My wife and I are expecting a child, not our first, and God-willing, not our last. We are relatively young parents, still in our twenties, and this will be our third child in a short time. Due to various reasons, which we do not need to go over, our children will come into this world by way of caesarian section. Now, like most women, my wife did very much desire to give birth in a different way, but as per the many opinions of multiple doctors, it would not be safe for her to attempt things differently at this point. It has been a difficult thing for her to deal with, which is common among women for reasons that I am sure are obvious.
Most people are very understanding of this, and they understand that all bodies are made differently, and because of this, there is a multitude of reasons why any woman could find herself in the same boat as my wife. I love the “Catholic World” let’s call it, but there is one small but nagging splinter that seems to poke at women like my wife. I am not speaking from person to person experience; everyone in our community has actually been great. However, within the Catholic World at large, there tends to be an emphasis on certain types of births, in a way that is almost sacrementalized.
Home births, unmedicated births, tub births, births hanging from the ceiling… Okay I made that last one up. If you were an outsider to a Catholic community, especially online, you would swear that the “best” Catholics were the ones who gave birth at home, or who are never induced, or who never used medication for pain. Now, once again, people have not given us this impression in our community, but it has come up online many times. There seems to be an emphasis so strongly on the more “natural” ways of birthing, that women who are simply in a different situation are almost seen as not having measured up to some standard of pious Catholic birth.
I have a theory as to why this is. Like most things, I believe it stems from good intention. My theory has a few parts to it.
First, an emphasis on such a “natural” birth is a response to a culture that is very much against traditional catholic fertility and large families. This is understandable, our culture is not a pro-life culture, and the medical community is full of voices that speak against large families and a true openness to life. My wife and I have been blessed with some great doctors who are very responsive to our Christian morals, and we could not be happier about it. However, a birds eye view of the gamut of OBGYN’s out there can be discouraging to many couples who are seeking some Pro-life health care. There are also many myths out there, about how many births are too many births for a woman to have when she is required to give birth by way of a C-section. The common narrative is three births are the maximum, something that even many Catholics believe. I will not go into “debunking” that myth here, you can do that on your own time if you wish. It is therefore understandable why many Catholics see the frequency of C-sections as some sort of conspiracy by an anti-life culture to keep people from having large families. But, this isn’t true. It is Catholic health care over the centuries that has revolutionized maternal health care. One of these ways has been the C-section. Our Catholic doctors and researchers have worked hard over many years to find a way to reduce suffering and death for our families, and although it is understandable that people would have a skepticism towards the frequency of C-sections, it is misguided.
Second, a healthy distrust of government is a part of any devout Catholics life, but it can become unreasonable. I find this among the online Catholic community frequently. Here in Canada, our healthcare is government run, and therefore it is very much a branch of the government, which is unfortunate. There are legitimate instances of propaganda about things that are unscientific but are politically correct that are recommended by Health Canada. A lot of the gender stuff comes to mind; also, some non-sense about food, but the C-section does not fall under that window. This distrust of government is a good thing in some cases, but health care procedures that ensure the safety of your wife and children are not instruments of the government. There may be some doctors that discourage women to have multiple C-sections, but any couple can do their research and find a practitioner who is less ideologically driven. Once again, it is the reverence for life that the Catholic tradition has imparted on the health care field that has given us many of the lifesaving advancements of maternal care, and our skepticism should be reserved for other things.
Third, the emphasis on all things “natural” is a misguided application of wanting to live in closer connection to the good things in nature that God provides. It is sort of a pet peeve of mine when people claim that one thing is more “natural” than another is, especially in our modern day. As an example, I love to lift weights and play sports, and among many weight lifters, there is this emphasis on being more “natural”. This means they will not use specially designed shoes, or maybe they want to eat “natural”, because we all know that primitive people could access vegetables in Canada in January and blend them into a smoothie. They will speak of their “natural” approach to fitness while they load perfectly engineered plates onto the perfectly weighted iron bar, in the temperature-controlled gym while they sip perfectly naturally occurring protein powder from their plastic shaker bottle. I see a similar thing in the way of health care, frequently in relation to birthing decisions. I am not trying to take anything away from unmedicated births, which blow my mind, but I think there is a parallel. People will talk to you how they would like to have a “natural” birth like we were meant to, in there naturally occurring plastic tub, in their naturally occurring apartment, with their naturally occurring fresh clean water coming out of their naturally occurring plumbing system that gets its water from a naturally occurring infrastructure. Which a mid-wife who received her training from a naturally occurring college, as they use naturally occurring plastic sheets to mitigate the mess, and naturally occurring bandages and sutures in the case of tearing. All of this occurs of course in a natural bed.
I am being a bit unfair maybe, but come on, where do we draw a line at “natural”? Let us have our children in the woods, clean them off in the stream, and then wrap them in animal skins, which would probably be the best “natural” birth. Then we can feed them naturally, by mushing up insects and hunting for small animals, we can make medicine out of tree bark and drink honey straight from the beehive. We can also send them to a natural school where they learn to write using stone tablets. On the other hand, maybe we can just blog about our philosophies on Natural Catholic Births on our natural computers that use naturally occurring quantum mechanics and drink a naturally occurring soy-latte.
I understand the desire to do things against the main stream. However, we need to understand that women do not choose many of the things that come their way with regards to birth. We also live in a fallen world, and there is no fairness in biology. Most women will tell you they have had a myriad of experiences in their child rearing. Whether they have experienced miscarriages, or other tragedies, it is not a sign of piety. Some very holy women have had ten home births with labours as long as an episode of The Office, while others have only experienced sadness. The way that our children come into this world is not a sign of piety or devotion to Jesus, but our Catholic Medical heritage that has worked tirelessly to bring more souls into this world for God to love, is in fact a result of our devotion to Jesus and his love for the Body.