A year ago today my girl arrived in this world. The past few days I have been reflecting on my first year of motherhood and how life has changed since my daughter was born.
It feels impossible to talk about the past year without starting with the birth.
Long before I ever tried to get pregnant I knew that I wanted to give birth out of a hospital, with a midwife and without medical interventions.
I did all the things to prepare for a natural birth. I did yoga, I meditated, I repeated affirmations, I spent time every day connecting with my baby, I read Ina May, I read Hypnobirthing, I drank herbal teas, I walked everywhere, I saw a chiropractor, I got regular massages, I sat on a yoga ball, I did acupuncture, I collected crystals, I watched videos of women giving birth, I infused my intention to give birth in water into all 108 beads on the mala I crafted to wear during labour, I visualized positive outcomes, I watched the Business of Being Born countless times, I simply made up my mind about how I was going to give birth.
I felt the first waves of labour when I was 41 weeks pregnant, around midnight on Sunday. My daughter was born at 7:02 am on Wednesday, August 26. Not in water but in the OR after three long nights of labour and just about every intervention you can think of. When the doctor suggested that we should consider a C-section it felt like a relief; I had a fever of over 104F and the epidural made me feel so disconnected from my body I just wanted it to be over. Baby was stable now, the doctor said, but it was only a matter of time until she wasn’t.
It was the easiest decision I’d ever made in my life.
And then just like that, she was here.
We had a few minutes with our girl, my partner holding her awkwardly over my head while on the other side of the curtain I was put back together. The midwife noticed the baby was making strange, guttural noises, gasping for breath. There was a flurry of activity and then she was whisked off to the NICU where we spent the next four days.
It was a traumatic experience that left me both physically and emotionally battered. I mourned the loss of the birth experience that I had spent so much time and energy preparing for and felt betrayed by body. The few hours of sleep that I could catch between feedings were cut short by nightmares that woke me crying out in terror and gasping for breath. The PTSD settled into a grey fog of depression that hung around me for months.
And then somehow a year passes. It’s August again. An acquaintance of mine asks Facebook to share their positive birth stories. She’s very pregnant, due any day now and feeling anxious that when push comes to shove she won’t be able to handle it.
I don’t share my story, because I think it’s not positive. Instead I write, “You will handle it. No matter what happens, you will handle it.”
It was then that I realized that I hadn’t thought about my daughter’s birth in a long time. Had it been weeks, maybe even months? Funny how that happens – when trauma is fresh and new we feel like we’ll never live another day without wearing it like an albatross around our necks.
Now that a year has passed I can see that my birth experience was positive, just not in the way that I had imagined it would be.
I thought I had to be strong in mind and body to give birth without pain medication. My daughter’s birth showed me that I am stronger, and in more ways, than I ever thought possible.
I was terrified of interventions because I was terrified of giving up control. In those long days of complicated labour and the longer days that followed I learned to surrender.
I thought the moment my daughter was pulled from me would be the moment I stepped in to the light as a more whole, spiritual person. That growth came inch-by-inch, day-by-day as I unpacked the pain and trauma of my birth experience, confronting the ugly parts of my own ego that had made it so.
I was obsessed with doing all of the “right” things to give my girl the best start in life and a secure attachment to her parents – delayed cord clamping, skin-to-skin, golden hour – but we didn’t do any of it, not one fucking single thing and she’s fine. In fact, she’s amazing. I remind myself of this every single day, especially when I find myself getting wound up about what a book or a blog says.
To heal the wounds of my experience I have practiced, again and again, a guided meditation designed to make peace with your birth. The teacher suggests that babies have the birth they are supposed to have. I believe the same goes for mothers; I wouldn’t be the mother that I am today had I not faced the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual challenges of a traumatic delivery.
Becoming a mother didn’t complete me, but it has made me more me. I have more confidence and way less fear, more fun and less stress because I know now that no matter what happens, I will handle it.
Happy birthday, Maisie. Thank you for making me a mama.
Photo Credits: Aron Goss, Jeff Perry