Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Difference

I had my third child in April and had the best birth experience yet. I'm so excited to share the story, but the journey wouldn't be complete without first sharing the experience I had with my second child. So here it is, and I look forward to posting my latest experience next time.

What a difference three years make.

The first time I got pregnant, I had no clue whatsoever how carrying a child and birthing it would change me in the most profound, extraordinary way. I had no clue whatsoever how I really felt about pregnancy and birth.

I had no clue whatsoever that pregnancy is and should be treated as a natural condition and not a medical one, and that birth, in a normal and typical pregnancy, is and should be a physiological process, not a medical one, to be managed and ruined by malpractice fearing obstetricians and hospital staff.

My first birth was a traumatic one—save for the fact that I had my son healthy, the process left me raw and vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. Induced for what proved to be no more than the overly cautious doctors’ fears at a teaching hospital, I was treated like a birthing pod, without any consideration for my wishes, comfort, or privacy. I had a heavily medicalized pregnancy in general, and then a very high-intervention birth. I don’t even remember holding my son for the first time, and I don’t remember what he looked like, or if he cried.

Initially, I was happy with my experience, and after I gave birth I told my husband I wanted to send a gift basket to the hospital and my doctor practice. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Why? They were awful!” I was so shell-shocked from the whole thing that it didn't occur to me that maybe this wasn't the way it was supposed to be--I thought all births were that gruesome. It took me weeks to recover; a month later, I was still in pain.

After I had my son, I cried in the car leaving the hospital, when I got home, when I got in the shower. My baby wouldn’t nurse; drowsy from all the unnecessary medication he and I both received, he would fall asleep within seconds of latching on, and would wake up screaming from hunger mere moments later. Beat up, dejected, and depressed, I gave up. I thought it was my fault. I thought, my body is just not made for this. I can’t handle it.

Only upon further research, talking to women who had natural births, real natural births, and a lot of soul searching, did I realize that my birth experience was not the ideal--and it contributed both to my post-partum depression and to a negative view of pregnancy and birth in general. Once motherhood sunk in, I learned a lot about myself I didn't know before. While watching the hospital scenes in “The Business of Being Born,” my husband told me that he had flashbacks of our birth experience, and told me how negatively he felt about the whole thing. I realized then how traumatizing it had been for him as well.

Three years later, for my second pregnancy, I had a midwife and a chiropractor, which made all the difference. No longer forced into hour-long wait times for five minutes of actual doctor time, I was able to tell my midwife exactly what I hoped for, and she listened. My chiropractor was also an integral part of helping me achieve my goals. Having had two natural births herself, she not only helped my body, she helped my mind, by being positive, upbeat, and never wavering in her support of me.

Circumstances being what they are for us right now, a homebirth was not an option, but a low-intervention, natural hospital birth was. I did an incredible amount of research to arm myself with everything I could to be able to achieve what I wanted in a hospital setting. It was going to be tough, but through some fantastic websites, a blog written by a homebirth midwife from across the country, and my chiropractor and midwife’s guidance, I felt ready.

My second pregnancy was worlds away from the first. Though nothing compares to that first time, the second time was, in some ways, even more amazing. I ate extremely healthily and I felt great. I read nothing on pregnancy aches and pains, and stayed away from pregnancy and birth websites unless they were positive and re-affirming of my body’s design to do this.

I took every pregnancy body change in stride—no longer symptoms, I welcomed the changes and knew that they were facilitating the growth of my baby. Not forced to take tests to make sure my baby was “normal,” I was able to focus instead on the joy and miracle that being a mother can be. My pregnancy was like a float in the clouds, dreamlike, almost. I look back and can hardly believe that I was pregnant.

My daughter’s birth was unexpectedly fast and furious. I labored mostly in the car, with my husband swearing at the stoplights, scaling sidewalks, and calling my midwife with updates every five minutes. My water broke on the way, and I felt the baby descending as we arrived at the hospital. I was wheeled into a room, crawled on the bed, and gave birth. Just like that. My midwife arrived just in time, my husband just made it back from parking the car. My daughter was placed on my chest as soon as she was born, beautifully slimy and gooey, and I sobbed in joy and relief—she was here, I had done it.

Though I didn’t plan it this way, I don’t know what would have happened if I had been in the hospital longer. I don’t want to speculate. This was a gift. My daughter’s birth was the single most extraordinary and life-altering experience I have ever had, in completely different ways than my son’s. We had done it, her and I.

Afterwards, I felt like Superwoman, like I could do anything and everything. I felt giddy and elated. Calm and alert, my newborn girl nursed like a champ. I signed all the hospital forms while in recovery. I had blood drawn once, and that was it—no more needles. Since we were all in good health, we were released the next day—26 hours after the whole thing, I was home, on Christmas Eve, with the most precious present I could have asked for. My recovery was easy and quick.

I’m not sure what to say to people who feel that it doesn’t matter how the baby gets here, so long as the baby gets here safely, except that they should perhaps expand their definition of “safely.” Though medical conditions certainly arise in pregnancy and birth, making it necessary for medical (and often lifesaving) interventions, in a low-risk, normal pregnancy and birth scenario, the experience makes a huge difference. It did for me. Maybe I am more sensitive than others; maybe I have a heightened capacity for feeling negative and positive emotions. I know I’m not the only one.

During my research, I was bolstered by similar accounts from other women who had traumatic birth experiences, and then went on to something better. I was also frightened by accounts from women who went into the hospital hoping to birth naturally, and had interventions forced on them. Waking up the morning my daughter was born, feeling those first waves, I feared that I would go to the hospital too soon, get stuck in a bed with belts and needles, and end up on the operating table. Gratefully, blissfully, it was quite the opposite.

I adore both my son and daughter. Each of them have given me gifts beyond what I imagined, gifts I could never thank them for. Through the difficult experience I had with my son, I was able to clearly see myself for who I am. I was able to learn, I was able to change, I was able to move beyond the mainstream. Through my daughter, I was able to realize my strength, to challenge myself in every way possible, to achieve the peace and wisdom that can only come from being a mother. I hold her in my arms and I am so grateful.

I’m expecting my third child in April, and this time I hope that I can move even beyond what I have realized so far. And I hope that someday, I can repay my children for all they have done for me.


Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Wow!!! I sincerely hope that when we are lucky enough to have another I can read this again and be able to tell the same story!

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

I hope you can too, Shawna! :)

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