Thursday, July 8, 2010

Birth

I’ve been feeling discontented lately. The anger has been all-consuming and I don’t like that. In trying to shake it off I sat, went deep into my head, and thought about Charlotte’s birth. I’ve talked about it, I’ve written it out, but I haven’t sat with it. In doing so I realized I needed to process the incredible emotions that come with birth before I could move forward.

Birth is a contentious topic. People have strong, fierce, insane emotions and thoughts about birth. My personal belief is that most babies don’t need to be born in hospitals. I believe most hospital maternal care is cold, distant and unkind to women. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but the majority of hospitals wrest control from the birthing mother’s hands and apply medical processes to a normal, natural procedure. Have I ever given birth in a hospital? No. But I have talked to lots of women, read many birth stories, and watched a few documentaries. Even though my baby died I believe low risk babies should be born out of the hospital.

I am incredibly grateful to whomever nudged me in the direction of an out of hospital birth. When the birthing center first showed up on the winding country road I drove to and from work I thought, my babies will be born there. After a few conversations with people in the medical field I dropped that idea like a hot potato. Birth was DANGEROUS and should not be attempted out of a hospital setting.

Then I got pregnant and the midwife group associated with the local hospital failed me. The receptionist I talked to was horrendous to me. I nervously called my husband’s co-worker’s wife who had just announced her pregnancy. She had tried the midwives linked to the local hospital, found them lacking, and was having her second at the birthing center. After talking to her, praying a lot, and an introductory visit to the birth center, I decided to proceed with the birth I wanted.

I was a little smug about my choice to have Charlotte out of hospital. We live in a twisted culture where women who have their babies naturally are considered brave, or stupid, and those who have epidurals or c-sections are considered normal. And the women who make those decisions are often reviled by the natural birth community. We’re all human. We’re all women here. We’re all trying to bring healthy babies into the world. Why aren’t we nicer to each other? These are very personal decisions after all. Women have been taught to fear birth and the birthing process and to treat it like a disease. Therefore, birth and the giving of it is mired in dark, scary emotions. Throughout my pregnancy and birth I was calm, without fear and packaged in with that came a touch of smugness.

Since Charlotte died the smugness has disappeared. I am keeping my eyes on my own path, my own truth. I am not pointing any fingers or shaking my head disapprovingly at women who choose different birthing methods. (Well, I still struggle with women who choose to have a c-section or be induced at 38 or 39 weeks. I believe if the baby is not in stress he or she should be allowed to enter the world on his or her own timing).

Charlotte’s birth has been a humbling experience. Someone knocked me off my plateau of self-righteousness but good. At first I thought it was God who delivered the round house kick to my chest that sent me spinning off into the darkness and horror that is life after your child has died. For a couple of days I shook my head, glared at God and thought Wouldn’t knocking me down a couple pegs have been sufficient? Did you have to kick me in the back of the knees, punch me in the stomach, sweep the rug out from under me - knock me off my feet so thoroughly I may never get up? Now I realize God is the one who is pulling me together. His strength will help me get through this storm. He didn’t knock me down, but now that I am down He will help me climb out of the pit. But don’t be mistaken. I am humbled, friends. As I said, I am keeping my eyes on my path and I have nothing to say to those who choose to have their babies in hospitals. You do your thing, I will do mine, and I will keep my mouth shut regarding your choices.

After Charlotte was born I clung to the fact that I birthed her naturally. In fact, I still do. I told anyone and everyone who would listen, My baby was born, then she died. But I had her naturally. Nearly 26 hours of labor with no pain medication. I am proud of that. My primary reason for wanting an out of hospital birth was to prove to myself I could do it. I’m only human. I tend to take the easy way out. But with Charlotte I wanted the best for my baby. I wanted her to come into this world untainted by drugs, stress, and the busy hands of nurses and doctors. I wanted to bring my baby into this world with my own power and intuitiveness.

