I saw a shoulder dystocia. A really, really scary and incredibly severe one. It was early in my current pregnancy when I attended this birth and watching it unfold before me, calling 911 for emergent transfer, and breathing the thank-god-sigh-relief everyone is okay but I’ll never be the same again, scared the hell out of me. For HIPAA reasons I cannot disclose further details, though I will say mom and baby ended up okay thanks to some savvy moves of two very quick thinking and talented CNMs. After the birth I went home and cried and wondered if I had what it takes to work in this field.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short time working as a doula, childbirth educator (in training) and birth assistant is that birth humbles you. It’s not always a sure bet. You can work your heart out, prepare and research for the birth you want, have all your bases covered and even then, sometimes you still get thrown a fast ball – meaning you might be transferred to a hospital because you need a compassionate epidural, or maybe you have a real need for a cesarean birth. Or maybe you’re a mom who loses your baby at 38 weeks and you birth your sweet, still-born child without the fanfare of the birth you had dreamed of. Or maybe you have a baby born with sever congenital defects that went undetected your whole pregnancy. Or maybe at 12 weeks you lose your sweet baby and can barely wrap your head around where God is in those moments. (All of which I’ve witnessed in birth, so far.) Birth is holy not only because it because it brings you new life, but also because it requires you to fall on the rock and be broken be broken by it.
Birth is holy not only because it because it brings you new life, but also because it requires you to fall on the rock and be broken by it.
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Zoe I was living in Israel at the time. I knew without question that I wanted a midwife. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I had not researched it, or studied natural birth or midwifery, I simply understood that birth was normal and I needn’t go to a hospital. I credit that thinking to my mom, who had hopes of becoming a midwife, and who birthed my brother, sister and me without pain meds in Navel hospitals throughout the globe (sometimes without my dad present because he was off at sea). I was her third baby, and though I was smaller than my brother, I still weighed 10 lbs and 11 ounces. She was my inspiration for birth. Whenever we would see birth on TV or in movies displayed in the grossly inaccurate way that media portrays birth, my mom would immediately let us know that birth looked nothing like that. Those screaming, wild women with and blood and fluid gushing everywhere and doctors and nurses rushing around frantically was not what real birthed looked like, she told us. She always said, “It just feels like a lot of pressure on your bottom.” And that’s that. So when I decided to have a natural birth with a midwife I had the complete support of my family and husband. Which I know, is a rare gift these days.
I also didn’t know anything about it. Without question I was happily naive about the realities of childbirth – it’s just a lot of pressure, right? I had never seen a real birth before, I had no idea what to expect, I just trusted that everything would be fine. When we moved to the States during the end of my second trimester I found a birth center in Denton, met some amazing midwives, took Birthing from Within classes (the very course that I assist with now). I watched videos showing real birth and thanks to the library, I read every book about childbirth I could put my fingers on. Ina May’s, Henci Goer’s, The Bradley Method, the list goes on. I read up about c-sections and made sure I understood it, just in case. However, the book that brought me the greatest sense of peace was Childbirth Without Fear. I know it’s dry and it’s written a long time ago, but I felt as though I was reading a literary classic written by a birth mystic. It did something for me. The concept that the more afraid you become of your labor the worse the sensations of the contractions will be, made complete sense to me. When my labor started I clung to that idea. I literally made myself stay limp through each rush as I said aloud, “my body is created to do this, I have nothing to fear.” Ten hours later, there she was, my little girl. I did it, I had the (water) birth I wanted.
Here’s my confessional, this time I’m fighting some fears.
All of that said, here’s my confessional, this time I’m fighting some fears. I’ve seen the beautiful and tragic sides of birth. I am no longer naive. I have a very healthy respect for the birth process because I’ve seen it take all sorts of unexpected twists and turns leaving women breathless with sadness … and happiness too. Have I seen it all? No. I stand with great respect towards those doulas, birth assistants, midwives and L&D nurses who have seen much, much more. I know I haven’t seen it all, yet. Have I seen enough to keep me humble towards it? Yes. With my first pregnancy, I think I was a bit flippant – of course I can have natural childbirth and of course everything will go fine, why wouldn’t it? But this time, I’m lacking that bravado.
One of the question we ask new parents is, “What is it that you need to know about yourself in order to birth your baby?”
In our Birthing From Within class that we teach every Tuesday night, one of the questions we ask new parents is, “What is it that you need to know about yourself in order to birth your baby?” When I took the class two years ago my question was, “How can I keep my shit together in labor?” I learned that the answer is you can’t. Control is an illusion, especially regarding labor, and I had to let go of mine before my labor began. I didn’t keep it together during my labor and that’s precisely what made it beautiful – sacred chaos. However, I had to come to terms with that before hand, and with my husband’s help and lots of communication about what labor can look like, I did. Today though, I have a new question to make peace with; a new paper tiger to face. Here is my question, “How can I still have a beautiful birth now that I’ve seen what can really go wrong during labor and birth?”
I have an answer brewing in my heart, but I would rather not share it just yet, I think it needs more time to steep. In the meantime, I ask you…
What is it that you need to know about yourself in order to birth your baby?