Healing from within – My Birth Experience, Part 2

The birth was approaching. With 10 days to go, the baby was dropping even deeper as I struggled to walk. Still, I hadn’t chosen a doula. I thought that if I went into labour I would just call one. And then on Friday, I finally told my husband to pay Doula A the deposit. Yet G-d was kind to me and did not allow me the same error as the last time. On Friday morning when I saw what looked the very beginning of a show, which was how Ella’s labour began. So as I walked clumsily waddled across the road to work, I knew that labour was possibly imminent and coming in the next few days. And suddenly, I knew exactly who I wanted there with me. Not Doula A or Doula B, but dear Nadine. Gentle and supportive, strong yet non-intrusive, I had shared so much with her over the past few weeks. I called to let her know, and to arrange just in case it was on shabbat from a halachic point of view. I carried on the day, and with no further signs of labour the day went as usual. When I got home and some of the plug came out, I knew it was time to make contingency plans. Even though it could still be days, we needed to be prepared.

I barked off a list of orders to my husband to arrange and went to see my gran as usual. When I came home, all the bags were packed and we readied ourselves for a normal shabbas with me eagerly looking forward to an early night. At around 10am, I woke up to a soaking wet bed. I realized that the early night was over and woke my husband who phoned the midwife to reserve the bed, and to go fetch my sister who would stay the night if we had to leave. I tried to go back to bed but no avail. I pottered around, finished packing and read a bit. There were contractions but very short and sporadic. Everyone else went back to bed. At around 3am the contractions were getting worse. I lay on the floor and rested and when one came, every 15/20 minutes, I got up and breathed as we practiced (my poor sister who had to hear my labour breaths through the night!). I did not feel panicked or scared, and stayed like that till about 6am. They got stronger and more sore, and I woke my husband. He called Nadine, who arrived in my bedroom. We got up and dressed and all had breakfast. It was jovial and relaxed and Ella was delighted to find visitors there! Nadine held my hand through every contraction which were still far. At one point, I felt terrified and did not ignore it. With tears in my eyes, I turned to her and said I am so scared. She gave me a big hug, and told me she was there for me. I dressed Ella and sent her delightedly on her way with her aunt ‘HaHa’ (Michal).

The rest of the morning passed with more regular but short contractions. Nadine held my back and hands through every one, as I focused intently on the breath as I had practiced. At 9am we woke Marc again to time them. They were still only 30 seconds and 6/7 minutes apart. The contractions intensified in length to over a minute and in intensity but did not get closer at all. At about 10.15am, a contraction suddenly came 3 minutes after the next. Nadine asked me if I felt any pushing urge. A very small one, I said, but nothing urgent. Nadine realized that things were moving faster than we anticipated, despite the distance of the contractions. She said it was time to go, and I listened. As we got ready in the bedroom, I got her and my husband to promise that if any induction was needed, I would get an epidural. They agreed and Nadine chuckled, you are not getting an induction. I didn’t fully believe her as every birthing book stated there was no need to go to the clinic until contractions were less than 5 minutes apart. Which they were not. I still thought there were hours to go.

We all piled into the car with my ball, and bags and made our way in the gentle rain and grey skies to the clinic. Poor Nadine said at one point she thought I may deliver in the car! We went straight to the room, and I insisted on the bath being put on. The room was the identical one in which Ella was delivered 2 years prior! As we got there, I started shaking violently and getting very anxious. Nadine and the doula on call calmed me down and made me breath slowly, and we waited for the midwife. She arrived and after examination sat back, and said six words I will never forget, “You can push when you want”. I went into shock and burst out crying. She grinned. What do you mean, I asked? She said, you are 10cm. I could not believe it. I had made it this far feeling so calm, so in control and so support every step of the way. We were at the final stage. I was overwhelmed with a sense of immense gratitude and disbelief. I immediately got into the bath, still relishing in the amazing events. I relaxed there for about 20 minutes, chatting away and feeling utter joy; until I realize that I better push this baby out sometime soon. Nadine was there every step of the way, as was my husband; staring into my eyes and offering me encouragement. Never once did I feel alone or isolated in my pain. After what must have been an hour of very (I won’t lie) painful pushing, our precious son was born. The rest of the shabbat was spent relaxing quietly in our room; and 8 days later our son was named Yehuda in testament to the indescribable thankfulness I felt to G-d for the enabling a birthing experience of complete healing which I so desperately needed.

