Transition is Uncomfortable


If the only experience you have ever had with human birth is the screaming, silly breathing, hand crushing TV sitcom version, then you might be surprised to know that it isn’t like that. Like … at all.

I have given birth twice. Both times in an urban hospital in a high-walled kiddie pool with a midwife, a nurse, my sister, and my husband cheering me on. I never want to be pregnant again, but if I could just magically be 40 weeks pregnant and ready to go, I would love to give birth one more time. Do not let all the horror stories shake you. Giving birth was an empowering and deeply spiritual experience for me, and I am not the only one who says that. But in the midst of that spiritual experience there is this little part of labor called transition, and it is the absolute worst.

Transition is the in-between of birthing a baby. The contractions start slowly and pick up as your body opens itself up to this new life. The pushing is the last part when you work with your body to get the baby out. Transition is the in-between space, and I absolutely hate it. While contractions can be intense, you sort of get used to the rhythm of it all. Here they come, there they go, I did that last one, I can do the next one, counting, moaning, stomping, breathing, you just get used to riding out the waves.

But then, right as you are used to it, your body needs to get ready to push, so other things start happening, things you aren’t used to, space you don’t know as well. You have read the books and have practiced pushing, but it is not time to do that yet, it is just time to be thinking about it, gearing up for it. And the discomfort of not doing the old thing, but also not doing the new thing makes you absolutely want to crawl out of your skin.

My family has always been pro-babies, pro-birth, and pro-tmi so I had more anecdotal information than most when I went into labor. There is one cousin whose story I remember particularly well. This cousin is extremely determined. You can spot her in the pictures of family vacations with a look of concentration on her face, meticulously putting the finishing touches on her ancient ruins made of sand. She skied with the boy cousins and kept up easily while the rest of us were panting from behind. She went to an impressive college, graduated with impressive grades, and quilted and made her own bread for fun. She always did exactly what she put her mind to, so when she got married, and pregnant, and announced her plans for a natural delivery no one thought anything of it. Of course that was what she would do.

And she did. Except, the way she tells it, when she went into transition, she decided she was all done. She got out of the bath she was birthing in, put her clothes back on, re-packed her bags, and told her husband they were going home. She would not be having this baby. She had decided she did not want to have this baby. She was just going to be pregnant for the rest of her life.

So, that’s not a choice. You cannot just stay pregnant for the rest of your life. You actually have to have the baby. And once you are in transition, it is happening with or without your help, so you might as well help. But still, in transition it feels like the best option is to freeze, to run, to pack your bags and go.

I haven’t had a baby for eight years now. But the last time I had that weird transition feeling was 24 hours ago. I am pastoring a very tiny church that needs to make some changes. We need to stop what we are doing and move into doing something else. We need to stop Sunday worship and head out into the neighborhood. We need to better understand and build relationships with our neighbors. We need to really be the church in a new and dynamic way.

And the meeting where I had to tell the church the new plan, and ask them to stop the old thing, and move into the new thing that won’t actually start until September, that meeting made me want to die. It made my skin crawl, and I would not have blamed anyone if they stood up and left from the discomfort of it all. It was just so awkward.

But my people are a people who are faithful. They felt the transition–I could see the discomfort on their faces. They looked at me scared, but they stayed. Then when it was all over, they looked at each other and said, “Well, I guess we better get ready to push.” Did I mention that I absolutely have the best people? They were uncomfortable, I was uncomfortable, but we all decided to stay through the transition, and get ready to push and see what new life we may get to hold.

I am so glad my cousin told me her transition story. When I freaked out and tried to climb out of the tub I knew that is what transition felt like. Her honesty about her discomfort gave me permission to stay in mine. It was supposed to feel this weird. It was supposed to feel uncomfortable. This is just what transition is like.

And I tell you my uncomfortable story of being afraid and feeling awkward so that you know, when it is your turn, this is what transition feels like. When you are moving from one place to another, from one thing to the next, it might feel scary. You might want to say you know what, this is too weird. I am uncomfortable, I stopped doing the other thing and haven’t started the new thing and I just … I gotta go. Don’t. Stay. This is what transition feels like. New life is on its way.