Below the Comfort Layers

Where painting, childbirth and God came together. 


“Why? Why in the world would you choose natural childbirth?” That’s what people say when you tell them your plan to deliver a baby old school style, like prairie life old school. No epidural and no induction. No medication. And, no unnecessary interference…please. That’s the way my third baby came into this world, and yes, it was a very intentional choice.

You can call me hard-headed or nuts or just one of those crazy free-spirited-artist types. It’s ok. It doesn’t really bother me, but I call it ‘a deep desire to experience and understand things my own way’. That’s still just a wordy way to say ‘stubborn’.… That sentence makes me picture my parents smirking… they know this about me too well. It’s hard for someone to tell me how to do things. This may at once be a short coming and a gift. When it comes to an issue, I find myself wanting to get down to the most basic level before I can move forward. For example, that’s part of why I write this blog. There’s more to my art than just painting pretty colors. I grow more and more inquisitive with age, and I keep finding myself asking for more truth and purpose and needing to search for answers to “why?”.

I want to compare this quest for truth to unearthing something that’s buried. When I am painting, that’s the analogy I get. As I paint, I create layers of marks and colors by repeatedly going against the grain and drawing over a seemingly finished painting only to remove part of that layer yet again and repeat the process. This is my painting method and also happens to be the method with which I live by. I am continually searching for a deep layer that has been established but forgotten about. However, I am not aware of this while I’m painting. Later, I’ll ask myself “why did I paint that way” and then I understand it.

It is my opinion that we deny ourselves meaningful experiences in order to stay comfortable. Shave off the top layer of fluff and padding, and we see what we are actually working with. We may have forgotten that we can choose to experience the real deal…probably because we fear pain and challenge. This approach might not be for you, and it does not always apply, but when I do choose the real deal over the fluffy stuff, I’ve found myself experiencing and learning more. When I didn’t add the layers to dull the pain, I get the full experience with all the feels. What if in our modern ways we are covering up something we were intended to be exposed to? 

I lean heavily on my heart where I feel God leaves His words for me. Two blog posts ago (Painting Parenthood) I wrote about the power and relief I’ve found in having the faith to trust what my heart wants and asks of me. I consider myself uniquely faithful. I have come to find a truly personal and sincere connection to God through painting.  While I paint, I listen to the matters of my heart where I believe God speaks to me.

Yesterday I was sitting in church uncomfortably holding Josephine who was restfully sleeping and giving me this crick in my neck. I managed to focus on the sermon long enough to grasp the message. For the second time in a matter of weeks I heard a reference to a specific Bible verse. The words struck me. This verse helped me pull all these thoughts together to form an explanation of why I felt so compelled to make a certain choice this year. 

“Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?”

Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment.

    Matthew 22:36-38

It is so simple and so obvious alone, but within the entire Bible and all of the teachings about God’s word, maybe that simple message gets buried. Simply love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

This year I experienced something that will change me forever because for the first time I did something seemingly drastic by boldly and blindly following what my heart was telling me. I have been hesitant to write about it because it is so deeply personal, yet I feel, on that same heartfelt level, compelled to share.

Natural childbirth; it became one of those things I never imagined myself doing but did. With my first two babies, I was induced and delivered with an epidural. I thought people were insane to choose that level of pain when it wasn’t necessary. In general, we mamas love to tell our birth stories because it’s one of the most amazing events you’ll ever experience and likely a day which you cherish, no matter how horrible the details. You’re proud because it’s no easy feat no matter how the process goes…and there are so many ways that process can go. This is not a birth story, though. This is the story of how I boldly listened to what my heart asked of me despite my fear.

Last year I had come to recognize a looming interest in natural childbirth. Over medicating in general had become a concern of mine. I’ve had some bad experiences with medication side effects, and I had come to determine that medicine often causes more harm than good. This led me to the idea of an unmedicated birth. I struggled with the notion…I didn’t want to want it. But, this idea became more and more instilled in my heart. It was in there weighing on me like a heavy stone, and once I was pregnant again, I determined I could no longer ignore it. The idea terrified me, though. Knowing my stubborn ways, I knew once I committed to it, I was going to do it. I was not naive to the pain of childbirth. I had experienced enough of it to know the extreme level of pain that was involved. But, once again, I felt it was in my heart to know the real deal. After all, in the history of childbirth, many more woman have birthed babies without an epidural than with one. What were we modern women missing out on?  

I had been left partly unsatisfied with the way I delivered my first two babies. I did not like the way the epidural, among other drugs, made me feel or the idea of inducing labor, but I did it anyway out of impatience. Plus, everyone else was doing it. During those deliveries, I felt weak and useless. I felt that I couldn’t feel or know what to do. I felt that I wasn’t experiencing or participating in what my body was essentially designed to do. Those reasons alone could not have compelled me to experience the pain of natural childbirth, though. This contributed to my decision, but it truly came down to that tug in my heart that said “You need to know.”. I had to experience it without the top layers.

The first question remains: Why???!!!! Most people add that punctuation. I know my people think I’m crazy…most people for that matter… I had been someone who couldn’t understand why you’d put yourself through it. I knew leading up to my due date that few would understand because I could hardly find the words to describe the answer for myself. I didn’t expect anyone to understand, and I didn’t feel compelled to make them understand, nor do I now. All that mattered was that Robert supported me and understood. He was all for it and was along side me as I educated myself for months, all the while keeping my plans mostly between us, not expecting anyone else to relate. The more we learned about giving birth unmedicated, the more it made sense and the less scary it became. I taught myself a lot about being mindful of pain and how to accept the pain as useful unlike the pain of an unfortunate accident. It was good productive pain. And that mindful understanding got me through two days of labor. I never shed a single tear this time around, unlike my first two deliveries which had me panicking and bawling crying over pain. Mindfulness is a powerful thing. 

