On June 18th, 8:21 pm, 2015, our beautiful and healthy baby boy was born. We couldn’t have been happier. He was amazing. I loved seeing his little blue eyes peering up at me. I loved having my wonderfully supportive husband, Mike by my side the whole time. I loved having my best friend Lindsey and her partner present and supporting me and helping us with decisions. I loved having my mom there to be part of the birth of her grandson. I loved having my good friend and Doula Nat there massaging my feet and reminding me of my birth plan at very important points along the way. I loved knowing that all of these people present were going to be important and stable figures in Ashar’s life. I loved having two of the most amazing midwives, Simone and Christine, present. So much of the birth was amazing. I felt empowered and in charge and respected by all the birthing professionals around us. I felt cared for and listened to. I felt safe at every point. I felt like we were in good hands. And yes, there were several emotional moments leading up to the birth along with pain and discomfort but it was all manageable because the heart of a mother, the hormones of pregnancy, and the support of community is so amazingly strong. Birth is natural and raw and challenging and real.
So that’s one version. Here’s another.
I was 41 weeks pregnant and at the beginning of that 41st week, we started regular fetal monitoring, as recommended by my midwife. Briefly, this involved “counting how often your baby kicks during a specific time period, a period of monitoring your baby’s heart rate using continuous fetal monitoring, called a non-stress test". It also involved "using ultrasound to measure the amount of water (amniotic fluid) surrounding your baby, the baby’s movements, muscle tone, practice breathing movements and amount of water around the baby, assigning a score for each measurement (this is called a biophysical profile), your baby’s growth.” On the Monday (the first day of monitoring), there were too few movements counted by the baby. This was concerning for our midwife and she suggested that we meet her at the hospital for additional monitoring and more imaging. After a pregnancy where I had refused a few ultrasounds and was actively trying to keep things natural, this was difficult on many levels. After many more hours of this monitoring, that Monday, we were offered an induction, which we declined. I could feel movement even if they couldn’t detect it. Eventually they detected it to everyone’s satisfaction and we went home. It was a long day. I had started the day at my naturopathic doctor’s trying a “natural induction” using acupuncture. I had already spent the last 7 days doing stretch and sweeps with the midwives, walking A LOT, walking uphill, driving over bumpy roads, eggplant parmesan, pineapple, nipple stimulation using a breast pump, sex…” So I decided to rest the next day (now post-term Day 8). I actually did nothing to try to encourage this baby to come.
On Wednesday we went in for more monitoring and again, there was low movement detected. The same thing happened where the technician at the imagining clinic couldn’t detect enough movement (which didn’t really bother me because I knew my baby’s movement patterns were like that. Nothing felt different for me. I was confident nothing had changed). But they also detected low fluid. Before even making it home from the imaging clinic our midwife called and said that she wanted us to grab our hospital bag and meet her at the hospital. As I hung up and told Mike what she said, I started to cry. I knew there was no coming back from that. I actually asked our midwife Simone on the phone if this was the end of my home birth plan. “Ya, it is.” she said. I think we were both disappointed. Or at least, she was disappointed for me.
The rest was the common tale of one intervention leading to another and then another and then another, ending with a cesarean section delivery. The induction I refused on Monday was accepted on Wednesday. Just before the induction I was offered an epidural. I declined. I remember the nurses’ surprise… almost a laughter of sorts. That concerned me. Then I remembered all the scientific articles I read about how the pain associated with an induced labour was so much more intense than a natural labour, largely because the synthetic induction didn’t allow for any breaks between contractions the way naturally surging oxytocin would. In hindsight, I wish I didn’t know that. I may have been able to circumvent a information-fulfilling prophecy. In any case, it was horrible. For 4 hours I was stuck in my head, in pain, unwilling to move out fear that the movement would induce more pain. I was clenched. I was beside myself, unable to speak, unable to communicate in any way. It was dark. Physically, my eyes were closed for 4 hours. And it all happened in a blink of an eye. There was no build up, no warning, no slow evolution of pain management to prepare and teach my body how to deal with the labour it had never before experienced. None of that. I was immediately thrown right into the middle of it. Not too suprisignly, when I was offered an epidural I gladly accepted. All thoughts of natural anything were so far from my logical brain. I needed it to stop. It never occurred to me that we could just stop the induction or ease it down. They were on protocol and I was now a patient.
