My eldest child was born 8 years ago this week. Looking back on the birth, i credit the experience i had personally with what motivated me to do the work i do. It wasn’t the birth i wanted, and while i have moments of it that i treasure to this day, parts of it were really scary and it’s taking me time to heal from them. I know i’m one of the lucky ones and my birth trauma is my own story. I also know that i have more tools on hand to heal and delve into the trauma than most of us have. Please read on only if you want to.
I went into early labour on the Friday of Pride weekend. It was exactly my estimated due date so i was pretty excited about that. The labour slowed over the course of the Saturday, so i napped, watched Goonies (my all time favourite movie growing up so i thought i could get into it). Looking back on it, i can’t believe we didn’t name our baby Mickey or Andy or even Sloth. I remember the awesome Labour Mix my partner made (a former DJ and full-time lover of music). I remember the nice bath. I remember snacking on cold drinks and smoothies, walking at 10PM and 2AM. And then things started to turn in the wee hours of Sunday morning. By then our amazing Midwife Mary was with us. The pains of labour just seemed to intensify in a way that i knew wasn’t what i needed to feel. Next thing i knew we were rushing to the hospital at 4AM, after seeing what we thought was meconium. It turned out not to be, but it was a preamble to needing to be at the hospital i guess.
Between 5AM and 11AM my care had to be transferred over to an OB doc. This was devastation #1. I so admired my team of midwives and felt so connected to them, having to be transferred felt like a betrayal even though my Wise Mind knew it was necessary. The doc did not have the same bedside manner or a trauma-informed framework. Ironically, it was the anesthesiologist that helped me get through the discussion that i ‘needed’ to have an emergency C-section. I remember being told that my son’s head was stuck and i was too swollen to give birth vaginally. I remember thinking that in his excitement to meet me, my baby turned a bit too much and got stuck. I remember the pain before the epidural and thinking ‘there is no way that those of us that birth can do this.’ The pain was surreal.
Devastation #2 was to learn that i had to have a C-section. Just like my mother did with me. I had prepped my body to birth vaginally. I had convinced myself of this, so did not read enough of a birth plan for C-section. I had no idea that i would be strapped down, that the medical team would be too busy chatting about their weekend plans, that i couldn’t immediately hold my new baby, and that skin to skin was impossible until in the recovery room. Devastation #3 is learning that my arms had to be strapped down. #4 was learning that i couldn’t hold my newborn. #5 was knowing that my partner’s role in the room was even less active. And devastation #6 was realizing that my voice just didn’t matter in that room. I was not an equal or key planner in the birth of my baby. In the birth of me as a mama.
My baby was born that Sunday afternoon, just as the Pride parade was starting. We saw a rainbow out of our minuscule window. It overlooked the lake and i worked hard to rid the delivery/surgery room from my mind. My baby and i worked hard on our latch, our breastfeeding, our bonding. We worked on our rest and healing. We stayed at the hospital for 3 days. We stayed together in our small shared room. We saw other families come in and out. I worked on getting to the bathroom. Devastation #7 is learning the incredible feat of getting out of bed to walk across the room to pee. Devastation #8 is being told i had to work on a poo before leaving the hospital. Yikes, how was that supposed to happen. Devastation #9 is being told that my baby wasn’t latching so wasn’t getting what he needed – i have had my period and big boobs since the age of 9, if nothing else my body was born to breastfeed! He had one dose of formula to get us through that night shift with that 1 nurse. And then i worked my butt off to get him to latch.
What i loved – having friends visit on Day 2 and 3, bringing us homemade food and changes of clothes, seeing my parents hold their new grandson, not having to change the meconium diapers, being able to just nap, nurse, and snack for a week. I loved being able to reflect on my strength, and to ask for help. I love that i had a team of cheerleaders who were at my side through it all. Recreating the birth story i wanted as soon as we got home. Looking at and mesmerizing all the details on my new baby’s face. His feet – oh my goodness, newborn feet!
In my work as a therapist who supports others who have birthed, i bring my tools for triggers, negative thoughts, anxiety attacks. I carry with me the story of resilience, be it a birth tunnel, a birth house. I have visited the rooms that i needed, and i have come out of the tunnel to the other side, where there is light and strength. After my first-born’s birth, i did the work i needed to in order to reclaim the birth. I did the work so that i could birth again – and this time it was a planned home birth. Beside the birth pool, in the kitchen, under a full moon. That is another story for another time. But i did the work to get there. It can be done.
Now 8 years later, we have to go to the same hospital for the periodic emergency trip (hello parenthood) and the former birth ward is gone. I hear it’s better and the team is more aware. I hear that good changes have been made so that women are part of their birth even when it’s a more medical one. My birth story includes a chapter that was scary and made me feel silenced and irrelevant. I realized after that process of becoming a mother that i would work hard on not being silenced and pushed aside. I need to be an advocate for my children, for me, and for you. I want to be that support.
We are the authors of our stories and they are powerful – there is no right or wrong story. May yours bring you strength.