The phenomenon of birth stories

birth-storiesStories are fascinating, and I’m not just talking about fiction here. The method of handing down knowledge from one generation to the other began with oral recitation long before the printed word and perhaps this primal desire is the reason why women invariably feel the need to share their birth stories.

 

I’ve been mulling over doing a series of my previous three birth stories in the lead up to Number Four for the following reasons: one is to remind myself that every birth is different yet no less miraculous and wonderful and two is because I find them a fascinating phenomenon.

You’ll be sitting in a group at a social gathering – be it a casual barbecue or formal dinner – and the women will start to chat together. Even if they’ve only just met, there is a relatively predictable pattern to the conversation that ensures. At first it starts out as general niceties – the weather; their work; their other halves. Then, if they are mothers, it will move onto their children.  Once a sense of familiarity has been reached – the ratio of wine consumed being directly proportional to the speed with which this occurs – the birth stories will often start.

If you’ve ever been through a birth yourself, you’ll understand why.  No matter if it was a good or horrendous experience, it’s a badge of honour every woman wears for the remainder of her life. I would liken it to a warrior’s story of undergoing an epic battle on all three fronts of  physical, spiritual and mental.

I use the word “battle” to describe labour and birth, not to emphasise pain or drama (even though there’s often plenty of both), but rather to highlight the power and long-lasting effects that such an experience has on you.

Ina May Gaskin, hailed as the mother of authentic midwifery, said it best:

“Whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.”

You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie there, Ina May.

Birth stories are unique to each mother … and in turn, each child they have. Every one of my three birth stories are as totally different as the baby that arrived at the end of them.  Each one gave me an opportunity explored my strengths and weaknesses at that given stage in my life, offering a glimpse into my inner self and what I was capable of handling.

After hearing other mothers’ birth stories over the years, I also recognise that I was incredibly fortunate to have three positive outcomes that only served to build up my confidence and resilience as a mother.

I only know the following tidbits about my own birth story from my mother:

  • I was three days late and the start of her labour interrupted Sunday lunch
  • I was breech so they whacked Mum out on drugs to deliver me
  • I spent time in a humidicrib but when I kicked out the bottom, they decided I’d survive
  • I was born at 5.55pm Sunday night but Mum didn’t get to see or hold me until Monday afternoon
  • I had a weak palate so when I cried I sounded like a lamb bleeting (that was Dad’s contribution to my birth story. This was back in the day when husbands didn’t get to go in with their wives for the birth. He was waiting outside when the nurse wheeled a whole bunch of babies past. He smiled at the funny cry and she said “Don’t laugh – that one’s yours”.
  • Dad insisted on carrying me out of the hospital, against hospital policy of a nurse doing it.

Mum is coming over to spend time with me before and after Little Miss arrives and I plan to ask her for more details about her birthing stories.  It makes me wonder if it is a generational thing or she just didn’t want to scare me before I had my own stories to tell.

In fact … I don’t know if I’ve ever shared all the details of my birthing stories with my children.  Perhaps it is considered too intimate and the stories share too much of our true selves?  Maybe we don’t want any negative experiences we might have had to be misinterpreted by the child that was part of it until they are old enough to understand that the birth stories are actually not about the baby at all but about the mother?

Maybe we are just so busy in the first 18 years of their life on earth that we just don’t get around to it …

Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to share mine.

Kids, have I ever told you how I met you ….

 

Don’t worry bout a thing …

bob-marleyMost of this pregnancy has been smooth sailing. And I’m not talking about the fun physical changes to me or the little life inside either. I’m talking about the emotional hormonal pregnant woman rollercoaster.

Calm. Happy. Going with the flow. Not particularly worried about anything, really. Just like Bob with a well-lit spliff hanging off his lip.

Until I hit 30 weeks.

And then HELLLOOOO anxiety! Where have you been? You almost missed the party! Only 10 weeks to drive this woman and her poor husband truly crazy before Little Miss arrives and all hell really breaks loose.

It started with antenatal classes. I decided a while back that it was worth doing them because:

a) NIH needs to have the ‘full’ experience and it’s only fair he has some warning of what’s coming; and,
b) it’s been a while and I thought a little refresher course for me couldn’t hurt.