God was on my side throughout the entire experience. That’s how I know with certain that He intended this to happen. I went into labor eleven days early before anyone had a chance to lose patience and induce labor. I had a very supportive and encouraging doctor (You're the BEST, Quin!) who is also a great friend. I had the company of my lifelong friend, Shelby, who has recently delivered two babies naturally and sees eye to eye with me on so many things. During those two days of labor, my contractions stopped cold at night both nights, and I went to sleep and slept hard. During the days I worked and painted and prepared my kids’ school lunches for the next couple days.  I got more walking milage in than during my whole pregnancy and did more squats than I have done in five years. For real…because I don’t do squats. I spent hours with Shelby while we walked hospital halls. I did lunges, squats, yoga ball bouncing…(I don’t do yoga either)… anything to move that baby. She timed contractions while we talked and laughed. Shelby even went to my house to get me my (brand new) yoga ball and carried it fully inflated to me in the hospital. I mean… there’s a friend. How awkward.

During the third day and final hour, I was screaming my head off like a 3 year old throwing a tantrum. I mean top of my lungs, high pitched screeching like I probably haven’t done since I was a 3 year old. They say you come out with some instinctual primal sounds…but it sounded more like a Halloween movie in my hospital room, and I had zero control over it. During this highly intense moment my mom and doctor had the wits to remind me of what was to come of the experience….other than a baby, obviously. Mom kept telling me I was going to be writing about this on my blog, and Quin said something to me like, “I can’t wait to see the paintings you create out of this experience.” To both I replied something ridiculously rude and sarcastic and uncharacteristically dumbed down. I think it was, “Well it’s going to be f’ing stupid and…ahhhhuuuhh…… ugly.”. It was wildly painful during that last hour, and there was some rather unlady-like language going on. During that final stretch, I forgot why I was doing this. Then suddenly, it was stunningly beautiful, an awe inspiring moment and achievement. There is a lot to look back on and smile at and even laugh about, too…Like, Robert keeps reminding me that I was trying to bite down on my thumbs through contractions, and he held my hands like a child because he worried I was going to chew my own thumbs off. What?!? So, yeah, shit got weird. 

I know what you’re think. (“Oh hell no.”)  I know that last paragraph isn’t selling it too well, but that’s not what I’m writing this for. If you ask my husband he says it was at the same time like a scene from The Exorcist and a really amazing and inspiring moment that shook him to the core. It is not for everyone, and I didn’t think it was for me. With it all said and done, I’d do it again. I am not sharing this experience to tell you to choose unmedicated childbirth, and I didn’t want to incorporate all this in my writing because I don’t want to sound self-righteous. But, the whole experience has left me with so much to learn and know and say and paint and write. I use this blog to explore my own understandings and how they relate to and surface in my art. I also write this to share with you what I’ve learned so that in some way you may also find the confidence to trust something scary you feel inexplicably compelled to do. Prior to that experience, I could have found some major reassurance in reading something like this on someone else’s blog, and that’s what determined me to expose this personal story.

It’s been 12 weeks since that life changing day. As for the “why”, I have found answers in moments of clarity during peaceful times like painting or walking and while I sat in church yesterday hearing that verse from Matthew.… “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.”.  While I couldn’t fully put into words why I needed to do this, I knew to faithfully trust what God had placed in my heart, and I chose to blindly follow it with all of my heart, soul and mind. Robert knew to help me follow this inclination, too. Even towards the end, I wanted to second guess my ability and questioned what I had committed myself to, and to my surprise, he wasn’t opening the exit door for me. I told him this kind of thing was for people who run marathons and stuff, but he didn’t buy it. He pushed me to stay on track and continued to build me up until the moment we met Josephine face to face. The journey, the whole journey, was purposeful. 

Next question: What? What was it all for? Maybe I don’t have the full answer yet, but here’s what I’ve gotten from it so far. I experienced pain that I didn’t know existed, yet my instinct did not tell me to give up and get an epidural. It just wasn’t even in my bag of options that day…. until it felt like I could not possibly go on and just then, just like they said it would happen, she was born. I found a strength I didn’t know I had. I found a connection and support from my husband that had never been needed prior to that moment. We both agree that that day our marriage grew roots like the thickest oak trees in our deep south back yard. God had plans for me to experience the emotions I came to know that day. He has plans for my family and me that I faithfully trust and lovingly concede to. There is a verified peace within me. I followed what I couldn’t even understand or explain and gained a deep seated feeling of safety. He designed and equipped us with all the tools we need. The way everything unfolded, from the progression of labor to the way my baby nursed effortlessly right away, showed me that we have to trust the design and lean on that trust boldly and blindly with all our heart, soul and mind.

I had so much support that day from the people I am closest to who all let me make this choice without asking me “Why?”. After my mother, Robert and I witnessed this, I think we all knew why, but the words weren’t there yet. It was only a heart feeling.

It’s easy to let the layers of comfort blankets build because the looming truth that’s beneath them is intimidating. I am sharing this to remind you (and myself) to dig deep into your soul and unearth what’s below the surface. Have the faith and courage to trust what’s waiting for you. Boldly rely on what God’s placed in your heart. First trust and later you can ask “why?”. 

“Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?”

Jesus answered:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment.

    Matthew 22:36-38