My Childbirth Question

10 Nov
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Me, 16 weeks pregnant with my son.

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?

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11 Responses to “My Childbirth Question”

  1. Sam Harper November 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    As you can imagine, I’m not really in a position to weigh in much on this subject, although I can say something about facing fears in general. I’ve seen what can go wrong when somebody drives a car, but I still manage to drive mine without too much anxiety.

    I think some women are built differently than others. My grandmother had two births, and she nearly died during both of them, so she didn’t have anymore children after that. My ex-girlfriend had two cesarians because she wasn’t able to give birth the old fashion way. I suspect my grandmother would’ve had cesarians, too, if it hadn’t been so long ago.

    Other people seem to have no problem giving birth. Although there are never any guarantees, I think that in general, past performance is indicative of future results because if you have the kind of body that is conducive to giving birth, things are likely to go more smoothly than if you don’t have a body that is conducive to giving birth (like my grandmother and my ex-girlfriend). Since you’ve already given birth, I think you’re reasonable in expecting more of the same. I suspect your next birth will go pretty much like the first one did.

  2. April November 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    My pregnancy experience was the opposite of yours, Joy. I vividly remembered the tales my mother told of each of her three pregnancies and subsequent labors; all but mine ended after what she termed to be a lengthy labor followed by an epidural. The only reason why my birth was a natural one was due to my coming so quickly, they were unable to get her an epidural in time. Combine that with my own story of having the onset of menstruation at age of 10, year after year of suffering periods with debilitating cramps and the passage of enormous clots, a diagnosis of endometriosis at 22 and the rupture of my right ovary the same year, and, worst of all, a miscarriage 8 years and what seems like a lifetime ago. I had told everyone and myself that the chances of my getting pregnant were next to nil, that Chad and I were probably going to decide to adopt sometime within the next three years after we were married. And when the blinking hourglass of my digital pregnancy test flashed to “Pregnant” no one could have been more shocked than me. That day, I stood on the playground of the preschool where I worked literally trembling in fear. I considered going home early, feeling for all the world like I was about to fall apart. As I fought waves of nausea and dread over the potential loss of my pregnancy, I was crying out to God. And in that place of doubt, a still small voice spoke clearly into my spirit: “Everything’s going to be ok. You’re having a boy. His name is Jonathan.”

    Somehow knowing my son had been given a name that I had not given, I knew everything was going to be alright. And unlike yourself that first pregnancy, I still struggled with fear nearly each and every day. Those words He uttered that day on the playground were sometimes the only thing I could cling to, when the rest of me wanted to give in to irrationality and doubt. And when I lay on the hospital bed unable to move yet feeling each and every contraction – despite the epidural I told myself I would never get – it calmed me in my darkest of hours. And when I lay on the operating table, numb from the shoulders down and they lifted my son from my body, chills ran through my frozen limbs and I felt the presence of the Lord.

    Your son or daughter has a name given them by God that you did not choose.

    Love you!

  3. michellegold November 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    Sam: Joy, out of all pregnant mommas I know, knows this to be sometimes true. Most often, it is true. The second is usually like the first, but faster.
    That being said, from my experience with birth as a momma and a doula, I believe each birth is unique to each mother and each baby. And what I think Joy is saying that she knows her birth will most likely be like the first…but, what if…? Especially now that she has seen most of the ‘what if’s?” I mean, how do you handle that? It’s like driving past a huge car wreck and not help but wonder if that could have been you. And since her emotional state is different during this pregnancy than the last, she is trying to find another way to calm, appease and cope during these ‘what if’ moments.

    Joy: I feel the same way as you. When I think about giving birth again, I can’t help but wonder about the ‘what if’ especially when I think back to Laurel’s and remember her waters were green and brown. What if she was in distress then and I didn’t even know about it? What if I had labored down and she was stressed? What if the meconium is present with the next one and I am home and the baby inhales some of it?

    I think my answer to myself when I think these thoughts is to just breathe. I know it sounds corny but what else can you do? You try to have the healthiest pregnancy as possible as stress-free as possible and just enjoy being pregnant. Cherish each kick, each hunger pain, etc…

    You are loved. Your babies are loved. That is the best any mother & father can do.

    PS I like the sacred chaos. Can I use that paragraph with one of my clients?

