It’s now been seven weeks since I gave birth to our baby girl. Given that I’ve always made my way through life’s most challenging experiences by writing about them, I had a fantasy that I would keep blogging right through the birth, perhaps even more often than I had been before. I would take some time out during labor to blog. Or, at the very least, I’d capture something about this, one of the most intense experiences of my life, by writing something within the first 24 hours after the birth. One of my favorite journalism professors taught me that the best time to write your story is…as soon as you walk in the door. You start writing when you’re fresh from the field, with everything crisp and colorful in your mind.
And after all, this is 2012. I had my laptop tucked into my hospital bag, and I could have blogged from my iPhone. The delivery room is perhaps a place where one needs to disconnect with the immediate world, but after giving birth, the maternity ward is wireless. There is no reason why I couldn’t, shouldn’t blog.
But the reality of being a mother of a newborn baby burst my bubble, breaking apart the unrealistic expectations I had for myself. I should have known that the arrival of a second baby is no less all-encompassing and energy-absorbing than the first one, and that thoughts of blogging would quickly slip into the “nice but not necessary” category.
Much more than this, I think one of the reasons I was reluctant to write was that I wasn’t sure what I felt comfortable sharing. I’d already written in the past that I, along with many women in Primigravida’s target demographic, had an unplanned/emergency C-section in my first birth. In a previous post I tried to explore why this has become such a prevalent phenomena among mothers in my age bracket. While I’d rather not get into a replay of that first birth, I’ll recap by saying that it was a traumatic experience I didn’t want to repeat. To avoid a déjà vu, it seemed I’d best schedule the C-section ahead of time and save myself the drama and disappointment when the “inevitable” happened and I was told I’d need another surgical delivery.
In short, I spent my entire second pregnancy trying to decide if I should try for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section) and at one point was convinced it wasn’t worth the risk – including a 0.5 percent chance of uterine rupture, which can be fatal for mother or baby. I spoke at length to friends who’d successfully had VBACs, friends who’d tried for a VBAC and wound up requiring another C-section (some of them at peace with this outcome and many others not), and friends who’d opted for a scheduled C the second time around.
Somehow, after hours of research, conversations with several doulas and midwives and doctors – one of whom advised me to just schedule a C-section based on the fact that at my age I probably wouldn’t be contemplating many more pregnancies anyway – I became convinced that trying for a VBAC was the wiser choice. To not at least try for a natural birth would be something of a cop-out, according to the midwife I wound up hiring as my birth coach.
When I told her at our initial meeting that I wasn’t even sure I wanted a VBAC, given the added risks, she looked at me like I’d just offered our toddler crack cocaine. “How would you feel in 20 years if you didn’t at least try?!” she challenged. In 20 years I doubt the thought will cross my mind, and by then I’ll have more important parental muck-ups to worry about other than how I brought my children into the world.
But still, if I could avoid major abdominal surgery, shouldn’t I? Repeat C-sections are not ideal and carry their own risks. I came up with a dozen or so other reasons why it was worth a shot, but the most prominent of all was the thought of a shorter recovery. I dreaded being forbidden from picking up our 18-month-old son because of the surgery. This thought alone felt compelling enough to give the VBAC a go.
And so it went, somehow. I gave birth “the way it should be” as my massage therapist put it when she tried to ease my aching body two weeks later. Her words made me cringe. Just as I’d despised the implied failure the first time around – particularly from women who tut-tutted about the high C-section rate and bragged about their bevy of beautiful home births – I feel uncomfortable with the kudos this time. A friend of mine due around the same time as me, also trying for a VBAC, said she wanted to do it so could “join the sisterhood.” As if a Caesarean birth means we don’t really earn entrance to some international sisterhood of women who gave birth the old-fashioned way. Or that birthing vaginally (ideally with no pain relief) makes you a stronger woman or a better mother. I’m not so sure. On second thought, I’m sure that’s nonsense.
I almost bought into the same self-denigrating scheme because my daughter’s birth required vacuum assistance, and my birth coach implied it was all my fault – my pushing wasn’t good enough. Sure, I’d had my VBAC and earned my stripes, but I still had plenty of pain afterwards. Moreover, I still had some of the same feelings of inadequacy that plagued me after the C-section.
But there were amazing things about the birth. Foremost among them was that I got to hold the baby just after she was born and nurse her – a dream I’d had last time but hadn’t been able to fulfill. I was put under full anesthetic in my son’s birth and only got to hold him for the first time about four hours later, groggy and upset. This time, since the ward upstairs didn’t have a room ready for me yet, my husband, the baby and I got to spend the next 2.5 hours exactly where I’d given birth – hanging out, getting to know each other, and trying to absorb the shock and awe of it all. Those moments were magical.
Four days later, I was in so much pain I wondered why I didn’t just have the damn C-section. But seven weeks later, I can acknowledge that the recovery process was indeed much smoother and more rapid.
I still feel like I didn’t get to join that other, more exclusive sisterhood – the one for women who have amazing, empowering, beautiful birth experiences. I bless its members, but to pretend that I truly deserve membership among them would be a lie. I read with envy the birth story of a friend who gave birth about a week after I did in a birthing center in New York. She felt no fear, and in the final stages of the birth she felt no pain, even though she’d had no epidural or other drugs. For those of us whose experiences are so radically different, our task is to accept what was – and to focus on the miracle and the honor of getting to bring a new life into the world.
What’s more, the real sisterhood of mothers worth belonging to includes those who became mothers in other ways – by adoption, via marriage to someone who already had children, through surrogacy. As my wise friend Sandra pointed out to me recently, getting too hung up on the kind of birth you have is a mistake similar to putting all of your energy into the wedding – rather than the marriage. It’s what comes after the big event that truly counts.