Christian Freedom & Parenting, Part 1: Parenting Freedom Begins with Birthing by Dr. Heather Lewis

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Women often feel that it is more “natural” to have a vaginal delivery, and if they can’t there must be something wrong with them.

The birth of a child is one of the most wonderful and memorable days in the life of any parent.  Most women have strong preferences as to what they want for that day.  This article will give you some information about the different options women have and what the Bible does and doesn't have to say about them.  Here is a brief summary of how the rest of this article works out:

(1) Prenatal care is one of the most important ways to ensure a healthy labor and delivery

(2) Home births are a matter of freedom except when in violation of the law.

(3) A person’s method for dealing with pain is a matter of Christian freedom.

Heather Lewis is a Sojourn member and an OB/GYN practicing in New Albany, IN.  She is married to Chip Lewis and the mother of two daughters.  Their third is due in June.

(1) Prenatal care is one of the most important ways to ensure a healthy labor and delivery. Many women believe that if they are healthy and "take care" of themselves in pregnancy they should never require medical intervention.  This is foolish thinking and ignores the reality of living in a Genesis 3 world.  There is not space enough in this article to list all of the complications healthy, normal women can encounter during pregnancy.  Obtaining prenatal care by a licensed medical practitioner and delivering your baby in a licensed facility is a simple way to ensure that preventable complications of pregnancy and delivery are prevented.

(2) Home births are a matter of Christian freedom except when in violation of the law, but, as a physician, I do not recommend them. While no state will prosecute parents for a home birth, practicing as a direct-entry midwife (a midwife educated in the discipline of midwifery in a program or path that does not require prior education as a nurse) is illegal in Kentucky. A certified nurse midwife (CNM) can practice legally in Kentucky, but her scope of practice is legally limited by the State Board of Nursing and the Nurse Practice Act of 1978 (KRS 314.042, section 5, and 314.011, sections 6, 8 and 10). This limits the nurse midwife to collaborating with an attending physician in the case of a birth.  Moreover, we know of cases where home births have occurred with complications without any attendants and parents were charged with neglect. If the law bans professional midwives from attending home births and parents who go without medical supervision can be charged with neglect, this makes home births in KY essentially illegal.

As Christians we are obligated to obey the laws of our government.  Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and God has instituted those that exist.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

In an earlier edition of this article, I wrote, “Homebirths are not advisable,” and, as far as my personal medical opinion is concerned, I do not recommend them.  I in no way meant this statement as a judgement of those who choose home births, and by no means was I trying to give the church's opinion or make a moral judgment.  I know many women who have had amazing and beautiful home birth experiences and if, after prayer and counsel, you choose that for your family, then that is your choice.  Also, I wrote this to article to Sojourn members specifically, and I know that in this area there really are not qualified providers who can do home births due to the legal issues discussed above, so I would recommend choosing another option.  This is my medical opinion, but by no means should you substitute it for prayer and discussion as a family.  And, most importantly, I  in no way meant this medical opinion or advice to be confused for moral or spiritual judgement.

(3) A person’s method for dealing with pain is a matter of Christian freedom. Pain has been a part of labor since the first delivery.  It is part of the curse.   Genesis 3:16 says, “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing.  In pain you shall bring forth children."  God's word tells us that it is Christ alone that redeems us from the causes of the Fall—Satan, sin, and death.  But we are still under the curse for now.  We live in bodies that decay and die.  We work on an earth where the ground grows thorns, and we give birth with pain and suffering.  Just as we kill weeds and add fertilizer to the soil to ease the pain of farming, God has given women various pain relief strategies to help ease the pain of the birthing process. There is nothing in the Scriptures that speak against these pain relief measures, and where God is silent, we must with prayer and careful consideration decide what is our best course of action.  Below I'll review the medical aspects of the different pain relief options:

(a) Natural options: There are a variety of different philosophies regarding childbirth and each of these is associated with a different method (ie; Bradley, Lamaze, etc) for not only pain management, but also nutrition and various other pregnancy and postpartum issues.  If you desire natural childbirth it is helpful to find a philosophy and method you agree with while keeping in mind that each method was created by a finite human with limited knowledge of you, your body, and your pregnancy.  Each method has a different emphases ranging from breathing exercises to birthing positions to hypnosis.  Most of these methods are safe and effective.  There are many excellent physicians and practitioners, who perform water births in this country, but due to the other options for natural birth available, and the possible risks associated (mostly infection related), I do not perform or recommend them to my patients.  This is something you should look into and decide as a family.

(b) Medical options: IV pain medication has long been used to treat maternal pain in labor.  It is safe and effective, but it does not remove the pain; it merely dulls it.  IV pain medications do pass through the placenta and, therefore, go to the baby's circulation.  These medications are quickly cleared by the fetus and do not have any long-term effects.  However, if given too close to delivery, they can affect the baby's ability to transition and breathe well outside of the womb.

The most popular pain management option by far is the epidural.  An epidural is a very small catheter inserted in the back that infuses pain medicine in the space where all of the nerves for sensation and movement of the lower body are present.  The main complication associated with epidurals is the lowering of blood pressure, which is easily treated with fluid and medications.  Epidural medication does not pass directly through the placenta, so it does not go to the baby directly.  An epidural completely numbs the lower body and makes the legs feel heavy and difficult to move.  The effects of the epidural wear off typically within an hour of stopping the medicine infusion or removing the epidural catheter.

When most women envision their childbirth they do not envision a C-Section, although, it is how 25% of babies are born in this country.  The increased frequency of C-Sections in the past 10-20 years is a result of many things, including fetal monitoring, which can show early signs of fetal distress and prompt obstetricians to recommend a C-Section.  One of the preventable causes of the increased C-Section rate is the rapid rise in maternal obesity, which is one of the most common causes of many pregnancy complications, including labor dysfunction.

Many women fear C-Sections.  Others simply want to vaginal childbirth.  Women often feel that it is more "natural" to have a baby in this way, and if they can't there must be something wrong with them.  1 Timothy 2:15 says, "But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."  This does not mean that childbearing is a sacramental means by which we are saved. The only salvation from our cursed world is found in the person of Jesus Christ.  But Christ saves us through suffering.  We are blessed to live in a place where there is a safe, reliable method for delivering babies when a vaginal delivery isn't possible or safe.   If a C-Section is what you fear, or if you consider it suffering, remember: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

As a church, we should seek to support and help one another during the uncertain times leading up to the births of our children.  We must not put ourselves in the place of God.  We should remember that there is no clear Biblical instruction on many of these issues.  What is clear is that we must trust in God, obey His clear commands, and rejoice and endure patiently in suffering.   We will be a blessing to mothers if we show love and support whatever their "birth plan."

Revised 01/03/11.  Changes highlighted in red.  Some of the comments below pertain to an earlier edition of this article and were considered in the current revision.