Narrative Unspun: Rewriting my birth story Part 1

We birth how we live. That’s what I am learning. The word for birth is vulnerable. Birth is the most vulnerable time a woman will ever experience. The physical pain, the intensity, the feeling of lack of control is indescribable. Mothers somehow manage to forget about it between births. But our births can teach us a lot about ourselves.

I thought I knew myself well. I thought I had dealt with all my stuff or at least was aware of the stuff I still had to address. Until recently. I thought I knew how my natural instinct is to be strong and brave and how I have moved away from that. But I haven’t completely.
When I was expecting my first child Ella, I remembered horror stories from friends and family’s hospital births. Stirrups, and epidurals and episiotomies and unsympathetic doctors and pain and tearing and gum-chewing anesthetists. And I hate hospitals. The smells, the sterility, the unknown. The days of sitting in the ICU waiting room before my grandmother died.
So I chose a natural birthing clinic. Not because I am someone who believes in embracing the pain and welcoming it. Rather because I was scared of hospitals and because I read too much about the statistics of hospitals and epidurals. The clinic I found was beautiful and dignified and respectful.

When it came to choosing a doula I was overwhelmed by the enormity of this huge decision. I met with three, but I was paralyzed by indecision when it came to actually committing to one. Not because I thought I could do it alone, but because it was such an important factor and I didn’t know how I could make a decision for such a personal & intimate experience. How could I choose someone to be there for me fully? Was it possible for anyone to be there for me in the way I needed?
Ante-natal classes were also something I passed over. The regular ante-natal classes came with poor reviews. And the more mindful ones were far away and time consuming and costly. So I left it.

When the days got closer, I finally chose a doula. And the first meeting was scheduled for my due date. And instead of meeting her at my home to discuss the process, she met us at the clinic when I went into labour. There was no time for any pre-birth relaxation or preparation or learning.

The birth itself was relatively simple. The labour was long, I managed without any pain relief and had a natural birth and physically succeeded. In my mind, it was a success. It was the most painful experience but I survived.
And then I was expecting my second. Given the success of my previous birth, I assumed I would do the same thing. No classes, same doula, same clinic.

When my sister heard about this, she was horrified. ‘ I won’t talk to you for six months if you don’t have an epidural’. I laughed her off, thinking it was just her just being typically dramatic. But she remembered. My bruised & swollen face. How I told everyone for weeks how terrible it was. I assumed it was terrible for everyone and my experience was normal.
And then I bumped into a friend who recently began giving ante-natal classes based on ‘Birthing in Awareness’. And when she heard I was going the same birth route again, she was surprised. I was surprised at her surprise, and she says she remembers how traumatized I was. So I stopped and listened. ‘Every time I get a slight back pain, my body tenses up’. I was planning on doing no classes either this time. But out of interest and G-d’s kindness, I asked her to do a private course with me.

At the first session, I described my birth. My narrative was the same as it had been for the past two years. The experience was sore, but peaceful and positive. Yet when I found myself in agony and shaking the rest of the day, I remembered memories I had repressed for two years. I felt so so alone. On the outside I looked good. But I was alone. I did not think I could survive it. My mind freaked out. I felt so obliterated by the pain and not knowing whether I would survive, I couldn’t even hold Ella. It was her father who did the skin-to-skin. Thrown straight into motherhood, I did not have the time to process the experience. I ignored it until my body refused to ignore it any longer.

And as painful as it was, I began retelling the narrative of the birth. It was so, so horrible. I had no relationship with the doula and absolutely no mental preparation to deal with it. By the time I asked for an epidural, it was predictably too late in the process. My doula was super. She stayed with me 95% of the time. But emotionally and mentally I just remember feeling so alone. The words inwards and isolated and terrified come to mind. The fact that I managed to give birth naturally was one the greatest blessings, because if not I would never have had the courage to do it again.

Looking back, I am shocked at how ill-equipped I let myself be. How unprepared. And the resulting trauma is so obvious. The pain assaulted me. I had no idea what was happening to my body. I had no idea if I could survive it. I thought I would die. My husband was absent and unavailable. The doula was great. But my mind was unprepared. I felt so extremely alone. I had no thoughts to pull on, to draw on, no way to rise above the pain. Looking back, I am shocked and grateful that I managed to have it turn out okay anyways.

