Why I’m tired of being shamed for my positive birth
Almost nine months ago now I gave birth. That’s almost the same amount of time out in the world as he was inside me. That’s nine whole months of me fumbling, crying (in joy, exhaustion, and sometimes/ mostly because of the hormones)… and nine months of me procrastinating this story.
It’s not that I’ve been too busy – though that word definitely has a whole new meaning now. It’s not even that I can’t find the words or that it was too traumatic to speak of (as the title kind of gives away). It’s because I had an amazing, positive, calm birth. And almost immediately after I was shamed for having that.
I was completely unprepared for the Mum judgement to start so early – especially for something that was largely about luck. Don’t get me wrong, I prepped my ass off for this labour, trying every tea, medjool date and perineum massage that came my way (Google THAT for a fun time). I owed a lot of my experience to the incredible She Births® course I did beforehand (you can read all about it in my story here), but I’m also not naïve enough to think that genetics and luck didn’t play a huge part in it too (my mum had five kids and labours varying from five hours to six minutes. Yes, six). Because, if there’s one universal truth about childbirth, it’s that there is no “normal”. And that even the most meticulous birth plans are unceremoniously trashed as soon as the first contraction hits.
I was lucky, yes. But, I also emerged from my labour feeling like a fucking warrior princess, so proud of my body, so in awe of womankind, and so, so hopped up on hormones and the all-consuming love for my son. I wanted to talk about it, not only because I was completely high (thanks, oxytocin!) but because it was a positive story – a little, shiny fleck of glitter amongst all the horror tales of 48-hour births, emergency C-sections and tears in inexplicable places… all which had been explicitly regaled to me before my birth. I wanted to share, because that’s what us women do.
In my rush to do just that, I didn’t stop to consider that anyone might take it in any other way other than what it was: a story. My own, unique birth story. I wasn’t gloating, I didn’t think my way was the best. As far as I’m concerned the only right way to birth is the one that brings your child safely to the world – hopefully with as little damage to mum as possible.
But, my elation was quickly snuffed by the very people who were supposed to be in my village: other mothers. From being told to “not share that at the playground” to “no one wants to hear a story like that”, to others who were appalled by my choice not to medicate… the message was loud and clear: positive experiences were not welcome here. And I wondered why, as a society we’re so keen to hear about the horrendous experiences, trading traumas like a badge of honour? Why was there no room for positive experiences?
And, how have we gone from not sharing anything for fear of unsavoury, awkward discussions, to sharing EVERYTHING… but only if that “everything” is traumatic? If I didn’t leave the birthing centre with stitches or scarring (emotional or physical) was my story somehow not worthy?
As time wore on, I found myself apologising for how easy I’d had it, caveating everything with “I know, I’m that asshole who was blessed with an easy birth” or “it’s just good genes”, or laughing it off with “I’ll get my payback when my child doesn’t sleep for three years”. Somehow I began to feel not worthy of my experience.
Post-childbirth is one of those rare, indescribable times where everything you feel is in complete, utter conflict. You’re the most vulnerable you’ve ever been, your body completely fragile, your womb empty and hollow. But at the same time you’ve never felt so strong. So powerful. So complete and life-affirming. It’s the last experience in the world you should feel shamed for, regardless of how you did it, or how far from the ideal “birthplan in your head” it was.
Because that’s the thing: I wasn’t comparing myself to others. I didn’t think I was special because I didn’t have drugs. Believe me, if my labour had’ve been like the marathon-births I’d heard of, I’d have been the first one yelling for an epi. But somehow, I was caught in a competition I never agreed to take part in, defending something so personal, that I didn’t realise anyone could feel attacked by.
With all of this pinging around my post-natal brain in the last 8 months it seemed easier to just say nothing at all. But then, as more of my friends and fell pregnant and started their journey as first-time Mums, I felt the need to share the hope. Because it’s scary. It’s overwhelming. You get through nine months of crazy hormones, bodily changes that are quite frankly mind-blowing and often you haven’t had time – or can’t comprehend – how you are actually going to bring this human into the world (let alone, actually look after it). So. This is for all of you, my friends. To the friends of friends, the first-time-mamas, and those wanting to be mums. This is one tale of what can be. What was for me. It won’t be your story, but if in some way it helps you through the next few months, or helps you release your fear, then I’m glad I shared.
The night before the day.
My due date was October 7, 2018. All the statistics tell you that first time mum’s often have their babies later than their due date. Still, I was determined that I was going to have him early because a) I was over being pregnant, my hips hurt, and I wanted to sleep on my back, and b) I really wanted to have a Virgo baby. Lol. Of course, my first lesson in surrender was letting that idea go.
In the weeks leading up to it, I ate my daily medjool dates (another She Births® recommendation, but here’s some research on them), did my acupressure, and fell asleep nightly to my visualisations. I was always a nerd-out kind of student and I wanted to make sure everything was as right as it could be. He was already engaged, and ready to go, so even though I knew it could be any day, my logical brain told me he was likely to be born late.