Birthing Charlotte was an incredible experience. I don’t know if there are words to describe the experience. The pain was excruciating. With each contraction I didn’t think I would make it through. But I did. When I was worn out and fearful the baby was going to stay in the birth canal forever I reached down, felt her head, and found the strength to continue pushing. I focused inward and discovered a warrior soul I didn't know I possessed. When I was worried about how to proceed, what to do, my body took over and I surrendered to the birth process. No one told me I was at 10 cm, no one told me it was time to push, no one told me what position to be in. I did it all on my own.

I am so glad I did not have an epidural with Charlotte. The last hours of my little girl’s life we were bound together, intertwined, laboring together to bring her into the world. I am grateful I had her at the birth center because I spent three, maybe four, hours during that long night of labor sitting in the birthing tub and talking to her. Jonathan slept in a chair, his feet propped on the tub. The midwife and her apprentice were elsewhere, napping maybe. I sat in the warm water, with my hands on my belly and I talked to my baby.

Hello, Charlotte. Hello my darling girl. Are we getting close to meeting each other? Let me put some warm water on my belly. Can you feel that? Are you ready to meet us yet? I trust you will come when you are ready. We are so close to that moment. I hope it is soon. I trust birth and I trust you, but we need to remember to work together. Remember what Mama has been telling you? Less than seven and a half pounds please baby. And go easy on me. This doesn’t hurt so far, but it will and I need you to focus during that part. We are doing this, together, and I can’t wait to meet you. I trust birth. I trust you. I love you.

And on and on and on. I turned inward, I found my little girl’s soul and I knew I could make it through her birth.

Can I ever describe what it feels like to give birth? Probably not. My most vivid memory is near the end. I was squatting, pushing, and I could feel how low her head was. I could feel my body stretching out and I was amazed with the process. I visualized myself opening up, the baby moving downward, and then there she was. I felt between my legs and there was her head. Somehow, someway, she was coming into this world. Until that moment I didn’t think it was possible. I thought the process may never end. I climbed out of the birthing tub and positioned myself on the birthing stool. I pushed her out, my husband caught her, and then I held her for a moment. Skin to skin. One hand on her head, one hand on her bottom. I closed my eyes, pressed her to my chest, and felt relief.

We were so bonded, so close, that little girl and I. She was on the floor in front of me, I was on the birthing stool. She was surrounded by midwives who were trying to resuscitate her. I reached down, took her foot into my hand, and said Hello, Charlotte. Hello, baby. You can do it. Stay with us. Hi, baby. Charlotte, stay with us. You can do this. Breathe baby. She heard my voice, she opened her dark eyes, looked at me and the string holding us together, that connected my heart to her heart, my soul to her soul, broke. She looked at me and I could see clearly that she was going to die. I squeezed her foot and spoke to her silently. Okay, baby. You can go. I see you are not going to make it. Goodbye sweet girl, love you.

I think those few moments with my daughter led to my confusion later. Everyone was bustling around, insisting I needed to get to the hospital, but all I could think was She is gone. If she has not breathed her last yet, she will soon. With my letter to Charlotte, regarding the feelings of shame, I forgot about those moments. I forgot about the moment I knew she was not meant to stay on this earth with us. Only in delving into my memories do I remember those seconds when I said goodbye to her. Retrieving these scraps of memories has released a great amount of pressure in my soul. I may not have kissed her, but she knew I loved her. She did. She looked me in the eyes, acknowledged me as her mama, as the voice she had heard for 38 weeks. She wanted me to know it was not my fault.

With Charlotte’s death I felt like I lost everything. Sitting, remembering her birth, I realized I didn’t lose everything. I still trust birth. I still believe women can and should give birth outside of hospitals. I am already dreaming about having my next baby at home. When I visualize my next birth it happens in my dining room, in one of those pop-up birthing tubs. If I am told my next should be born in a hospital I will submit to that. But if the next is as low risk as Charlotte was I will have him or her at home. What happened with Charlotte seems like a fluke. Her lungs would not inflate. I just don’t see how having her at a hospital would’ve changed that simple fact.