We birth how we live. Outwardly, my instinct is to portray the strong, capable side of me which is very much exists. But displaying vulnerability and neediness and pain is something I am slowly learning. Asking for and receiving the support I need is hard for me. And so it makes so much sense. I unconsciously chose to birth alone. By not going for classes, by not choosing a doula except by default; I experienced the most painful labour alone. Looking back, I have no doubt that this mental, emotional trauma contributed to my exceptionally hard transition into motherhood. I felt so beaten, so traumatized, so pained but there was no time to be taken care of. I was suddenly wholly responsible for a teeny fragile and completely dependent new –born daughter.

A lot of the work I have been doing since this course began is letting myself get in touch with that pain, that trauma, and process it in a healthy fashion. Acknowledging it in its rawest form – how afraid I was, how in pain I was and how I honestly did not know if I could survive it – is where I am at. I am overcome with gratitude for the angels who sent this along the way.
And in this process, I am choosing to do it differently this time. I have spent valuable time meeting doulas who come with the emotional and mental support I am looking for. I am doing my best to equip myself with the tools I need. I keep asking myself if I am crazy, what am I trying to prove to anyone. Just get the epidural upfront. But on two fronts, I don’t want that. Firstly, the statistics still scare me. But more importantly, I want desperately to heal from the trauma I went through. I want to go to the most vulnerable fragile time and see what it can be when I allow myself to be supported fully.

3 things never to ask a new mother

      1. Are you in love
When Ella was born, every second text message contained this question. But the thing is, just because you carried around this little person for nine months does not guarantee love at first sight. Hollywood portrays birth as tear-filled moments encapsulated by overwhelming love. But in the real world, many new mothers do not feel love at first sight.  They feel curiosity, terror, fear and exhaustion. For me, I was in such physical shock from labour that all I could do was lie down and shake for an hour while I recovered from the hours of excruciating pain. My husband did the skin to skin contact first.  Despite our shared gene pool, she was a stranger to me for a long time. And in those first weeks and months, we got to know each other, Ella and I. The love took a while to come. First there was like. And now, mostly there is love.  The love will come – after two days, two weeks or even two years.But asking a new mother that puts an unrealistic expectation and pressure onto them. As if there is something wrong with them if they aren’t swooning with love at their new-born.
2. Did you have a natural birth or a c-section
There is so much hype, idealism and fanaticism these days on both sides of the equation. In some circles natural births with no pain relief are lauded. Pregnant women often get very attached to one birthing method. They do hypno-birthing, yoga, meditation, birthing classes and visualization. And then things happen. Cords get stuck. Babies go into distress. Pelvises are misshaped. And often, these mothers are devastated. Perhaps they feel like failures, like they have let themselves down. There is regret and wasted hope. The emotions are deep and difficult. So don’t ask – don’t put them in a position where they have to explain their choice for an epidural, or anything else. And likewise there are mothers who elect for pain relief or a c-section from the word go. And that is their choice. They don’t need to defend it, justify it or explain it. They don’t need any judgement or superiority. So don’t ask.

3.Are you breastfeeding or formula feeding
Similar to the above, there is much dogma around breastfeeding. Attachment parenting dictates that we breast feed till our kids are six. For many of us, the picture of a perfect mother is one who nourishes their child from within. Many mothers have an innate desire to nurse their babies. And they will often do so at any cost. But as mothers know breast-feeding is not a pain-free, always possible occurrence.  I have friends who sobbed in pain as breastfeeding was so excruciating. And one who pumped for hours only to get an ounce of milk. And the ones who are desperate to and drink gallons of jungle juice and even take medication, but still do not have enough milk. There are ones whose babies have such bad reflux that formula is the only answer. And then there are ones who hate the concept and choose bottle-feeding from the word go. And no matter the choice they make, or they are forced to make, chances are it haunts them.  They probably are mired in guilt. So don’t make it worse. Don’t put them somewhere where they have to explain. If you do breastfeed, it does not mean you are a better mother. A mother makes sure their baby has exactly what it needs to flourish. In days of old, wet nurses where common. Today, many happy healthy adults were nourished by formula
Last week, someone asked me if I was still nursing Ella, my sixteen month old. And despite having worked through my own experience, there was still a twinge of guilt as I replied no.
PS. None of this applies to someone who offers you any of the above details, if they do then feel free to ask. If someone is your close friend, these rules also probably don’t apply. But if someone is a casual or even friendly acquaintance, think of some other way to make conversation. How are you feeling, congratulations and offering to help in anyway is always a safe bet