And it was all fine … right up until the end of the first class, when the leader (lecturer? labour whisperer? ) said two little sentences:

“Partners, listen to your wives’ breathing during labour. When she goes from pushing sighing breaths out like this “whewwwwwww” at the end of a contraction, to a deep guttural “wherrrrrrRRRRRRRRR”, that’s a good sign she’s going into second stage and wanting to push.”

When she made that noise, crystal clear memories of that EXACT feeling that hits when you’re getting to the business end of childbirth came rushing in and I barely managed not to exclaim “Holy FUCK!” out loud and scare all those poor sods who don’t know what’s coming.

But I remember now. I know what’s coming. As I explained to NIH later, just because I’ve done it three times before doesn’t mean I like it. I cried at home afterwards.

And since that little meltdown, it’s like I’ve opened the worry flood gates and everything is getting to me.  I spent a good two days sitting at my desk at work with headphones on – not listening to music; not making or taking a phone call – just to stop people from talking to me. I was mortally afraid I’d cry if they asked me a question I couldn’t answer … like “How are you?”.

I am exhausted but only sleep about 4-5 hours a night, waking up at 4am to worry about anything and everything.

I worry about work. I’m currently recruiting for my job and feeling the pressure. What if I can’t find anyone? What if the person I pick is shit? Or – even worse – way better than me?  Will there be enough time to train this person or is my co-worker going to be left carrying the load?  If I’m going to be completely truthful, the biggest fear I have at the moment for work is losing my shit and crying in front of someone.

I worry about money. We are so very fortunate that I qualify for maternity leave here in NZ and get 18 weeks paid plus enough unpaid leave to have a year with Little Miss before heading back to work. But we still have a house back in Oz that we haven’t been able to sell. Luckily, we’ve been able to rent it out for almost a year but it only covers half the mortgage, so we’re picking up the slack on top of the rent we pay here. That’s fine when you have two incomes … but things will be very tight after July.

Of course, I worry about labour. The clock is ticking down to the moment where I will be required to push something the size of a watermelon out of something the size of a lemon. Last time – in fact, the last two times – I had a hot bath to soak in for most of labour and it worked absolute wonders in taking the pain away and making those hours leading up to the main event much easier to deal with.

We don’t have a bath in our flat. That scares me. The bath was my go-to. I knew it worked. How will I cope with the pain this time?

Of course, there’s the classic – Will she be ok? Is everything going to go smoothly? Will there be complications? And I can’t even bear to think about worst-case scenarios. My mind just completely does a 360 degree turn.

And then there’s the afterwards. I have 18 years of care ahead, starting with nappy changes, breastfeeding, colic and a few years of no sleep.  I’m not in my twenties anymore.

What about my other kids? Sure, they’re grown up and all but how’s this going to affect my relationship with them? Will they like her? Will she understand who they are? When am I ever going to have the money or the time to fly home to see them again?

Around and around and around in my poor shrinking brain cell head.

Funnily enough, now that I’ve written it all down and am reading it back … things really aren’t so bad. I mean, sure, labour is hard and painful but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that long.  I can choose a water birth in the pool at the birthing centre or just go in when things start getting interesting and sit in the normal bath to ease the pain.

Nine times out of ten, childbirth goes well. And if it doesn’t, we are very close to the largest teaching hospital on the North Island, with all the medical facilities to cope with emergencies.

My kids are grown ups now, and lovely warm-hearted human beings to boot. They’ll be fine and the addition of Little Miss will only add to our shared relationship. Besides, they have their own lives to lead and don’t rely on me anymore.

I’ll cope with breastfeeding and nappies. I have infinitely more patience than I did 20 years ago and after dealing with three kids under five years old, one tiny baby seems much easier to handle.

The house will re-rent for more money or sell.  And if all else fails, I’ve crunched the numbers and know that we will cope. We won’t be living the life of Riley but to be honest, we will be more interested in sleep than anything else for a while – and that’s free.

Whoever takes over at work will be fine. My co-worker is an awesome teacher and so easy-going. He’ll take care of the newbie. At the end of the day, work will go on without me and I’ll be missed about as much as the proverbial hole in the bucket of water.

In the end, perhaps Bob Marley was onto something … even without the toke on a giant spliff.