doesn’t matter what someone chooses, as if those who do opt out are undertaking some sort of pointless exercise in pain. Epidurals can come with potential risks, such as more likely tearing, subsequent migraines, higher chance of C-section, etc. Skipping the epi could help with establishing breastfeeding, mom’s recovery time, & avoiding the potential risks above. That is why some moms choose to go without. Please know that I’m not judging any mothers for their decisions, but I do think it’s important to encourage pregnant women to do their research & then decide (knowing that sometimes things don’t go just as planned – but at least they can make informed decisions), rather than give the impression that it really doesn’t matter what they choose. I’m really hoping this comment comes through in the charitable way I intend. I appreciate your thoughtful posts on sometimes challenging subjects.

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