He’s six weeks old, Malachi. Six weeks but his birth still feels like yesterday, and even though I know the sharper memories will slowly fade, the impact, I’m sure, will never be erased. My sweet, beautiful son, who has already taught my mother’s heart irreplaceable lessons of love!
A birth story never really starts just at the labor and delivery. It starts, I think, when the new life is still but a wisp of a thought in a mama’s heart. A day dream.
And then the surprise of becoming pregnant. People talk about “surprise” pregnancies, but isn’t every new baby a surprise? In every case, an undeserved gift- one that can never be fully expected.
This most recent gift was given to me in the wake of a lost day dream: a miscarriage that will forever shape my heart as surely as the births and lives of my other children do. After losing a child, one can see so much more clearly just how much an unexpected gift a healthy pregnancy is!
We found out this little day dream was sprouting arms and legs on Father’s Day 2012, and that was the beginning of nine months of preparing, planning, and anticipating the arrival of our sweet little boy.
The time leading up to Malachi’s birth was not without roadblocks, and it required a lot of work on my part. I want to share a few of these pieces- the things I struggled with and what I learned- with you. I could probably write a book capturing the nuances and details, but I will settle for a few separate posts on this blog, talking about the different things I had to work through, leading finally to the actual birth of my precious son.
VBAC: The First Challenge
Overwhelmingly, the greatest challenge I faced as I anticipated Malachi’s arrival was preparing myself to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). Olivia entered the world after a long, hard labor that ended in an unplanned c-section for failure to progress once we got to second stage (pushing). There was some unresolved emotional fear that I had to work through to believe that I COULD do it with a different outcome, and I had to face head on my thoughts and feelings regarding her birth.
I spent nearly the whole pregnancy reading stories and gaining insight about what I could do to maximize my chances of having a successful VBAC. I went all in- no stone, I feel, was left unturned in this process of prepping myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. I knew that whatever the outcome, I would not look back on this birth and think, “What if I had…
I won’t go in to all the details, but one of the biggest “achievements,” if you will, of this birth was the fact that I was able to resolve some of the anger and frustration I had toward my care providers regarding Olivia’s birth. For the past few years I have placed a lot of blame on myself and on one of the midwives in particular, and I have spent a lot of time ruminating over regrets and wishing I would have done “x” instead of “y.”
Making Peace with the Past
After lots of research, prayer, thinking, and talking things out, I’ve come to the conclusion that Olivia’s birth was, for better or worse, what was meant to be. I made the best decisions I could have made with the information I had at the time and the place I was at in my life at the time. It wasn’t easy- and honestly I still struggle with envy when I hear stories of women who just waltz in to the delivery room and pop out babies like nothing. Why isn’t that my story? I don’t know, but I do know that my experience with Olivia humbled, shaped, and grew me in a way that a simple birth would never have been able to.
I also realized, that, whatever my personal feelings about my care providers for that birth were, they managed Olivia’s birth extremely well. I’ve read countless stories of other women who have had what they term an unnecesarean. These stories are written by women who are plagued with regret and ill feelings toward doctors and midwives who did not support natural birth. THAT is not my story, I’ve realized.
Olivia’s birth was gracious and well managed from a medical and natural standpoint. I was allowed graces that so many women are denied in hospital birthing rooms. I was allowed to go a full week past my due date, even with evidence of pre-eclampsia surfacing (although they did keep me monitored). I was allowed to go in to spontaneous labor, and the word “pitocin” was not once mentioned, even after 24 hours of stalled labor. Never once did some one talk about an epidural, until it was the last possible tool to be used to help get my baby out after a few hours of fruitless pushing.
Quite simply, I was given what SO many women who have had unwanted c-sections were not- lots of time and options. My c-section, I’ve come to realize, WAS the necessary next step to having a healthy, happy mama and baby.
I know that a lot of times those of us who are really “into” natural birth make it seem like a c-section (or any other intervention!) makes the birth and the mama a little “less than.” A failure. We lose sight of the fact that we choose natural birth because we believe it to be the best path to having the healthiest mom and baby possible, and that it is a means to an end, NOT the end itself.
I had to realize this, and let myself off the hook. LIke I said, I (like so many women before me!) did the best I could with what I had at the time, and I can only ever keep moving forward doing the same.
I struggled for a long time, wondering what went wrong, how I had failed. There was never a satisfying answer- nothing quite filled the giant question mark on my soul. But what finallly brought peace was hearing my midwife say, “You did not fail, honey!! Don’t ever say you failed. You gave birth…”
And that is the truth. I gave birth, by cesarean section.
And another one: birth is never perfect and clean!
Realizing that, and being able to embrace the hard, messy reality of the birth of my daughter and see the beauty of it, see the strength I had in the middle of it, helped me to let go of my fears of trying again. It helped me let go my fears of imperfection and failure, and ggive myself fully to the birth of my son as it unfolded before me. More to come…
Read Part 2