I’ve had six c-sections. During my fifth, I was feeling tremendous pressure to have my tubes tied: I was tired. I was sick. I was so ready to be done. Thankfully, my anesthetist cracked just the right joke before I could go ahead. . . .
by Susan Windley-Daoust
This article is adapted from chapter twenty-six of The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust. Read other chapters as they become available by clicking on the chapter links in the sidebar. Get the whole book in print or ebook formats at the Gracewatch Media store.
Read a review of The Gift of Birth in Church Life magazine.
I was privileged to interview a number of Christian women who shared their birth stories with me for this book. I have chosen stories that span a wide range of birth experiences to demonstrate the many ways the Holy Spirit is embraced in birth.
As you read these stories, consider the three spiritual keys: give God permission to work in your life and relax into openness; cooperate with God’s intention to realize your motherhood through your body now; and yield to the work of the Holy Spirit. Consider how each woman attended to those keys during her birthing experience.
Regina: “After the C-Sections, I See the Hand of God in All Things”
Regina Hiney is a married mother of six who lives in Virginia. All of her births have been by Cesarean section.
I had six C-sections. My first “to term” pregnancy—I had a second trimester miscarriage—was a C-section because my son was 10.4 pounds and fully breach. My doctor tried turning him but his head was lodged somewhere under my rib cage. When it looked like I was developing preeclampsia (a spike in blood pressure, swelling, and headache) the doctor made the decision to go ahead and do the C-section.
When I was pregnant with my second child we did try for a VBAC [vaginal birth after Cesarean]. It was a planned birth: pitocin, hooked up to machines. And they took the baby a week early [because] I was having another big baby (she was my smallest at 8 pounds, 13 ounces).
After sixteen hours, labor “failed to progress,” and it was discovered that the baby (Katherine) was in distress with the umbilical cord around her neck—twice. We wound up having an emergency C-section. There was disappointment. I remember thinking that if maybe I had let nature take its natural course— not gone early, not had the pitocin, no machines . . . I think maybe things would have gone differently. But maybe then the cord could have gotten around Katherine’s neck and things could have gone badly. After two C-sections, the rest were just planned C-sections. So, I tend to see the hand of God in all things.
Did you engage in any spiritual practices directed toward the birth prior to this birth? Can you describe them?
I am Catholic but my husband is not. So, I prepared by going to Confession. Jason and I will pray together. My Bible study friends pray for me and folks from both my church and Jason’s church prayed for us.
Where was God in your birthing process? Was there a place where you sensed the presence of the Holy Spirit? Or Mary?
One neat story as I was having my fifth C-section [happened when] Jason wasn’t in the room yet—he had to get prepped.
The nurses always are floored when they hear that I am not getting my tubes tied “while the doctor is in there anyway.” Victoria is only fifteen months younger than my daughter Mary and it was a difficult pregnancy. And I was feeling tremendous pressure to have my tubes tied. I was scared. I was tired. I was sick. I had been pregnant and nursing for ten years and I wanted to be done. But I also knew what the Church taught. And I was tempted to just go ahead and have the old tubes tied . . . so tempted.
I prayed. It was literally a split-second decision. My husband, not being Catholic, would have supported my decision. I really wanted to be done. . . .
The husband of one of my best friends, a devout Catholic, was my anesthetist. And they asked if I wanted my tubes tied. And I will never forget as he was checking all the equipment . . . he looked over and said, “Tubes tied? Are you kidding me? Have you seen this woman’s kids? She makes beautiful children! The world cannot be denied more Hineys!”
It was just a simple humorous statement. But it was enough. I did not have my tubes tied. Four years later, I had my third son and sixth child. And such a blessing.
Was it disappointing to have a scheduled C-section? Or a relief? Or in between?
Mostly I know how my body now reacts to the meds, to the surgery, and to the shock. I know I have to move my legs and walk. I don’t let myself get stiff. I walk as soon as I can out of recovery. Hurts like crazy at first, but it pays off the next day. I know my body so I have found that my recovery from C-sections is much easier with each one. And since I don’t know any other way to give birth—better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
These last three stories are about women who gave birth through Cesarean section. The key to seeing the sign of birth in this situation is recognizing the hand of God in the process that determines that a C-section is in the best interest of the mother and baby; signs may also be spotted in the operating room. Regina’ s story speaks to that, and the peace she has around the C-sections also witnesses to her openness to God’s work through this way of birth. For the record, women who have a planned C-section can certainly expect to be asked about whether they want an elective tubal ligation: being prepared with an answer would be wise. (Although the way God spoke through her friend in the operating room in her story is wonderful!)
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Susan Windley-Daoust is a Catholic theologian, spiritual director, and award-winning author of Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying. She teaches theology at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and five children.