Disclaimer: This post goes into some detail about my children’s births. You have been forewarned.
Everyone who has ever given birth has a birth story. Women through the ages have sat down and shared this story with friends and family, sisters and daughters. Now, mothers are encouraged to write down everything they can remember about the birth of their child(ren). It’s a lovely idea – to be able to share this story with your child when he or she is older. I wanted to write one after I had Beatrix, but I was too busy to finish it. My doula, Holly, was kind enough to type a few pages about the events of the birth, and for that I am thankful.
Holly also wrote Milo’s birth story. Once again I wanted to write my own version, but never seemed to find the time. This week I found myself writing both of my children’s birth stories.
My labors and deliveries were “normal,” yet not what I expected at all. I have even described Beatrix’s birth as traumatic. So many thoughts, emotions, and opinions came to me while writing, especially since a dear friend of mine has been struggling with the trauma from her own daughter’s birth. While her story is entirely different from mine, I hope and pray that she will be able to find some peace with her daughter’s birth story.
Beatrix’s birth was painful. Most births are, from what I hear. My intention was to give birth with no medication, and for most of my labor I went without. After several hours of excruciating back labor, my OB broke my water in an attempt to turn the baby and speed things along so I could begin pushing. Holly had been massaging my lower back during each contraction, but even that was not working anymore. I had read and practiced the Bradley method of birthing, which helped during most of the labor, but at that point I was crying and overwhelmed. Contractions were one on top of the other, and I never knew I could feel that much pain.
“I need something!” I cried.
Stewart and Holly asked if I was sure. They knew I wanted a natural birth.
“I need something,” I repeated to Stewart. He was crying along with me, so great was his empathy for my pain. “I’m okay with it,” I assured him.
So my nurse gave me a shot of Stadol. Within minutes, I felt better. Also a little drunk. When my OB came in again to check me, I was feeling chatty.
“Did you know that your wife is my sister-in-law’s cousin?” I asked him. “It’s kind of like we’re related!”
“Maybe this isn’t the time to talk about that,” Stewart said and gave an embarrassed laugh. He thought I should be concentrating on labor. I think he was embarrassed because I was lying stark naked on the hospital bed. Whichever it was, I didn’t care. I was feeling good and if I wanted to talk about this small world, I was going to!
Only a short while later I was ready to push. Pushing was painful, but not as painful as my contractions had been. It was very strange for me, because I still felt drunk and kept passing out between pushes.
Beatrix turned before she came out, so she was no longer “sunny-side-up.” When she was out (finally, thank God!), the nurse set her on my chest and wrapped a blanket around her. She was perfect. I held her for quite some time, Stewart and I just looking at her, memorizing her face. After a while, the nurse asked if she could weigh and measure her. When she took her away, we saw that Beatrix had left a nice little pile of poo on my stomach. We all laughed and Stewart went to the side of the room where they were measuring.
The birth was over. I wasn’t overjoyed. I didn’t cry tears of happiness. I was relieved. The pain was gone, or so I thought. Then my doctor began to stitch me up, as I had torn in two places. It hurt, even with the numbing medication, so Holly came and held my hand while Stewart stayed with Beatrix. Why does this hurt so much? Isn’t the painful part supposed to be over?
Over the next two weeks, I felt like I had been through a battle. I had no idea that recovery would be so difficult. I told my husband I felt like a bomb had gone off inside the most sensitive part of my body. Walking was difficult (I didn’t even attempt the stairs until a few days after arriving home). It was a week and a half before I could sit without a donut pillow. No one had prepared me for this part.
I was exhausted, in pain, anxious, scared, and felt disconnected from my daughter. I took joy in some moments, but most of the time I was depressed. I talked to Stewart about Postpartum Depression. I knew it was affecting me, but I didn’t do much about it. I didn’t see a therapist. I didn’t take any medication because I wanted to be all-natural. I thought antidepressants would make me feel like a different person. It wasn’t until Beatrix reached 20 months that I went to a PPD support group. No one was there besides the facilitator, but she and I talked for an hour. Having someone validate my feelings helped me a lot.
A little after Beatrix turned two, Stewart and I decided we wanted another baby. I was surprised by how well I was doing, but I was finally enjoying being a mom. I assumed (ass, u, me, and all that) that because I had “dealt” with my PPD and knew what it felt like to give birth, that this time I would be able to handle it.
I still had mixed feelings about Beatrix’s birth, especially the fact that I had taken medication. My pain was lessened, but because I had passed out during the pushing stage, I felt like I missed part of the birth experience.
When I was pregnant with Milo, I hoped for a different experience with both his birth and the after-effects. I learned hypnobirthing. I practiced different types of breathing to help me through labor, and Stewart helped by reading relaxation scripts. I never felt “hypnotized” during our practice, but I did feel a deep sense of relaxation. I planned to encapsulate my placenta in hopes of lowering my chances of PPD. We hired Holly again and, though I was aware that things could change, I wanted no interventions during the birth. I felt prepared.
The morning of March 23rd I awoke around 5 A.M. with mild contractions. I used my contraction breathing that I had practiced. I felt very little pain during this time even though the contractions became more intense. I could focus on what my body was doing and the pain had somewhere to go.
