This is my first attempt at hosting Moments in Motherhood, a writing project for bloggers. The day after I posted the topic, I looked at it and thought, “This was for me, wasn’t it?” I really feel the need to explore my own thoughts on this. Please share yours, too. A Mr. Linky is at the bottom of this post.
This month’s topic is:
Was birth an empowering experience for you? Do you agree with the statement “you birth the way you live”? Did your birth experience(s) impact you in a long-term way?
I have a friend who gets squeamish at the sight of blood. Recently she told me about coming upon an accident victim. While driving down the road, her daughter looked out the window at small, country church and something caught her eye. A woman on a motorcycle had lost control, skidded off the road and across the church yard, and eventually slid under an outdoor picnic table. Her leg was broken in multiple places and she was bleeding.
My friend helped the woman remove her helmet, comforted her, and stayed with her until help arrived. To say that the situation took my friend outside of her comfort zone is an understatement, but she did what she had to do and what the situation required of her. After hearing her story, I told her, “This reminds me of birth. You have to dig down deep and do something you didn’t know you were capable of doing.”
When I was twenty years old and expecting my first child, I discovered that my fear of medication was greater than my fear of pain. I’d spent my life watching my mother undergo endless surgeries and health problems, dependent on pain medication, and I didn’t want anything to do with it. The only time I vomited during that pregnancy was in the middle of the childbirth education class on anesthesia. When the discussion turned to needles and deadening things, I broke out in a cold sweat. I didn’t even make it to the hospital bathroom; I got sick in the middle of the hall.I studied for childbirth like an upcoming exam, and I wanted to ace it. My unmedicated delivery was one of the most wondrous experiences of my life, and yes, I felt empowered by it, fulfilled in a never-before imagined way. My second delivery at twenty-five years old was much the same. Later I remarked to my husband that I would love to give birth once a year, as a kind of “fix.” It wasn’t the desire for another child each year, just giving birth; the experience was that intense for me.
My next four deliveries involved three inductions, and honestly there wasn’t a valid reason for any of them. What they did was infuse that magical experience with an element of fear. Fear of the nurse walking in the door every half-hour to increase the pitocin, since it takes me so long to react to it. Fear of the tidal wave-force labor that hits when that reaction finally occurs. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle it unmedicated anymore.
With my seventh pregnancy, my instructions to my husband were this: No matter how huge/swollen/miserable I become (for I knew what the future held) remind me that I do not want to be induced. Period. Four days before my due date I was 5cm dilated, thanks in part to some fabulous advice from a friend who is a homebirth midwife (sorry, it’s too graphic to print here). My OB’s office said I could show up at the hospital any time and be admitted, but I refused. I went to the hospital the day before my due date with potential complications; although an assessment showed all was well, I was encouraged to just stay and they could “start me up.” We went home.
I went into labor on my own the next day. We were at the hospital for two and a half hours before the baby was born. The first hour and a half was spent watching the end of a Braves’ game and two episodes of Seinfeld, where I only contracted when I laughed. I’d broken the induction cycle and it was great, much better. The problem was that the fear had stayed with me from those inductions. If there’s one thing I know about childbirth, fear is your worst enemy. When I started to panic a bit during that one hour of serious labor and questioned my ability to handle it, my nurse completely dismissed my concerns. What she basically said was, “Six prior labors, no epidural. Honey, you don’t need it! Is there anything else I can do for you?” I didn’t realize just how much that conversation and her dismissal of my concerns affected me until my eighth pregnancy…
I allowed my midwife to schedule an induction two weeks in advance for two weeks before my due date since her office was short-staffed, the hospital was booked solid with inductions, and that was the only sure chance of her attending the birth. [It bears mentioning that at that fabulous seventh birth, my practice wasn’t on call and I had a doctor who basically walked in the door, put on some gloves, and caught the baby. I’d never laid eyes on him before or since.] A sinus infection hit me the week before my induction and I was given a five-day, strong round of antibiotics.
Reality began to sink in: I couldn’t breathe and had a nasty cough; I would be stuck in bed with an IV; my mother wouldn’t be there (she had always been there for me, but passed away when my seventh child was six-months-old; for months I feared that I would break down immediately following this birth); nurses don’t take me seriously if I express an interest in pain medication. I was a little jealous of all the pain-free birth stories I’d heard over the years. The decision was made–I’d get an epidural! I deserved it, didn’t I? I had birthed seven other children without it and didn’t have anything to prove to myself, right? Wrong. Dead wrong.
See, for me (and I realize it is a very subjective experience) birth is empowering. I do “birth the way I live.” I won’t even take something for a headache, unless it’s really bad. 2 Timothy 1:7 — “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” is very much a life-verse for me.
I was so consumed by fear that I requested an epidural before I even needed it; it was given to me because my midwife had told them to take me seriously if I asked for it. I got sick (vomiting) from the anesthesia, and it caused such uncontrollable shaking that my jaws ached the next day. The labor took over twelve hours and was filled with unnecessary medical interventions. I didn’t feel like I gave birth; I didn’t feel much of anything–I was numb.
In spite of my conviction about the accuracy of my dates, my due date had been moved up by nine days. After the birth, my midwife said that based on Lily’s appearance, my original due date was correct. My labor took forever because my baby and my body just weren’t ready. Something happened during the delivery that later caused Lily months of physical therapy (she’s fine now). If I had not allowed the induction and had just let my daughter come in her own good time, my sinus infection would have had a chance to clear; we both would have been ready. I think things would have been different.
As you may have guessed I have had trouble dealing with this birth, processing it if you will. I would say that yes, my birth experiences affect me long-term. That I was unable to trust myself and my body–which is ultimately trusting God, since I know He’s the one who strengthens and sustains me–is something I have to live with. With God’s grace I hope that tackling this head-on, working it out in print, will enable me to let it go and leave it behind me.
I don’t expect everyone’s perspective on birth to be the same as mine. It is a deeply personal experience. Please share your thoughts on this topic and link to your exact Moments in Motherhood post, not just your blog address, in the Mr. Linky below. Thank you for listening and/or participating!