Not My Dream Birth, and That's OK
by Carly Sutherland
Imagine that you plan the wedding of your dreams. You spend months (maybe even years) poring over bridal magazines and books, watching repeat episodes of The Wedding Story. You try on 75 different gowns, accompanied by all 12 of your bridesmaids for yaying and naying purposes. You order a custom headpiece from Paris. You consult with florists, musicians, stylists, chefs, and the graphic artist who is custom designing your sapphire-gilded invites. And you cash in an RRSP or two because hey, it’s the most important day of your life, right?
The day of your wedding dawns with thunder and lightning. So much for that beach photo shoot with the $1,500/hour photographer. Your headpiece doesn’t arrive in time. The officiant is two hours late. All four members of your string quartet are suffering a nasty stomach bug and have been replaced with a deejay who has a penchant for “Cotton-Eye Joe” and “Who Let The Dogs Out?” The bachelor party got out of hand, and your groom is still green and swaying 48 hours later. And is that dog poop on the end of your train?
No, this did not happen to me, but it does serve as an effective metaphor for my entire birth experience.
Let me back up a bit.
When I was pregnant, I planned a natural childbirth.
I had my reasons. They’re pretty good ones, I think. I wanted to avoid the snowball effect (epidurals increase the C-section rate by two to three times). I wanted to be in control when the time came to push. I didn’t want to be so numb that they’d have to go in with forceps. I didn’t want to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do something that women have been doing for thousands of years without a whole lot of drugs and surgical masks and scary-looking tools. I believed that labour pain was just my body doing what it needed to do in order for my baby to arrive safely, and not something that just needed to be eliminated so that I could read my New Yorker magazine until someone came back in and informed me that I was 10 centimetres dilated and Where Are The Forceps? I was doing it for my grandmothers, who were pinned down like insects to a specimen board and had their babies plucked from their wombs while they lay gassed. (The 1950s were not exactly obstetrics’ finest hour.)
I read every Mama Goddess/Birth Warrior/Lamaze book ever printed. I took prenatal classes with a doula. I was committed. I was ready to trust my body. When the time came to push, I was going to spread my legs and doves were going to emerge. It was going to be beautiful.
So I arrived at the maternity ward after almost 42 mighty long weeks of pregnancy, and for a while, it was beautiful. I breathed. I rocked on the stability ball. I visualized. I spent hours in the tub. After 16 long hours, my doctor checked me. Five centimetres. A little disappointing, but fine. I would persevere. Another eight hours of rollicking contractions passed and I was feeling decidedly less goddess-like. At the 24-hour mark, they checked me again. Surely it was almost time. But alas, I was still five centimetres dilated.
Cue the epidural.
And that was my first real parenting learning moment: this whole thing was not going to go like I planned.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the rest of my birth experience, but I will tell you that after 30 hours of labour, my son was born by C-section. I never passed the five-centimetre mark, he was 9 1/2 pounds, and I was informally diagnosed with cephalopelvic disproportion, which loosely translates (I think) to “your child’s head is shockingly large.”
Over the next few days, as we struggled with nursing, sleeping (or lack thereof), and healing, I waited for the mourning to settle in. The doula had warned me about the mourning I would feel if my birth experience did not go as planned. I might also suffer feelings of regret and inadequacy, I’d been told.
I have to admit, I felt none of it.
As I looked at my precious (albeit seriously cone-headed) child, startled by the love I felt for him, I was so grateful he was healthy that I couldn’t have cared less if I’d coughed him out. I realized that despite my “failed” natural childbirth experience, I was still a warrior, despite the Demerol, epidural, and C-section. My husband and birth partner, who I had never seen so petrified in all the years I’ve known him, was a warrior, too.
My dear friend, whose baby was born two months ago weighing less than a pound, is a warrior. My former classmate, who is adopting two siblings from Rwanda, is a warrior. The medical community (including the doulas I met), was amazing, nurturing, supportive, and chock-a-block full of warriors.
Suffice it to say, my birth experience was not what I expected. But the biggest surprise of all was the discovery that childbirth was not the defining moment of parenthood I thought it would be. Yeah, it was a big deal, but I’ve had plenty of powerful moments since. Like the time I plucked a nipple shield from a pot of boiling water as it was being sterilized, because my baby was hungry at that moment, and didn’t realize my fingers were burned until he latched on. And then there’s the moment I looked at him sleeping and thought: if anyone ever hurts you, I am fully capable of murdering them. These kinds of moments abound—daily.
So next time, I will try to get through it naturally, sure. But this time I wouldn’t rule out sitting with my New Yorker
while summoning the anesthesiologist, either. Because after all, isn’t the marriage more important than the wedding?Carly Sutherland still prefers a glass of water instead of a Tylenol when she has a bad headache. She writes about her many other unexpected parenting moments at http://topfiveparenting.wordpress.com.