Better Than a Birth Plan

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You had a C-section? I am so sorry. Maybe you can try for a natural birth next time. I have this amazing doula and birth center. I had an all-natural water birth there last year.

I was at a baby shower when I overheard the conversation. Several moms were gathering around a woman who was cradling a sleeping newborn with pink cheeks and dark curls.

The mom nodded uncertainly, “I do think I’ll try to have a natural birth next time.” Shame, sadness, and insecurity were hidden behind her tired eyes.

When young moms gather, birth is a natural connection point. These conversations can be funny, fascinating, and occasionally terrifying. I genuinely enjoy these varied birth stories, especially the natural birth ones. I praise God for the natural birth stories of many of my friends. I’m fascinated as I read or hear their stories, and am happy that they were able to give birth without hospital intervention and unnecessary cost and stress. I’m grateful that God gives doulas and midwives and natural birth centers to help women with birth.

But I am concerned as I hear some women evangelize for natural birth, and then I observe the hurting women who can’t experience natural birth. How many times have we talked about “my birth plan” and how important it is to have “a completely natural birth”? After all, birth is natural, isn’t it? “I want to feel empowered during my birth experience, and my plan helps me to accomplish that.”

Such thinking, though, can be self-indulgent and historically ignorant. Birth is not about self-fulfillment. Natural birth is not another thing to check off your bucket list, along with running a marathon. Overemphasizing natural birth can tempt young moms to view it as the only option for intentional mothers, while taking for granted the lives of their closest friends.

My “Unnatural” Life

“C-sections, and other medical interventions, are gifts from God to preserve life.”

I’m alive because of four Cesarean sections. I was born via emergency C-section. I labored unsuccessfully with our first daughter for more than twenty hours before succumbing to an emergency C-section when her heart rate dropped and my fever spiked. I determined to “try again” for a more natural birth, and our second daughter also arrived via C-section after almost 24 hours of unproductive labor. Our third daughter was born via planned Cesarean after a high-risk pregnancy.

Without the option of a Cesarean birth, my mother, aunts, cousins, siblings, three daughters, and I would be dead. So would dozens of friends.

C-sections, and other medical interventions, are gifts from God to preserve life. According to the Center for Disease Control, prior to the rise of medical interventions in the early 1900s, “failure to progress” in childbirth often meant painful death for both the baby and the mother. In countries without medical access, childbirth is still a leading cause of death for women. Sierra Leone, the most dangerous country for pregnant mothers, has a maternal death rate of 1,300 for every 100,000 births. In the United States, the rate is 14 for every 100,000.

God’s Birth Plan

Birth is one of the many opportunities to learn that “the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). God is sovereign over the lives of our children, and we are not. Oh, how hard that is for me to learn! Birth plans are indeed helpful tools, but ones that we must hold loosely, just like all of our plans for our children.

After our miscarriage, I took great comfort from Psalm 139, especially verses 13–16. But then I noticed the end of verse 16: “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God planned out every day of our children’s lives before they were conceived. Surely he knows a birth plan that is wiser than ours.

“When we forget that God is in control, comparison can become a deadly game among moms.”

My first daughter’s birth was traumatic. She was in stress from attempting unsuccessfully to be born. I was in a great deal of stress from a traumatic labor and emergency C-section. I didn’t see her or hold her for the first few hours after she was born. She bonded strongly with her daddy as I struggled to heal. None of that was my plan. Much of her early struggles in infancy and early babyhood frustrated me. I could easily trace them back to our “lack of bonding” or “trauma at birth.”

But God is graciously teaching me that he is sovereign over my daughter’s life. He chose to direct the circumstances of her birth, even the challenging ones. His eyes saw her “unformed substance” as she was growing in me, and he has a better plan for her than I do, with all of my books, opinions, and systems.

Powerless Parents

We do not have ultimate control over our children’s lives. We cannot force our children to nurse, sleep, stay healthy, or love and trust God. Pregnancy and childbirth are not exercises in self-expression, but instead are some of the first opportunities to trust God in parenting.

When we forget that God is in control, and that we are not, comparison can become a deadly game among moms. And pregnancy and childbirth are fertile areas for comparison. Who got pregnant first? Who had a boy? A girl? Twins? Who gained more or less weight? Who made it full term or gave birth early? Who labored longer? Who got an epidural? Who went all natural? Who had a C-section? Planned or emergency?

These are fascinating topics of conversation, but as soon as we turn them into a comparison game, we are losing sight of the important thing here: We both just received a great gift from God in receiving a newborn child. Both of us should be rejoicing, each for the other.

God Knows What You Need

The temptation to compare does not stop when we leave the hospital doors. It continues through social media posts and nursing-room conversations. Which baby is sleeping the longest? Who nurses well or doesn’t nurse at all? Who crawls first? Who talks first? Who makes it on a soccer team? Who reads first? Who is homeschooled? Who is in private school? This comparison can reveal our heart idols of control and self-love and ingratitude.

“Pregnancy and childbirth are some of the first opportunities to trust God in parenting.”

God loves us too much to let us keep worshiping our heart idols. He knows our hearts and exactly what will draw us closer to him — weakness and dependence or grateful praise. He is a kind and gracious Father who loves us too much to let us continue to follow hard after self-reliance or control. He sends his Holy Spirit to gently convict us of sin and turn us towards our greatest need: our need for him. Birth is just another tool that he may choose to accomplish that.

So, how should you respond the next time one of your friends has a C-section? Rejoice with her in the gift of life! Comfort her in her insecurity and aching body. Praise God with her that he preserved life through the C-section. And bring her dinner.

And as you contemplate your own birth plans, remember that God loves both you and your child and knows what both of you need most. By his grace, trust that he has planned every one of your child’s days and that he is working for your good.

His plans for you are better than your own plans, and he’ll work them out.