This morning I woke up and realized that throughout this journey of grief and healing, I haven’t shared any stories of birth. Really, those are the most important ones!
So I’m sitting here, staring at a fresh, new blank page on my computer, reflecting on why I have been holding those stories back. I came to this conclusion; Levi’s birth was a traumatic experience. I’ve been embarrassed to admit that, as much as it was one of the most sacred, life changing moments of my life, it also carries a great deal of remorse. Most women who have gone through a birth experience in a hospital setting will understand what I mean when I say that giving birth in that setting is traumatic, for both mother and baby.
I didn’t even realize that there was an alternate way until I became pregnant with my second child. I knew that I was terrified of giving birth in the hospital again, so I started to research home birth. After contacting a few midwives in the city, and pleading my case with them (there were waiting lists as long as ones’ arms) I finally found a loving person who agreed to care for me throughout pregnancy and birth at home. Although that baby was not carried to term, I delivered at home with my husband, and was grateful to not have to go through all of the hospital rigamarole during that time of grief. I was able to let my body do what was needed, even though it was physically and emotionally painful, without being interrupted by hospital staff for the sake of “procedure” and being on a hospital time sheet.
Giving birth to that tiny embryo at home, with my husband lovingly caring for me, was a pretty empowering experience. It wasn’t an illness, as the hospital treats it. It was birth. It did not yield life, but it was birth. My body did all of the work, with no help from a doctor with a glorified vacuum cleaner. Afterwards, we were able to hold a small ceremony in the river valley near our home to say goodbye to that little life. The experience brought us closer together than we ever had been, tightly weaving our bond as family.
We spent the next year of our lives travelling western Canada, relaxing, having fun as a young couple generally does. At the same time the next year, I became pregnant again. Of course, I was terrified. I again contacted the loving midwife who had cared for me during my last pregnancy, and it was smooth sailing from there. What a joy it is to go for a monthly visit with a health professional who does not treat you as if you are ill. No internal exams, no poking and prodding, no ultrasounds. Just a gentle check of the babes heartbeat, a few questions, and all is well.
When it came time to give birth, we were prepared and empowered, and we knew we were safe in the comfort of our own home. My mom was there helping me through surges, my husband sang songs, even my dog was there! I could eat if I was hungry, drink if I was thirsty, walk the dog, sit, squat, dance, and enjoy the warm water of the birth pool. Labour was long and intense, but we were confident, we knew we could do it. Our baby girl was born safely in the comfort of our bed! She was 10lbs 12 oz, a big healthy girl, and my body did what was needed to bring her in to this world, naturally. Her birth healed all of the trauma and remorse I had felt from Levi’s hospital birth. I’ll follow with his birth story, hopefully reading it will provide an understanding as to why I describe it as being traumatic…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * April 6, 2004
It’s five a.m. I wake to a nurse stirring in my dimly lit, sterile hospital room. She is checking the fluid in my i.v bag. I glance at the clock, I have been asleep for about three hours, after giving birth to my baby boy. It had been a very long labour, and hard on both of us. I’d been in the hospital for four long days…
After my water broke at home, I had rushed to the hospital. A decision I came to regret. Although I wasn’t having contractions yet, I was told that I had to stay in the hospital because of the risk of infection. I was hooked up to an i.v. and a fetal monitor, so it was hard to move around. Labour was slow to get going, so after a couple of days I was given a drug called pitocin in order to speed things up. Oh, man. That pitocin is one hell of a drug. Things were pretty intense after that, and although I had decided I was going to give birth without drugs, I was laughed at by the staff at the hospital, and given drugs anyways. I was informed that I had no idea the pain I was in for, and that I was naive to think I could actually do it without drugs.
When it came time to push, I was pretty out of it. My mom and sister in law were with me, cheering me on, while Dad and the rest of the family waited in the lobby. After 23 hours of active labour, not being allowed to eat or drink anything, and hysterically begging the doctor not to perform a c-section, my 10lb, 8oz. son had finally arrived. His head was very swollen and bruised from the forceps, and I was in shock from the tearing and the blood loss. I only got to spend a mere few moments with him before they whisked him off to the NICU for observation…
….So it’s three hours later, my breasts are aching, and I am anxious to see my newborn son. I ask the nurse if I can see him.
“Not yet,” she answers bluntly. “He is in recovery. The doctor still has a few things to look over before we can bring him to you. We’ll bring him here as soon as he is stable, and you can try to nurse him.”
The nurse exits the room, closing the door behind her, leaving me in absolute silence. I gaze out the window to glimpse the beginnings of an impossibly beautiful spring day. Simple human emotion easily procures a sense of tranquil wonderment. I give thanks for the quintessential gift of motherhood as I drift to sleep again…
When I wake again it is almost 8 a.m. My family will be here soon. A sense of panic overwhelms me when I realize that I have not yet fed my infant son. My breasts are swollen and sore, and I’m worried that he might have been given formula. I ring for the nurse.
A few moments later she comes swishing into the room pushing a glass bassinet.
“He is pretty hungry,” she tells me, “he’s been fussing for a little while. We wanted to let you sleep a bit.”
I peek into the bassinet and I am taken back by the bruising and cuts around his head. He is quite swollen and his eyes are squeezed shut. The nurse notices my worried look, and goes on to explain that the forceps and hard delivery had caused a bit of trauma to his head.
“The doctor says that it will heal quickly, it’s nothing to worry about.”
I smile at her, and pick him up gingerly. He is a big baby, he looks strong. Unlike most of the newborn babies I have seen, he does not seem frail and weak. And he is ravenous! As soon as I settle back on to the bed with him and open my gown, he is grunting and rooting around with his mouth, suckling for dear life! It takes a few tries to get him latched on properly, but we get the hang of it together and soon he is feasting happily. The nurse makes sure we are comfortable, then leaves us to go and make her rounds.
All at once, our reality seems effulgent, rosy. Love takes on an entirely new meaning with this budding new life to inspire. My fingertips lightly trace his face, his fiery red eyebrows, his perky little nose and chubby cheeks. I tickle his fingers and toes. He is drifting in and out of sleep, stirring every so often only to seek nourishment at my breast. The sensation of feeding him is a satisfaction unlike any that I have ever known. I have never done anything so important as bringing this little muse into the world.
Soon my family is bustling into the room, my mom and dad, two brothers, sister in law and my nephew, all anxious to meet him. They have been waiting around for four days. He was born in the middle of the night, so they were ushered out by the nursing staff just as soon as the big show was over. Now I cannot wait to proudly introduce to them all to the most magical little being that they will ever meet.
Of course, every mother feels that way about her children. And why shouldn’t they? Your children will always bring about the best person in you. You can look into the eyes of your children, and see everything that is your past, your present, and your future. They hold the key to awareness for future generations, as well as all of the wisdom of the ancients. When I looked in to Levi’s eyes during those first moments, I saw the entire universe in him. I knew instantly that he was wise beyond his infant body…
Levi, moments after birth
Ghanima and I, seconds after giving birth.