My birth felt brutal this time. Disappointing. A let down. Whenever I tell the story, I preface it with “but that’s ok because my baby is healthy and I’m alright”. I don’t like allowing myself to feel anything other than grateful because we’re alive and my baby is perfect. That should be enough.
And it is.
I’m feeling it anyway. This birth was brutal.
I wanted a home birth. In my 36th week, we swapped hospitals from UCH to our local, the Homerton. I took a hypnobirthing course, read Ina May Gaskin’s book, and borrowed a home birth pool.
It didn’t happen that way. Instead, I had almost every birthing intervention that hospitals offer.
For my post-birth midwife visits, the home birth team kept coming anyway. (And, Hackney people, they were wonderful.) On her last visit, the midwife suggested I come to the next home birth meet and tell my story.
“Oh, but I didn’t have a home birth,” I said. We’d just been talking about my scar so that was kind of unnecessary information for her – and, y’know, she was pretty aware that she hadn’t delivered my baby at home a couple of weeks ago.
But why would mothers want to hear from me? Someone who couldn’t manage it?
“They need to know they may not get the birth they want, that other things happen and that it’s ok,” she said. “And they need to not feel guilty about it, if it doesn’t work out how they want.”
I am quite good at seeming happy. I am a people pleaser, you see. So actually I’m amazing at seeming happy. At school, I used to piss people off with my smile. It wasn’t even a sneer, it was a sunshine delighted beam all the fucking time.
I had obviously duped the midwife into believing that I didn’t feel guilty, that I felt happy about my birth. When, actually, like a giant cliche, I felt pretty shitty about it. Like my body was crap at birthing babies.
I told her I’d go along to the next meeting because – like I mentioned – I’m a people pleaser. I kept thinking about what I’d say, and whether or not new mums would actually want to hear it. I decided that, if I went, these shiny pregnant women would pity me but KNOW that their births would be different. Their births would be amazing, whale-music, epiphany-laden orgasmic thunderbolts.
So I didn’t go.
I don’t want to scratch the shine off those who get perfect childbirth and breastfeeding experiences because I want to be a member of that blissful home/water birth, easy breastfeeding crew so badly.
If I could have given birth eating raw hemp brownies for energy in a tub at home, smelling lavender candles as pain relief, I would have. Not even actually joking. I bought the brownies and the candle. I already admitted that I borrowed the pool.
Instead, this is what happened. We went to hospital almost immediately after the contractions started. “I cannot handle this.” I told my husband.
“Shall I light the lavender candle? Put the music on?”
I don’t need to tell you my reply.
So we terrified a child-free Uber driver and got to the Homerton. We started in the birth centre. I was the only one of our merry group who was aware that this was a temporary space – my favourite word was “epidural”. After repeating it at the midwife enough, I then I crawled to the labour ward from the birth centre on all fours, contracting all the way, expelling the word “epidural” in sweaty whispers until the epidural actually happened.
An hour later, blissfully pain-free, I was fully dilated. My favourite word went from “epidural” to “top-up” (okay, two word hyphenate).
But my back-to-back baby wouldn’t budge enough for me to actually get him down the birth canal. His head was side on, he couldn’t fit out.
Syntocinon, a ventouse, forceps and a manual turning attempt later, the doctor worried that she couldn’t feel his ear, and my belly was being polished for a c-section. My drugs were being topped up, up, up.
Then – a rummage – and he was here, on the outside. Cross, swollen, bruised, one scrunched eye closed, one open with alarm. No prolonged cord attachment, no immediate skin-to-skin, just life-saving surgery and pain relief.
Afterwards, without any feeling from the boob down, we were wheeled into recovery and I got to stare at him. The strength of all the love that ever existed poured out of me into him.
Then the painkillers wore off and with them, the haze, and 24 hours later, I was home.
I was bent over, paper-knickered, swallowing codeine and crying. I surprised myself by being afraid of the “ifs” that didn’t happen. That we wouldn’t have survived in another country, in another time. I dreamed horror dreams and felt like an odd sort of ghost.
In between feeling like the walking dead, I wondered whether “if” I’d been brave enough to labour actively, I could have moved my baby and delivered him “normally” rather than going through everything I did.
In either scenario, I didn’t come off as someone good at birthing babies.
My little boy is 6 weeks old now. I don’t want to leave the impression with this birth story that I’m unhappy or ungrateful or still afraid. I’m not. The drugs are out of my system and so is the fear. I AM happy now.
I also don’t want to spook anyone who is about to have a baby.
So I don’t know what the purpose of writing this and putting it up here is. Maybe I’m just doing what the midwife asked, in a way, sharing my story.
I love the saying “life is what happens while you’re busy making plans”. So, this is what happened while I was busy making a home birth plan. This is the birth I got. Okay so it was brutal. But we clambered out and are shaking it off and are doing just fine.