I am about 2.3 months shy of giving birth to my third child. And though my daughter is now five, there are times when it doesn't seem any more real today than it did the day she was first laid on my chest that I am a mother.
Every woman comes into motherhood in a unique way. All of the decisions she makes are deeply personal. I hope you read that as a disclosure that my experience in no way reflects on my opinions of anyone elses experiences. For me motherhood was preceded by a long process of searching and waiting that finally ended in birth. We were amazed that we were even able to have a child of our own. I had plenty of maternal support as well as support from other empowering women and my husband. But I, like every woman, went into the experience alone with the things that would take place. It's simple to recognize that I would make mistakes as all women do. I wasn't satisfied with my first birth and so when I was pregnant again 9 months later I knew I needed to do something different. I spent a lot more of my next pregnancy soul searching and studying; thinking about what I wanted and how I was going to get it. Considering what had happened in my first birth and what mistakes I had made. I knew that I wanted a birth without interventions.
When Ada was born (my first birth) I went to the hospital a few hours after my water broke even though my contractions were minimal. I was very slow to progress and under pressure of hospital nurses and from fear of a forced cesarean after 24 hours of ruptured membranes, I accepted induction and later an epidural. I was given an episiotomy and remember thinking very clearly, as I watched the doctor cut me, of how unnecessary it was. He was impatient and groggy and unhappy about being there at 3:30 in the morning. There was no attempt at anything else before breaking out the scissors. I later came to understand the mistakes that I had made on my way to the birth that led to consequences for my new born daughter. The 'reason' for the episiotomy was to aid her in coming out. She had been in the birth canal too long and was under stress from the induced contractions. While there she had respirated meconium and had a hard time breathing for the first few minutes. Her blood sugar was very low. She had a hard time latching on and nursing. I didn't know at the time that most of these difficulties were likely directly caused by the induction and epidural. (For more information on that see avoid-being-induced and epidural-side-effects-baby.)
In my process to find a new way I considered all of those things. While I understand the reasoning for the interventions, it is my understanding and belief that they all could have been avoided. So in this new birth experience I am reflecting, to make sure that this experience is one that brings me and my child closer, gives them the best chance at a healthy start, and me the best chance at a speedy, bonding-filled recovery.
The first thing that would have been helpful to understand, is that the bag of waters *usually* doesn't just break on it's own. And when it does, this does not in fact increase risk of infection. The day before labor began I had my doctor attempt to strip my membranes because I had been told that it could help start labor. I was ignorant to the fact that this is an intervention. There is no intervention that our bodies can not do better under normal circumstances. There are no studies (to my knowledge) that show that stripping membranes can increase risk of water breakage. However it is my belief, after the fact, that this is what prematurely ruptured my bag of waters. I also didn't know that water breakage doesn't mean that a body or a baby is any more ready for labor and delivery than it would be otherwise. I was ignorant to the fact that your body continues to produce water even after the membrane has broken. I also didn't understand that in a hospital setting the first thing a nurse will do is also the most likely to give me an infection, particularly after my water had broken: check my dilation. (For more information on these topics see InductionByPitocin and pre-labour-rupture.)
With all of these experiences fresh in my mind, in my following pregnancy I chose to birth in a hospital again for financial reasons. I knew that birthing in a hospital was counter-intuitive to the kind of experience I wanted to have. But I thought that a different hospital could give me a better system of support. It's impossible not to be scarred from an experience like I had before. I imagined it to be my worst case scenario and prepared myself to face it in my next birth journey. All in addition to the experience of what would inevitably happen; my body and baby would work together to bring one through the other and into my arms.
The birth of my son 18 months later, a healthy 9 lb 14 oz. boy, was the most empowering experience of my life thus far. If you want, you can read about it here. From it I learned the true meaning of some of those mistakes. The consequences for birthing my daughter with interventions were, I felt, very severe. The recovery from the epidural made it difficult to get out of bed at the hospital for hours after the birth itself, something I didn't learn was NOT normal until my next birth. Either for an epidural or for a birth in general. The episiotomy made my first few weeks as a new mother so much more difficult. I was week, I was sore. I stayed in bed a lot. I didn't feel well or strong. I learned with my second that this was all completely avoidable. There was no recovery time, accept to sleep and adjust and get to know that sweet little boy spirit. My body was healthy and full of energy immediately after the birth I was dancing around the room 15 minutes later and the natural hormones were able to play their part. Nursing my daughter was complete hell. We made it to a year of nursing by some divine miracle, but a difficult latch, a groggy baby, milk coming in when the baby didn't really want to eat yet, all made it excruciatingly hard. Whereas with a healthy child who had no drugs in his system, my son latched right on, we had nothing but normal soreness and a healthy nursing relationship for over 3 years.
My first birth was over 5 years ago. And now I find myself again in anticipation of a child and a life and incorporating him or her into my own as meaningfully and peaceably as possible. I write in anticipation and hope that I can prepare myself as well or better for this experience. This time around I have the assurance that my body does indeed know how to give birth. I have an amazing midwife and my husband and I have learned together how to support each other in order for it to be a dually empowering experience. Some of this birth experience has already been decided. We'll be bringing our midwife into or home with a birthing pool. And our 5 year old daughter will be present, if possible. But other than that, there is so much mental and physical preparation to be made. And I hope that writing about it will help me, as it usually does, to focus my energy and actions in a helpful way. I do also hope that someone finds it helpful to read the experiences of a person who is in full recognition of their mistakes. It is too common for women to try to push those feelings of inadequacy aside because they don't want to feel the guilt of making a wrong decision. But reality is that there is no blame to place on an individual, but on a flawed system that makes a monetary profit for each birth and each intervention. Each intervention has a potential and common hazard and it will effect they way that you feel after birthing and your emotional and physical health as well as that of your child.
For now this is as far as I've come in this pre-birth journey. Every week brings new thoughts of how things will be and new fears of what my body will do. Experience tells me that the most important thing I can do it face those fears head on. And give them the engagement and expression that is required to vanquish them from my mind. Until my next session...