I did the best I could for my baby. So many people have told me that, but now I believe it. I ate organic meat, drank hormone free milk, gave up chocolate, exercised, talked to my baby, loved my baby, and birthed her on my terms. Then she died. That’s just the way it goes with some babies. Birth is a crossing over, a passing from one world to the next, and my baby wasn’t able to make the crossing. I did nothing wrong. I did right by her, I did right by myself, and because of my birthing choices I am able to look myself in the eye and be proud. I think if I had had Charlotte in the hospital I would blame myself for her death. I fear hospitals and I think I would blame myself for not listening to my gut. I would blame myself for agreeing to the medical process that is encouraged and trusted instead of trusting myself and having her in a place where I was comfortable, respected, and cared for.

Even though I was so proud of my birthing experience, I think I discredited it and how it can help me heal. I know I will not be as calm with the second, but I hope I won’t be too scared to go forward, to birth naturally. There are moments when I forget I brought Charlotte into this world. It seems to me as if the pregnancy or the birth never happened. Then I remember her moving down the birth canal, I remember the moment when I knew she was coming out, I remember the power birth gave me. And from Charlotte’s birth I come away knowing this: birth is powerful, all consuming, beautiful, and I trust the process.

16 comments:

  1. Wow. What a beautiful post. You are such a strong woman (and a talented writer).

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  2. Angela, I've never gotten to read your writing before. You are a graceful and talented woman, and you are a blessing to all of us. All children should be loved by a mother as amazing as Charlotte's. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Emily

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  3. Absolutely beautiful. Giving birth is an amazing and empowering experience. I am so glad you can look back at your birthing experience and appreciate it instead of wishing you would have done things differently. It shows amazing strength that you are where you are with all this. Such an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. This is beautiful, brought tears to my eyes and caused me to remember my own birth experience.

    I too agree low risk pregnancies/babies are "better" born at home. And I wonder what I will do with my next pregnancy.

    I had planned a home birth with my daughther, but because she was measuring under 5 1/2 lbs, our midwife couldn't do a homebirth. I ended up being induced because her bloodflow in-utero had dropped considerably. Not at all what I had planned - a pitocin induced hospital birth. And it got scary at the end when Acacia's heart rate dropped to the 60s. I can't say my birth experience was the deep, connective birth you had with your daughter, but I am "proud" of myself for doing it w/o medication (even though I did beg for it at the end). That was one piece of what I wanted to happen that I hung on to.

    I think women talking about their birth experience is powerful. I too am amazed at the warrior that lives within each woman - one that we sometimes do not know is there until we give birth.

    Love and blessings to you!

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  5. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful, heartfelt post. I too hold strong to the fact that although my baby girl died I was able to bring her into this world naturally. Because of everything we went through I feel stronger now than I ever have before.

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  6. i'm a lurker on several baby lost moms' blogs including yours. i've recently lost my son, kai, just three weeks ago. he was stillborn at 40 weeks and 5 days. my pain is still raw and so i've avoided leaving comments. but i'm thankful to you and to the other moms who have bravely written about their grief that clearly resonated with my own. i'm not ready yet to write what i'm feeling, the words are not coming because i'm still deep in that pit of anguish and despair.

    but this entry has urged me to say something. i, too, believe in natural birth. i was also going to deliver my son at a birthing center. my husband and i had decided that we wanted a safe and gentle birth for our beloved son, the kind Ina May Gaskin described in her books. sadly, it didn't happen that way. after finding out that he had no heartbeat, i didn't leave the hospital and all the medical interventions that i had wished to avoid i'd experienced. i know i had a choice to wait for labor to come naturally but at that time the devastation had broken, not only my heart, but also my spirit. i even wanted to run away from it all and thought of having my belly cut open just to get him out. but in the end, i dug deep within me and found the strength to give birth to him normally despite the drugs. "kai may be gone," i said to myself, "but as his mother, i MUST give birth to him the way i intended to." it was not what i'd envisioned for him, for us, but i did the best i could.

    it's good you were able to have that natural birth experience with charlotte. it's, indeed, something to be proud of. i'm a little envious. i wish i had the same experience with kai. while i also believe that, "birth is powerful, all consuming, beautiful," kai's death made me realize that birth is also unpredictable, an anarchist who balks at control, the one who forces you to not only look at its beauty but also its ugly truth - that when there's birth, there could also be death.

    i'm sorry if i rambled on. thank you for writing this entry. it encouraged me think of my own birth experience with kai in a different perspective.

