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Birthing and beyond

January 9th, 2004 · No Comments

Wow, it seems I’ve been reading a lot about babies in blogs this week…whether it’s been a celebrity on CNN news or a local blogger who’s going to be an uncle or another blogger writing about how his life changed – and techno-lust died – through his children’s births. Via makeoutcity earlier this week, I read Ms. Lauren’s description of her birthing experience , part of a blogging dialogue. And today I rejoiced to look at Lisa William’s pictures of her son , just born yesterday! Congratulations, Lisa!

Earlier this week Lisa had posted about what it was like to have a scheduled birth , this c-section being her second one. I think that she and Ms. Lauren brought up some good points about childbirth. Some of my thoughts from all these posts have been simmering in my mind this week, and without going into too many details, I’ll share some below….

To each her own

Lisa wrote how her recovery from a c-section was like being put into another person’s body. Although I had a “normal” delivery, I too had never been hospitalized or even broken a bone, so my healing process seemed strange to me as well. Ms. Lauren also described many of the changes she experienced.

A friend and I joked that we were going to write a book about all the things “no one told us” – from digestive difficulties to the sleep-deprived-I-can’t-believe-I-feel-this-way-middle-of-the-night-desperation.

I was surprised by what happened to me after I had the baby, how my body felt, how much my daughter cried and wouldn’t sleep (had her days and nights reversed) how exhausted and overwhelmed I was. That first night, feeling so tired, I sent my daughter to the nursery so I could get some sleep, but the staff kept sending her back because she was crying, needing to nurse every hour. I started crying too. I had taken childbirth classes and read books but none of it prepared me for the reality of motherhood in the early morning.

One theory I had was that if we were still living in a communal society, with other maternal relatives around, aunts, grandmothers, older sisters, cousins, then I would have been better prepared for childbirth. But then, one day, when I was asking my mom why she hadn’t told me about stretch marks – I think I may even have said it as sarcastically as “gee thanks Mom for telling me about the stretch marks” – my mom replied “what stretch marks?!” And I realized that my experience was my own. Not even my own mother had the same child birth and body changes. Each body and each baby are different. There are as many different birth and pregnancy stories as there are people alive. Each woman has her own choices, her own challenges and changes. Each mother has her own memories, some of them written in stretch marks or in scars but most of them moments in her mind.

What happened at the hospital

I have to say that I have had good experiences having my babies at a hospital. Sure I’d choose a homebirth if I could. I’ve even come close, living on an island, while having my second and third babies – it’s been a possibility if we couldn’t make the ferry or if I went into labor in the middle of the night (never happened though). I’ve been tempted to try it at home. But we believe the hospital is a better choice for our family. My second child wanted to come out at 35 weeks and without medicine, she might have arrived – and been a different kid because of it. So I’m grateful for what doctors can do.

Lisa wrote that even a natural childbirth is dramatically medically managed. I don’t feel that way; I don’t think I’ve been managed that much. I feel I have had about as natural a delivery as can be had in a hospital. I guess it depends on the definitions. For my second and third children, I don’t remember receiving a lot of medical attention. I mostly told the nurses to leave me alone, and they did. I told them when I wanted attention. During my last labor my blood pressure had to be monitored, and I started hyperventilating a bit, but that was because I went from “I’m not in labor” (at least thinking that in my mind) to discovering that I was almost completely dilated – “I’m having this baby NOW!” (long story)

I will say that having had 3 babies has helped my perspective on labor a lot. After my first child, I was a bit unhappy with my hospital experience. In Labor and Delivery, I had gotten a younger nurse who was having a hard time with my labor. Of course I had never been in labor before, and I do not deliver as a text book case. I do it fine, but a bit different. So she was panicking – running around yelling “she’s acting like a multi” and I was a bit panicked too. Looking back at my first labor, I saw things I wanted to do differently the second time around.

Each labor though has been a little different, and I’ve realized how little I can control it all. Yet I’ve also learned what I can control – like asking for another nurse. Or how I choose to respond to what’s happening around me. I have had relatively easy labors with few complications. I think though that during the last labor I had, I felt more at peace with the hospital and the staff. They hardly bothered me, and when they did come to take my blood pressure, I understood why they were concerned about me.

