I am feeling so grateful that we have made it to October, because September is crazy at our house. All three of our kids were born in September. Yup. All of them. (And before you ask, our anniversary is in December.) The oldest was born on the 21st, then the Middle on the 1st, and the Princess on the 12th. It makes for a busy month, but I truly love it.
This was the first year that they had separate parties. We normally just have one big deal with individual cake choices and lots of family and friends. I love celebrating them and what the month means to our family. With the celebration, comes my recollection and remembrance of their births. If I set my mind on it enough, I can almost put myself back there. I can almost smell and feel and hurt and touch all that went into each experience. And with all of that comes sadness. With sadness comes guilt. Not at all how one should feel when thinking about the births of their children.
I know. Not what you were expecting. But honestly, those three memories in my mind were not what I expected either. See, fifteen years ago, I began my journey as a doula. I began to educate myself on unmedicated birth and what the body of a woman was capable of doing. I received invitations to join families in the delivery room and stood in awe of the strength that each mama mustered and the unwavering support of each daddy. It truly amazed me. I was just minutes from midwifery school and moving my husband and myself to a developing country to assist with women’s health. And even though I didn’t really want kids, I knew that if it all went down, that was the story I wanted to write. I knew that unmedicated childbirth would be my narrative.
The reality of my story vs. my expectations
Girls. It just wasn’t. Emergency Cesarean, two failed v-bacs (Vaginal Birth After Cesarian Section), extreme sickness, rapid blood pressure drops, dramatic loss of body temperature… it was crazy. And NOTHING like what played out in my mind. Add to all of that, difficulty nursing. I had completely lost my identity as a birthing advocate and could not wrap my mind around how I would heal. My kids were healthy, my body eventually pulled itself back together (except for that whole sneeze and pee thing. Yes, even with a c-section.). We finally connected and got on in life. But my heart…and my mind…and the “what could have been…”
The most sadness I feel is when I think of what my husband lost as well. Heath spent months educating himself, attending classes, picking my brain, “interviewing” friends who had gone before us, and developing his own birth plan. He was ready. And let me tell you, he was the MOST incredible support in every step we walked in our journey. But there was an experience that he missed out on, too. I had witnessed it before. The blood, sweat, and tears of a new dad who had supported and encouraged a laboring mama in ways unimaginable. Because he had been in the trenches with his girl and was an active participant in the birth, not just an innocent bystander. I wanted that for my husband. I have been and will be in a delivery room again with another mom, but Heath won’t, and that still makes me sad.
I will never forget the feeling of having that fresh, little boy lay in my lap. I looked down at him and felt…nothing. No joy or elation, or even love. I had an overwhelming sense to take care of him and make sure he made it, but that was it. The chaos of the day, hell, my whole week, had created a barrier between my boy and me. That wall took quite a few weeks to come down, and even longer before I really knew I loved him. It was so disappointing and I was saturated with guilt.
Every time more than three women get together, the topic of birth surfaces. (Pay attention. It happens.) Each mom tells their story about the epidurals and the plans and the scares and the joys. The good, the bad, and the ugly comes pouring out. It is then that I can feel my soul shrink. I just want to run out. Because it is a loss for me. And I still grieve it.
I am fully aware of the thousands of women who would give anything to have one of my medicated, surgery-filled stories. I know that with all that I am. I truly pray the desires of your heart are realized. But my words today are for the mom who just can’t quite figure out why she’s grieving her birth experience when the baby is fine. I want the mom who feels guilty about grieving her labor to have someone who understands. I want you to know that you will love that baby with all you are. Eventually. I want to walk with you as you choose to find joy in the story you have, not tears for the one you wish you could tell.
And I want every mama, at every mom’s night out, to pay attention. Look around the table as you start to recount the events of your labor and birth. See the mom who has shut down? Who has emotionally retreated? She’s fidgeting with her drink and glancing around the room, wishing she could change the subject. She’s dealing with something. It might be that she’s had a recent miscarriage, or her baby has struggled with health issues since birth. But it could be that she’s silently grieving her birth experience, the one she did not have. She’s replaying what she’d longed for and prayed for, and cannot express it. She wants to join in and tell her story, but knows the tears won’t stop as soon as she starts. It is all too hard.
I see you, sister. I get you. And it will be redeemed.