The next 24 hrs were boring. I was still on an oxytocin drip, my epidural had kicked in — which was amazing btw, and contractions were happening. I could still feel some of them and was limited in terms of how I could sit to avoid the discomfort. I was now attached to a heart-rate monitor and wired up. I couldn’t walk. I was tethered very well and my legs didn’t work anyway. I was ballooning up from the drugs. But the baby was in no distress, ever. actually, he was so relaxed that he never came. At 6 cm dilated I started to shrink. I think it was because of all the probing and prodding. My cervix was not happy. For 24 more hours we waited and waited and waited… at the 28-hr post induction point, the OB-GYN kindly encouraged a c-section again. This time, we accepted. At the time it felt like we did this willingly, but in hindsight I can see how so many factors actually covertly contributed to the decision. The impatient society we live in. The medical professionals with their own agenda, swayed by the worry of the worst. Me feeling a sort of performance anxiety knowing that everyone was waiting for this baby to arrive… but he wasn’t. What more could I do to push this along? What didn’t come into my brain at this time was the difficult recovery from abdominal surgery that accompanies a c-section, the greater potential for autism after an induction + c-section, particularly in male children, the microbiom exposure that a baby missed when it fails to move through the vaginal canal, the inability to have my baby spend prolonged skin-to-skin on me immediately following his birth, the immediate cord clamping that I can only assume happened but have no idea because I was so disconnected from my babies actually emergence into the world, the fear when I realized my baby was out (because they announced it was a boy) and but he was not near me… where was he? “Mike, where is our baby???”. The few minutes he spent under oxygen surrounded by nurses felt like an hour to me. Not being able to hold my baby all night his first night because I was too drugged up with morphine and I knew that co-sleeping is not recommended under the influence of narcotics. No. None of this was part of my decision when we agreed to have the c-section. Should they have been? I don’t know. And that’s how they get ya… we don’t know what would have happened “if”. That “if” justifies so much, for better or for worse.
In any case, we had our c-section and I grieved for a long time for the birth I never had. Not just because I was indulging in wanting the ideal birth but because after the fact, I had all those other factors in my mind. I’ll share those later and I worried that I made the wrong decision. For months, I couldn’t talk about the birth without crying. For at least a year I couldn’t refer to it as “birth”. It was a c-section.
I have been hesitant to share my story for a few reasons. One is that it’s taken me almost 2 years to process much of it and yet there is still so much I have to heal. But I also am wearing of sharing negative birth stories with others because these leave resonances with people. My scars get passed on. Other people’s scars have influenced me. Sadly, I have heard very few great birth stories. Many women don’t seem to have great birth stories. I have since experienced some but they are few and far between. Something has happened to us. Our births have been overly medicalized. Sometimes that is helpful but not always. But, on the same hand, I also want to share my experience because one of the things that I think is most unfortunate about my birth experience was that it was the first birth I had been present for, except for my own entry into this world. I wish I had lived in a culture where birth was engrained within the fabric of the community, like it should, being such an important part of life. But that was not my experience. And I know it’s not a lot of people’s experiences. Too bad.
I also haven’t wanted to share this because lately I haven’t had time to think about this. The birth seems so trivial of a moment compared to all these other moments that I now have with Ashar, 2 years later. But actually, it’s not a trivial moment. At least, it’s no more trivial than any other moment. It is the collection of these moments that makes the human — both him and me. Each moment of life (and birth and death) is equally important.
Recently, I had a conversation with a Neuroscience-Doula friend and colleague of mine. She said that she writes the birth story from the baby’s perspective. I think I will do that and see what that does to my birth story. As it stands, my birth story is still evolving. Maybe it always will be.