    • Joy November 11, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

      Michelle – thanks for understanding me so well. I’m glad to know that I’m not crazy for thinking about those what ifs. I am going to breathe through my pregnancy and my labor and stay in a place of peace as much as I am able. Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. Abbey November 10, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    It’s like trying to battle the ocean waves. You can’t do it. The best path is to just ride them. Ride them wherever they take you and believe that it will all work out. You have the education and that’s good but sometimes it can hurt you because you feel like you have to fight to get everything a certain way. If you have the right support around you, people who care about what you care about, people who are riding the waves with you, it will all be ok. I know all about fear of childbirth. I’m the one who had the VBA3C…after an attempted VBAC and an attempted HBA2C…For 13 years I tried to control the ocean instead of just making sure my boat was sturdy. I knew SO much about birth but I didn’t have the right people around me the first two times. You have to surrender your body, mind, soul. Make the best preparations you can but when it comes time to birth, let go of all your expectations and just let it be what it’s meant to be. That was a hard lesson for me to learn and my VBA3C was SO different than I thought it would be, but it was mine, and I love it…every single part of it…from my fused sacrum to my cervix on her face to the forceps assistance to the episiotomy to the manual placenta removal and the softball sized fibroid. I loved that I did it all without medication and that it truely was the most painful and hardest thing I’ve ever done and will probably ever do…I accept the surgery at 3 weeks postpartum to remove the hematoma. I was fine with my baby going to NICU immediatly after delivery because I wasn’t able to even hold her. I had a HARD delivery…so many interventions, but it was MY birth and I feel privledged and special that I got to experience it. I am so proud of myself, I cannot even begin to put into words. Maybe I’m a wierdo but I wanted that VB so bad, so BAD! I just wanted to feel normal…and finally I do. I had to let go of ALL my expectations for that to happen. It is what it is.

    • michellegold November 10, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

      Wow, you are an amazing woman. Many cheers for you and understanding your body!

    • Joy November 11, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

      Abbey, I keep reading your comment over and over again, knowing that you’ve truly walked a road that allows you to speak with wisdom. Thank you for sharing your heart with me and I will take your words and let them sink in even more. And, I agree with Michelle, you are an amazing woman!

      • Abbey November 14, 2010 at 12:06 am #

        Oh gosh! Thanks!! I just feel like it was something I had to do. I’m so grateful for the experience.

  5. Angi Farris November 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    Births are always beautiful. Even if there are complications that result in a spiritual, emotional or physical recovery, the birth is still beautiful. My perspective on a “beautiful” birth changed after mine didn’t go as I considered “beautiful” beforehand. I guess I came to the realization that for myself a “delivery” and a “birth” are two different things. Two of my deliveries were awful and one was so horrible I think I may have had post traumatic stress syndrome afterward. That’s why there’s 5 yrs between my first and second. Did I end up with healthy babies in the long run, yes. I have very close friends that didn’t have such, and I know from speaking very candidly with them that they too consider their birth experiences to have been beautiful. It may have been hard for them at first and it’ll always be with them, but they hold those precious moments in their hearts and they have created more “beautiful” birth stories since. So, to throw out my experience to your question “How can I still have a beautiful birth now that I’ve seen what can really go wrong during labor and birth?”, when you’re the one giving birth, you’ll be surprised as to what “beautiful” can be. I say that after having one terrible labor/delivery, facing my second and all the fears that it carried from the first, having that go “wrong”… they were still beautiful births in the end. I had a terrible time with a lot of soul searching on this particular subject myself so I looked up the definition of the 2 words.

    Birth- to bring forth.
    Deliver- to set free, hand over or surrender

    I figured God was speaking to me that to “bring forth” a baby is always beautiful. It isn’t always beautiful to set free, hand over, or surrender to something, even if it is a baby.

    It’s possible that this is what God was saying to me about this situation in my life at the time. I’m stating these things in an effort to help you if it’s the same for you. It very possibly may not be, and if that’s the case, by all means at least you have another view point on the subject.

  6. mamadandelion February 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    Angi – thank you for your words. I think that’s something I’ve been missing the past few weeks (months) “when you’re the one giving birth, you’ll be surprised as to what “beautiful” can be.”.

    I’ve had a couple of road blocks this pregnancy that have to do with my first birth. But I think strangely enough the biggest thing holding me back has to do with breastfeeding after baby arrives. I breastfed both of my girls happily for roughly 2 years each, but when I weaned them I weaned because I was absolutely DONE. When the LO arrived I was still nursing her sister. This time I’m not nursing anyone. The thought of anyone or anything touching my breasts drives me nuts, I get agitated and pull away. I worry that I won’t be able to breastfeed this baby b/c this hang up will get in the way. I feel so strongly that breast is best, yet I worry that I won’t be emotionally capable of breastfeeding.

    Any other concern is easy to get passed. What if uterine massage hurts like heck again? Well it’ll be over soon enough and then I won’t remember it as long as I don’t get PG again. What if X,Y, or Z happens in L&D? there’s always an answer – it might not be an answer I want, but a cesarean birth and a healthy mom and baby is better than either of us dying or being severely compromised. Ultimately I don’t need to be involved to answer those questions, but the though of bringing a baby into the world and being unable to nourish that little baby scares me to no end.

  7. Jeani April 4, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    The problem with what ifs…not only in birth but in life in general is that we are only graced for the now. For our particular situation, in the today. We cannot expect to have grace for all the possibilities in life…we cannot pre-deal with issues and develop some kind of anti body in order to help us cope later. It just doesn’t work that way. The trouble with being exposed to so many stories is that it has a similar effect to reading something like Fox’s book of martyrs, it takes a special effort to clear ones mind, to keep a prepared but positive expectation. Do what you can then trust that strength will be waiting for you.

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