I love reading about birthing stories. Probably because the whole birth story thing didn’t really come into my consciousness until I was out of college. So when I got pregnant, I read A LOT. I love reading the Getting it Out Birth Stories over on Offbeat Families, and read many birthing technique books while pregnant. And I’ve read a lot of good stuff, but there was something so strikingly raw and real about this article S. Lynn Alderman’s Ugliest, Beautiful Moment (Or, Fuck Ina May) over on Mutha Magazine. I’ll be putting some excerpts here, but you really should jump on over and read the full article, it’s hilarious…
Six years ago, I set a goal for myself. And, technically, I achieved it. I had a baby and didn’t use any medicinal pain relief while she was born. And you know what I have to say about it? Fuck Ina May, that’s what.
I learned of Ina May Gaskin’s famous guide to natural childbirth while sharing homemade kale chips with a friend during a ConsciousMama moon retreat. Just kidding, that is completely untrue. I don’t know how I heard of it, but I bought a faded copy with dog-eared pages and told myself that lots of women had read it and had wonderful, peaceful birth experiences. I told myself that their good juju would magically pass to me as I gazed at the photos that they had also seen, of beautiful hairy women blissfully pushing out their babies, surrounded by other beautiful hairy women with half-smiles on their beatific faces.
I wanted my labor to be like this. The first pregnant women I ever knew was in my office post-college. She already had one child, and was pregnant with her second. She passed out candles to all her lady friends to light when they’d heard the news she was in labor. She said it would help her channel her inner light and focus during labor. She was a yoga instructor and so calm and I thought that image was beautiful. But my labor was so fast that there’s no way anybody would have had time to light a candle. Having had zero experience with pregnancy or laboring, I tried to imagine myself like my former co-worker, blissful, meditating on light, calling up the mothers before me.
Except, that didn’t work.
But inside my head, I could not believe what was happening. How painful it was. How terrifying. I felt helpless. And degraded and humiliated by there being witnesses. And at the same time, I felt so, so alone. I remember at one point saying, completely out of my mind, “I don’t understand why no one is doing anything to help me! Please help me!” Della reminded me that what I was feeling was the baby coming. That I was doing just what I was supposed to, having the baby, right then.
My labor was 4 hours long. 6 if you count the time we thought it started, and called the midwife to let them know we were on the way to the hospital. My thoughts were racing by the time I was in the triage, and because I assumed that my labor would be twelve plus hours, when we were a few in I thought that I would never get through it. I should have known that with a history of anxiety that when the labor intensified I would PANIC inside myself. I wasn’t prepared for the panic.
In not too many pushes, really, I finally got that baby out. And let me tell you what. I didn’t care if it was a human baby, a gorilla or a Cracker Jack prize. I just wanted that thing OUT of me. There was a hush. “Sunnyside up!” the doctor said. Instead of face down, like in 90-something percent of births, the baby was face up, with a bruised eye and forehead from pressing through my pelvis the wrong way. And then Luke said, “It’s a…girl!”
Was I flooded with love and amazement and whatever, cue swell of music? Yes! Did I gaze at that darling girl’s face for the next 12 hours, unable to sleep? Yes. Is she still, joy of joys, my precious, funny, hilarious Phee? Yes, she is. Yes. Yes. Yes. Sunnyside up was a telling beginning for her.
I am grateful that she and I were well and healthy. It is no small thing to have a baby, however routine it seems, since some woman somewhere does it every five seconds. It is an amazing thing, truly.
But here is why I am mad. I also felt completely flimflammed. For all my preparing, I wasn’t prepared at all. And I felt ashamed about it. I felt that I let my daughter down by being scared.
I laughed when I read that she didn’t care if it was a gorilla or a cracker jack prize. Because that feels so true, but also I know I would have been sad if it had been a Cracker Jack prize. Because the crazy experience of love flooding through me as we put Potamus on my chest is unreal and totally worth the pain and panic and fentanyl induced dreaminess. As far as achieving my set out “goal” of unmedicated, I did not succeed, but it was a small blip on the radar. Not so, for many of my friends, who experienced emergency c-sections because of complications in their labor. To them I had achieved what they could not…a vaginal/natural birth. And for them, I wish I could say:
So I’d like to offer an invitation to any woman who wants to join a new team to take into birthing rooms or forest glens or wherever. A team called “That shit is totally crazy and you don’t have to ‘handle it’ because the baby is coming no matter what and I’ll be there to hold your hand quietly or to let you scream and that’s okay. However you get through it is a victory and I am so proud of you, sister.” Maybe something shorter.