One of the side effects of spending so much time learning about and discussing labor and birth is the processing of one’s own birth experiences. I have long known I have had some baggage left over from BG’s birth, but I sort of thought I was finished.
I have long tried to focus on what was positive about my birth experience because it was overwhelmingly positive–so long as I was a normal woman in the midst of managing my labor. But the last bit where I gave myself over to medicine is where I’ve struggled so much. For example, once I realized that I needed help with pain, I had wanted a mild epidural; I got a strong one, and then when I complained of pain from lying on my back during what was likely transition, the nurse gave me a bolus, and I could then not move my legs. Not only did I have an epidural, something I never imagined succumbing to, but I had the worst version where I could feel nothing I wanted to feel (the urge to push, my legs), but I could feel a tremendous amount of pain in my hips and back. Looking back on this has always given me pangs of anxiety and sadness, and while it probably doesn’t seem like much, it was significant considering I had spent the 30 hours prior laboring the way I wanted to (mostly) and having a pretty decent range of motion.
And I can’t help but question myself. Why couldn’t I do it on my own? Did I just need a doula? What would have happened had I been at home or in a birth center? Why didn’t I trust my body?
But I did trust my body, and I have to remember that. I trusted my body to stand up to my OB who was harassing the midwives I saw to induce me early because my baby was big. I trusted my body to move my fairly large fibroids out of the way so that I could give birth vaginally. I even trusted my body to somehow get my boy to come out despite his desire to remain with the back of his hard little head against my poor, poor sacrum for the entire damn labor. I trusted that I would make the decisions I needed to make to have my baby and to keep from having a cesarean.
Still, I have felt a little robbed, a little saddened by how it all went down in the end.
In my training and in my reading, I have learned so much. The fact that I wasn’t slated for instant cesarean because of my fibroids is significant. That I wasn’t wheeled into the OR the moment we realized BG was presenting face up or the moment we realized he was likely upwards of nine pounds is something to be thankful for (not that we would have let that happen. We were some stubborn and well-informed mamas!). I wasn’t prepared, though, to find the information I needed to forgive myself.
During training, we were working on positioning to deal with back labor and to work on rotating a malpresenting baby. We had tried a number of these strategies in my labor to no avail, but I couldn’t figure out why there were so many we hadn’t tried. Why hadn’t I lunged? Why hadn’t I tried to do any squatting? As we were practicing these positions in my workshop, I remembered vividly the pain I felt in late pregnancy of my pubic symphysis separating, so I asked what to do in the situation that a woman is having back labor and has this pubic symphysis disfunction. My instructor, a doula of twenty years, said, “That would be really hard. There is very little she could do because it’s so painful.” It was really all she said, yet I was flooded with realization, with sadness, and, yes, even forgiveness. I had done absolutely everything I could, even things that did hurt, in an effort to maximize the labor progress and move things forward. I had horrendous back labor AND this horrible problem with my pelvis (which my OB ignored over and over again, and which should have gotten me some physical therapy at the least), and I was under the pressure of the ticking clock because my water had broken. No wonder the OB insisted on a hep-lock the moment I arrived at the hospital.
What I ultimately realized in that moment is that I did absolutely everything I could, and when all of those efforts weren’t working, I used a more serious tool in the toolbox, and ultimately, I avoided a cesarean and an even more managed birth. I’m working on being proud of that. I’m working on letting go. I have to if I’m going to be fully present for other women, if I am to help them find their power and satisfaction in their birth experiences.