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.