After an hour or two Stewart called his mom to pick up Beatrix. Around 10 AM we went to the hospital where I was hooked to a fetal monitor. I was slightly uncomfortable, but after about 30 minutes I was able to get in a tub, which felt wonderful. I continued my breathing and needed little help from Stewart or Holly, though I was glad to have them there. Between contractions, I told them I read somewhere that humor could be helpful during labor to relax the mother, though it had to be kind of baudy humor, not witty puns. So Holly (who would start out with a prayer at each of our prior meetings) told a joke about oral sex. It was hilarious. I was actually having fun during my labor.
My doctor showed up after a couple hours and wanted to check to see how far along I was. I got out of the tub, and the contractions became stronger. I was about 9 centimeters dilated, and he asked if I wanted my water broken. I told Stewart beforehand that I did not want this, but for some reason I could not say no. I knew if he broke my water it would speed things along and I would have my baby in my arms! Things had been going so well with the hypnobirthing, I assumed that if contractions became more intense I would just keep doing what I was doing. So I let him break my water.
Sure enough, the pain intensified. Why, oh why, did I agree to have my water broken? I continued to breathe through contractions and tried to let my body naturally push the baby out. During these contractions, the baby’s heart rate dropped. It’s normal for a baby’s heart rate to drop, but it was getting to the point where my OB was not comfortable with it, and asked if I could push. I did, and he told me that when I pushed, the baby’s heart rate stayed within a normal range. When he told me that, and asked me to continue pushing, I dropped all my natural hypnobirthing practice. Mother instinct took over. My baby needs to be forcibly pushed out to keep his heart rate normal, and I am okay with that because I want him to be okay.
I pushed for 30 or 45 minutes. It hurt like hell, and though that phrase is overused, it aptly describes the physical pain I was in. Milo finally came out, his fist right next to his face. I tore again, this time in three places, including a labial tear, and worse than with Beatrix. As the OB stitched me up he told me I might look “a little different.”
“That’s okay,” I said.
“It’s not like anyone else is going to be looking,” Stewart added.
The stitching took longer than the pushing had, and I knew it was bad. It’s all right. I’ll be in pain for the next couple weeks. I’ve been there and done that before. I was feeling strong and I knew pain meds would be coming soon.
I tried to concentrate on my adorable new baby. Milo was 9 pounds of pure perfection, healthy, pink and crying well. He pooped on my stomach. The nurses cleaned him up, then laid him back down, and he pooped on me again. This is what my children do after they are born.
I never asked for medication during Milo’s birth. I was happy with that decision because it made me feel like I had the “right” kind of birth. Physically, however, it made no difference. With both of my births my children were healthy, but I was in excruciating pain afterward. Without a doubt, both my births were the most painful experiences of my life. I didn’t have that drunk feeling while I was pushing Milo out, but it hurt so horribly that sometimes I wish I did.
I know I am lucky. I did not have to have a c-section. I did not have a precipitous birth. I did not hemorrhage. I was in a fantastic birthing facility with wonderful doctors and nurses.
And yet, I did not have the births I expected. Why? Because the births I expected were going to be painful, but a kind of pain that I could handle. The births I expected would be followed with so much joy for my new baby that it would negate all the pain in my nether regions. The births I expected would make me a mother, and not just any mother, but a mother who was a natural, who bonded instantly with her baby. None of those things happened, with either of my births.
I am at peace with this now. Have I wished I could do it all over again, differently? Of course. Would there have been less pain if my water wasn’t broken? Would a homebirth or water birth been better? What does the pain of a C-section feel like compared to the pain of vaginal and labial tears? Would an epidural and an episiotomy have managed my pain better?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. If I had a choice, I would only give birth again if I was assured that my contractions would be manageable, that my body could push my baby out easily, that my baby’s health would not be jeopardized, that I would not tear, that my pain afterward would be minimal, and that I would not have PPD.
No one can assure me, or anyone else, of those things. A mother can plan the most natural birth, and end up having an emergency C-section. She can plan to have an epidural as soon as she reaches the hospital, only to be told there’s no time and she’ll have to have this baby without medication whether she wants to or not.
Natural birth is great, if that’s what the mother wants. I think that medicated birth is a good option too, if that’s what’s wanted. I finally came to accept that I needed it with Beatrix’s birth. But from what I’ve learned from my own experience and others, what one wants is not always what one gets. I think it is important to be aware of all your options when it comes to birth. I also think it’s important to be aware that birth cannot be planned. That is not the nature of birth. I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for what it would be like, and if they could, would I have wanted to do it?
Stewart and I are not planning to have any more children. I am at peace with that decision. I love my family the way it is, with an amazing husband and two beautiful kids. I have let go of my birth fantasies and accepted the reality of my children’s births: they were painful, they were scary, but in the end I have two children that I love.
That alone is the most important part of the story.
Did you write a birth story? Was your birth what you expected or completely different, or somewhere in between? What surprised you the most? If you could do it all over again, would you want it to be different? As always, I love to hear your thoughts.