Not to say that my labors have been perfect or than any of them have gone according to the “plan” I made on paper. There’s been something that’s upset me a little in each one, something I would have changed if I could. But it wasn’t up to me. Birth is a gift we women have been given. Many times when I get a gift, it’s not exactly what I imagined or would have requested, but I love it anyway. I think it’s amazing to be able to bring another being into the world. One of my strongest memories is being able to feel my babies come out of me, reaching and touching the emerging head – wow!

In general, I feel I have had wonderful birthing experiences. Perhaps I am wearing rose-colored glasses. Ms. Lauren wrote about labor pain. I do think that women can forget the pain. Three times now I’ve chosen to go through labor without drugs. At times I have desperate thoughts, wishing I could trade places with anyone else in the world. Anything would be better than being in labor pain! If I want to, I can try to think about that pain. But I don’t.

Sitting here at my desk, I can see pictures of each of my daughters smiling from a vacation we took at a mountain cabin this summer. The older two have their feet in a cold creek while the baby was sitting on a lounge chair, grinning with her two teeth. Here I am writing about labor pain yet looking at their smiles, and the tears make their own cold creeks in my eyes. I’d give anything for them. I think about how they each hugged me tonight, looking up at me with wide eyes in happy faces as they got ready to fall asleep. The pain of labor seems so small in this moment as I think about all my feelings for these little girls.

That’s what I remember. I remember Ted being there for me, in every way, letting me push on him or whatever, step on his toes, letting me stare into his eyes, encouraging me. And I remember the feeling afterwards, the wonderful elation, too-light-for-this-life, the JOY over our new daughter!

I believe birth experiences are in part what you make them to be. How you choose to respond and what you decide is important and worth remembering strongly. How you learn to let go of control (not something we cherish in this culture!) and find the gifts and goodness in it. And I agree with Lisa’s perspective: “I feel that we focus women far too much on planning the experience of birth rather than focusing on the outcomes of birth. Birth is a very short passage in parenthood.” It is only the beginning….

Beyond Birth

We live in a world, especially for scientists like Ted and me, where the ability to share and to duplicate is crucial. In the information age, we can learn more than we need to know about any kind of experience.

You can buy a book about traveling to Paris. You can read it and plan to take your own trip. You can get your own plane ticket, go to France, stay in the same places as the author and see the same sights. You can see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre too. You can duplicate exactly what you read.

Birthing a baby is like taking a journey. But, in parenting, even if you read a lot of travel books, you can’t duplicate someone else’s journey. It’s all your own adventure. No one has been there before you. They might know a few landmarks or glimpses of the terrain but it’s a new road just for you. It’s all yours to discover – as parents together, and individually too. The turns and the twists are ones no one else knows. And the mystery makes the joy a lot greater in the journey.

While I am a proponent of childbirth classes – I even asked our teacher for a stash of her brochures so I could hand them out to pregnant friends (and I have done that!) – I’ve realized that no teacher – or mother – or best friend – can tell you everything about childbirth or fill you with every fact you might need. The best she can do is to help prepare who you are and who you will be as a parent. She can’t tell you all that might happen to you but she can help you as a couple know how to respond and even how to build your marriage and family through it all, through labor and delivery and baby…

Ted and I were joking the other night that if we humans had gotten to choose how babies were to be born, we wouldn’t have selected this design that we have now. We’d probably have wanted something like velcro or ziploc, a quick and easy removal process. God knows we would have done it all differently.

But when I think about life, how dynamic and dramatic it is, the highs and lows, mountain climbing, scuba diving, sunrises, sunsets, waking up in the morning happy to be alive, feeling so down you want to die, the fire and ice of daily life, doesn’t it make sense that birth, the beginning of life, should be such a process as well, something so powerful and precious, something simple and complex, something so bloody and beautiful?

Steven wrote :
“After seeing my wife give birth to our three children, a strong emotional and physical experience, some of my techno-lust has died and oftentimes, I can hardly fathom why we are still all that excited about technology and software engineering. I cannot say I experience this as a loss – rather an observation. People, especially small and bloody ones, are so much more exciting. “

Looking at Lisa’s pictures brings all these feelings back to me. And I don’t even have words for some of them.

Tags: family