The Many Faces of Travail

October 11, 2013 at 9:13 pm

I’ve asked myself more than once over the years: “Why do I get to have it so easy?” I’ve never had to “try” for long to become pregnant. I’ve never experienced more than mild morning sickness, never “prayed to the porcelain gods.”  I’ve had four uncomplicated, fairly easy pregnancies. I’ve given birth vaginally four times after three smooth, uncomplicated labors, never pushing for more than 25 minutes (and that was with one posterior baby). I’ve never had a truly colicky infant. It doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Especially when I think of my sister-in-law who waited desperately for four-and-a-half years of infertility before finally adopting her son. Especially when I think of another friend who waited even longer and now waits yet again to adopt a second child. Especially when I think of a friend who has experienced debilitating morning sickness through six pregnancies. And when I think of my cousin who gave birth after pushing a posterior baby for five hours (he finally turned and was born quickly afterward). And especially when I think of a friend who gave birth a few years ago… desperately wanting a VBAC after three prior cesareans (and one prior VBAC attempt), finally with a wonderful midwife who supported her wishes and believed in her, only to get to nine centimeters and discover that she really did need a fourth cesarean after all.

How can it possibly be fair that I get to have it so easy?  That question has been rolling around in my head eliciting a variety of answers. And the only one that gives me peace is this: Every mother must experience travail to bring forth her children, but that travail is experienced in a variety of ways. 

1. Work, especially when arduous or involving painful effort; toil.
2. Tribulation or agony; anguish.
3. The labor of childbirth.

Some women endure years of agonizing infertility followed by the trial of waiting to adopt. Other women experience travail through repeated miscarriages, stillbirths, or difficult pregnancies. Others endure their hardships after giving birth through difficulty breastfeeding, postpartum depression, or colicky babies. Some are even given a combination of hardships in their journey to and through motherhood. There’s no question that we toil and sweat and work and cry and wait and endure deep trials in our efforts to bring children into our families.


Perhaps one of the reasons I felt so drawn to giving birth unmedicated was precisely because I needed to experience true travail to prepare me for motherhood and enhance my joy?  Since everything else about pregnancy had been so easy for me, the only way for me to find my strength as a mother was to fully experience and endure the pains of labor and birth.  Perhaps travail also came to me through early childhood traumas?  I had already endured the agony of maternal abandonment, cried so many tears for the disruption of my family and my inability to trust the world. Perhaps the heavens had mercy on me because of those hardships, enabling me to avoid many of the difficulties common to other women seeking to become mothers.  Perhaps my deepest travails are yet to come?

It’s hard not to look at my friends who struggle so desperately in their journeys to motherhood and not wish there were some way to take away their pains or give them the babies or births they desire so intensely.  But, had I the power to do so, would it really be the right thing?  A wise man (whom my brother was named after) once said:

Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. (Spencer W. Kimball)

It makes me think of the incredible joy I feel in my own marriage.  Would that joy have been so full if I hadn’t witnessed the agony of divorce as a child?  I feel certain I would not have been as prepared for the realities of married life nor as able to recognize and appreciate the goodness of my husband without the trials of my childhood.  A few years ago, a friend shared with me the words of Japanese princess, Raden Adjeng Kartini: “Those who can not feel pain are not capable, either, of feeling joy.”  And so, I suppose my yearning to take away my friends’ pains is ill-founded.  Would I deprive them of the joys birthed through their unique trials?  Or the joys yet to come at the end of painful roads still being traveled?  No.  I wouldn’t.

I have been blessed with fertility and relative ease through pregnancy and birth.  I mustn’t ever forget how blessed I am.  But my friends who must wait years for their children, my friends who experience difficult pregnancies or births… they are blessed too.  Perhaps I will never know the depths of the joy given to those friends who must wait and suffer?  Perhaps my own joys would pale in comparison?

How have you experienced travail in your efforts to bring children into your family? Do you think your pains made later joys more profound?