    Jennifer

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  7. I've been reading your blog for a bit, but never comment. I'm sorry for your loss of sweet Charlotte.

    What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing, it brought tears to my eyes. I can also say I felt smug with my decision to have a home birth with my daughter. That belief for me has been shaken to the core, and I don't know if I'll get it back (i want to get it back). I'm glad you hold strong in your belief, it's very inspiring.

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  8. Love to each and every one of you. It's so hard to write about birth, scary even, but all the comments have been good and I really appreciate hearing other stories/perspectives.

    Jennifer: I am thinking of you and sweet Kai. Here's my standard response when I come across a new BLM - have you been to glow in the woods? It's been a lifeline for me. Your grief is still very fresh. Be kind to yourself. Wishing you love, light and peace. The first six weeks were so hard for. I'm at eight weeks now and breathing a little easier.

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  9. Oh, Angela. I hurt for you but am so proud of you all at the same time. You beautifully articulated, "I did right by her, I did right by myself, and because of my birthing choices I am able to look myself in the eye and be proud."
    That's amazing. As an OB nurse, I wish all women were as dedicated to mothering as you.
    I love you, Angela. I'm honored to be able to call you friend.
    Praying.
    Love.
    Margaret

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  10. Oh, Angela. I hurt for you but am so proud of you all at the same time. You beautifully articulated, "I did right by her, I did right by myself, and because of my birthing choices I am able to look myself in the eye and be proud."
    That's amazing. As an OB nurse, I wish all women were as dedicated to mothering as you.
    I love you, Angela. I'm honored to be able to call you friend.
    Praying.
    Love.
    Margaret

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  11. Angela, thank you for writing this. I have been quietly grieving ever since I heard of Charlotte's passing. Not like your grief, of course. I won't even pretend to know or understand how you feel, because there's no way. But in addition to the grief, I also have fear, second-guessing my plan to give birth to my own baby next month at home. As long as I stay low-risk, I also believe it's the safest, most peaceful way to do it. I have a great deal of faith in the judgment and training and experience of my midwife. It helps me to know that you still believe you made the best choice and I agree with you that these things just happen sometimes. Babies born in hospitals don't always make it, either. And I guess, somehow, we survive. Although I'm not sure I understand how. And other than wishing I could be a better comfort for you and other friends who have gone through similar losses, I admit I am grateful that I don't understand.

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  12. Angela, thank you for writing this. I have been quietly grieving ever since I heard of Charlotte's passing. Not like your grief, of course. I won't even pretend to know or understand how you feel, because there's no way. But in addition to the grief, I also have fear, second-guessing my plan to give birth to my own baby next month at home. As long as I stay low-risk, I also believe it's the safest, most peaceful way to do it. I have a great deal of faith in the judgment and training and experience of my midwife. It helps me to know that you still believe you made the best choice and I agree with you that these things just happen sometimes. Babies born in hospitals don't always make it, either. And I guess, somehow, we survive. Although I'm not sure I understand how. And other than wishing I could be a better comfort for you and other friends who have gone through similar losses, I admit I am grateful that I don't understand.

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  13. Oh, Angela. I hurt for you but am so proud of you all at the same time. You beautifully articulated, "I did right by her, I did right by myself, and because of my birthing choices I am able to look myself in the eye and be proud."
    That's amazing. As an OB nurse, I wish all women were as dedicated to mothering as you.
    I love you, Angela. I'm honored to be able to call you friend.
    Praying.
    Love.
    Margaret

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  14. I had a similar out of hospital birth experience, Although my son suffered severe brain damage from it and has to spend the rest of his life with Cerebral Palsy. He was born April 5, 2010 and I still struggle with the guilt and pain everyday. I am so so sorry for your lose. The more I search, the more shocked I am at how many women are losing their babies. I did not know that information going in. I shared the feelings in this blog for a long time. Now I am starting to feel differently. Thank you for sharing your struggle openingly for other women.

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  15. I am so sorry to hear about Kai and your family's loss and pain. If you ever want to talk about it, I am here.

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thank you!

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