So, we decided to go to a friend’s wedding. I got dressed up, stretched a wrap dress over my puffy, bloated body, and even slicked on some red lipstick and heels. The ceremony was short, and we went back to my in-laws before the reception started so we could eat. I went to the toilet and it was then I had “the show” (for the uninitiated, this where the mucus plug comes out and you get a delightful combination of mucus and blood show up in your undies). And, while it often signals the beginning of labour, sometimes it could still be days away.
So I told my partner, “I think I just had the show”, popped on a gigantic maxi pad… and went to the wedding. It was 7pm, but I figured I had hours. I’d heard the stories, after all.
Almost as soon as we got there my waters broke. It wasn’t a dramatic, movie-esque gush. There was no ruining Manolo’s. It was more like a heavy period that came and went. We hung around for photos and my favorite preggo craving of a diet coke and was seriously considering staying for the buffet (because a) I freaking love buffets and b) I now knew I was in labour and was very concerned about when I would get to eat again, because #priorities). But we didn’t. My partner Phil gently pried me away from the spring rolls, and we drove the 40 minutes back to the city.
The labour part.
We called the hospital en route (a must when your waters have broken), and were told to come in. My contractions began in the car and were already pretty regular at 3 minutes apart and 30-45 seconds.
We stopped past our house to pick up the hospital bag and we even took some photos… because ridiculously, there was no panic – and no fear. We were excited. We were ready. This was it.
And then we got to the hospital. We went through the motions of being admitted, then being checked to make sure I was in fact, in labour, and I was put in an observation room. Baby monitors were strapped to my belly, my contractions were being measured and the nervous anticipation increased.
Hours passed. Literal hours. I went to the toilet approximately 57 times. The contractions got stronger and more frequent. And then someone finally came to check my cervix. “This is it,” I said to Phil, “We’re not going home, we’re having this baby,” knowing that I felt at least 5cm dilated.
Hahahah. Nope. I was 1cm. Rookie. The midwife looked at me, and I knew what that meant: I had to go home.
The second labour part
It was midnight, on a Saturday night and we were in the middle of Melbourne city. The half-hour drive home felt like 400 years, even with my eyes closed in a semi-conscious meditation zone. Like some cruel joke the contractions seemed to triple in intensity as soon as we left, but knowing I had to keep calm and keep the oxytocin flowing I tapped into the years of yoga and all the breathing techniques I’d learned through She Births. I loved the idea of labouring at home, I had a fit ball, I had candles, I had my beloved bath, and it was my space. But as soon as we got home it was the last place I wanted to be.
I stepped through the doors and almost immediately had the urge to bear down. Nowhere except the toilet felt safe (seriously, the toilet was my happy place). All the while Phil was a calming force, listening to my grunting requests, massaging my hips, and being steadfast through any freakouts (like when I would eat again). I begged him to take a nap, because I wanted him to be refreshed and I didn’t know how long it would take. I took a shower that was so long the hot water ran out.
But the contractions were intense. Phil called the hospital, but it had only been half an hour since we left and their was a distinct air of “overreactive, first-time-mum” to the tone. I made him call again. I knew my body and I knew it was game time. Reluctantly, they agreed to allow us to come back. By the time we arrived at the hospital it was an hour and a half after we’d left.
This time, there was no observing for hours. I couldn’t talk through my contractions, the walls were holding me up, and my eyes were permanently closed. A quick check of my cervix confirmed what I already knew (but for real this time): I was 9cm.
The main event.
It’s weird to describe the feeling. Intense is the best word I can use for it. It wasn’t pain like I knew or understood it… it was different. Urgent and constant.
I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t pathological. That every contraction I had was my body doing its thing, bringing me closer to my son. I wasn’t anti-drug by any means, Phil and I had discussed it, and although I wanted to try drug-free I’d told him I needed him to be the person to help me make that decision. To tell me when I needed help.
But it never got to that. We got to the room, and Phil took over, co-ordinating everything we’d discussed that we wanted. “Can you run the bath?” I heard him ask. My original happy place, I definitely wanted to be in the bath. “She might not have time, it takes 20 minutes” the midwives said… “he’s already crowning”. Phil insisted. This was the point I would’ve taken all the drugs if I could’ve. It’s the point you read about, where you think you can’t do it… and it’s the same point that you know you’re so close to the end.
The bath was filled. I got in mid contraction, on all fours but the midwives told me I had to sit down, and be submerged by the water. I hadn’t planned to have a water birth, but at that moment, all I wanted was to be in that warm happy place. Phil came around behind me, and played one of our favourite pieces of classical music on his phone (yes, just like every other hopeful mum-to-be we’d created a playlist, but in the end I just wanted to hear this one piece – Pacabel’s Canon in D). They turned the lights off, and the midwife sat at the end of the (gigantic, spa-sized) bath with a very romantic dolphin torched lighting the water (read: my vagina).
It honestly felt like a dream state. I pushed. I stopped. I breathed. I pushed some more. “Feel his head,” the midwife said and I felt a mass of hair (which was actually kind of gross and shocking for some reason). I pushed some more. And then he was out, into the water, scooped up by the midwife and on my chest. “Oh my god, that’s our baby,” was all I could manage. Because just like that, at 4:01am, right on his due date Yuki came into the world, teaching me his very first lesson: how to be punctual. And just like that, I was a mother.