I have struggled with this topic. I have questioned whether I should write about it. I have doubted whether anyone would read it. I have worried about how it would be received. But every doubt and worry was overtaken by the thought that maybe, just maybe, this post might help someone who finds themselves in the position that I found myself in 7 years ago.
We have recently celebrated Homebirth Awareness Week in Australia. I have seen some beautiful posts from women sharing their births of their babies in the home. (Note I have not said “successful” home births because this infers that if the mother and baby are transferred into a higher level of medical care then the birth must subsequently be termed a “failed” or “unsuccessful” home birth. I will never, ever, describe ANY birth as a failure – I’ll come back to this shortly).
So wind back the clock 7 years… I was heavily pregnant with my first baby. I’d had a dream pregnancy and at my last OB appointment, I’d been told by my beautiful and trusted OB that he had every expectation of a low complication birth for me. We even joked that I probably wouldn’t even need him. Two days after my due date, I felt the first twinges which I instinctively knew were the first signs of labour. I was so ready for this. I had my birth plan neatly written out, Daddy Smiles knew that he was to be at my beck and call and was a great help in calmly talking me through each contraction.
As we drove into hospital, the contractions were coming thick and fast but it was an indescribable pain…nothing like I had ever felt before. It was such a “good” pain if that makes any sense. Intellectually I could tell myself that this pain was taking me closer to meeting my baby, but physically it was out of this world. I tried the birth ball, the shower and even a warm bath while sucking on some gas. When I couldn’t find any way to recover from one contraction on top of the other, I asked for an epidural. It brought immediate relief, and gave me a chance to clear my mind and re-focus on the next stage … pushing. I felt every inch of my body bear down – and I pushed. And pushed. And pushed. I couldn’t stop pushing if I tried.
The midwife was saying, “I can see the head”, and so I pushed a little more! But I just knew something wasn’t right. It was like pushing up against a brick wall – it didn’t matter how hard I pushed, it didn’t matter how much I wanted to move that baby out, she just wasn’t moving. And yet my body kept pushing – refusing to give up.
Suddenly I realised that there were urgent whispered conversations between midwives, between people coming in and out of the room. My husband was looking from one worried face to another. I heard phone calls being made, and eventually someone said to me, “Your baby is stuck and we need to get her out … now”. In the middle of all of this, I was still pushing, still feeling the regular and powerful surges. I felt every single contraction, and each time I desperately tried to make it “the one” – the one contraction which would get her moving. The one push that would stop everyone freaking out, so I could say “See, I told you I could do this. I wanted her to slip out, and I would hold her in my arms, and scold her lovingly for making us all panic. But she wasn’t moving, no matter how hard I pushed.
I was prepped for a caesarean, and wheeled into the OR. The OB had a look and said we had to get the baby out – I was about to udergo an emergency c-section. As I burst into tears, he suggested that we first attempt to give the baby a hand with the use of forceps. By this stage, I would have done anything – anything – to avoid a c/s, so I said Yes. But it didn’t work. She didn’t even budge. “Failed forceps” was written on my notes. Failed.
I don’t accept failure. At anything. Every test, every exam, every challenge. I don’t fail. And yet there it was. Childbirth – apparently the “most natural” thing in the world for women. And I had failed.
The c/s happened and in just 10 short minutes, my baby was born. Pink and screaming her little lungs out. She was so LOUD. In my haze, I thought she was angry with me. I thought she was yelling at me – for not helping her, for making her wait, for not delivering her in the way that I should have. My first test as a Mummy– I HAD FAILED.
Fast forward to today. And as I sit back and remember those feelings – I feel that complete sense of disappointment and despair, and sorrow. I feel so sorry for that young Mum that I was all those years ago. I cry even more tears, even when I thought I had cried the last of those tears, there always seem to be more.
Those feelings are forever marked in my memory – indelibly etched into my heart and in my soul.
I spent years, literally years, looking at “what went wrong”. I researched my hospital notes, I spoke with multiple OBs, midwives, doulas, paediatricians. I researched the latest studies, had a full medical including x-rays, and sought advice online from other women. Slowly I began to find peace in what had happened, and I began to get a handle instead on “what went right”.
I realised that every time I told myself that I had failed, I was doing a huge disservice to the miracles that my body had already achieved. For 9 long months I had grown and nurtured a beautiful and healthy little baby. Every eyelash, every fingernail – I made those little pieces of perfection. And right when she needed me most, I never once let her down. I surrounded myself with the very best doctors – the best health care providers. I listened to my instincts – the ones that told me that something wasn’t happening the way it should have been. I gave her life. I did that for her. Because without that team of professionals, without the medical assistance that we take so for granted in this country, my baby would never have made it into my arms. And there is a good chance that I wouldn’t have survived the birth either.
I birthed that baby in the best way – indeed the only way, I knew how. I birthed her with love, and with absolute consideration for her health and well-being. As I nestled her on my breast, I gave her sustenance. After everything that my body had been through, after all the shock and emotional exhaustion and physical exertion, my body gave her the miracle of my breastmilk. I nourished her. As my arms wrapped around her, I kept her safe, and warm, and she was so very loved.
And because I had fantastic medical care, and because I am incredibly lucky and blessed, I went on to have another three children, all birthed beautifully via caesarean. Each birth just as incredible, just as inspiring, just as magnificent.
And so I feel so very sad when I read about women who talk of their “failed” births, when women refer to non-vaginal births in disparaging terms (eg, using the term “surgically removed” , or refusing to acknowledge that a caesarean birth is actually a “birth”), and even the location of the birth being an issue (home birth being “better” than hospital birth). It’s petty, and for those of us who never really had a choice, it can be deeply upsetting.
Every mother on this planet should be in absolute awe of the miracle of childbirth. It doesn’t matter how long you labour, what pain relief you choose, whether you are on your back, on your hands and knees, standing on your head, in a shower, submerged in water, or lying in a field of roses – the fact remains that the birth of your baby is one of life’s miracles. No-one has any right to tell you how you “should have” birthed – because, well, it is what it is. No more, no less. Every single baby has their own birth story and we are simply lucky enough to be part of that story.
I am forever thankful, knowing what I know now about my body, that I could even have given birth to one baby, let alone four.
One day…. hopefully sooner rather than later, we mothers will stop being so hard on each other. We’ll stop talking about the “perfect” birth, and we’ll just celebrate “birth”. We’ll stop comparing ourselves to others, and we’ll be grateful for what we’ve been given.
Motherhood is so much more than the way we birth our babies. Let’s celebrate motherhood – all of it, in all it’s glory, no matter how we begin the journey.