BY Alice Grist
I recently gave birth to my first little baby. Prior to this, I had written extensively about the possibilities of a pain free, empowering natural birth. I questioned whether a painful birth was all in the mind. I set my stall out with full positive intention as to how my baby would come into the world. I didn’t doubt for a second that it would be as I envisioned it. I foresaw a peaceful, painless, chemical free birth, proceeded by a bouncing happy little girl. I got only one of those things.
How naive of me! I was so focused on the birth of my fantasies I didn’t plan or prepare for any other option. This is where me and the power of positive thinking fall apart. I am relentlessly positive, but in my experience this does not always bring about our minds desires. Sometimes the cosmos has its own plans, for it’s own reasons and to which we must adjust. No matter how strongly I visualised a drug free water birth of great beauty, I was, it seems, always destined to have a whole other kind of birth. No matter how much I fought with the health services whilst I was In their care for a week, their protocols were always meant to prevail.
So what was my plan and what was the actuality? I planned to Hypnobirth my baby calmly and painlessly into the world. It was my intention to wait till baby was ready, even if this meant going over 42 weeks of pregnancy. It was going to be all deep breathing, aromatherapy and blissful background music. But an attendance at the local hospital for a routine check up saw this plan shot to smithereens.
First up, they wanted to forcefully induce Baby. I refused when I learned I had started to dilate. I went home and sat waiting for labour to commence. I went back to hospital the next day for another routine monitoring. I expected to be there an hour. I didn’t get out for four days. There was a concern with Baby’s heartbeat, I was given a scary talk by a doctor and I started the process of becoming drawn into the medical world of birthing. The rights and wrongs of this are all now just a blur. I know I felt caught between my hippy desires to just let Baby be, and the modern mentality of relying on what the graph says. As a diplomatic Libran, I spent several days trying to balance these accounts, to no avail. In the end, the establishment won out.
My natural birthing was transformed into a litany of chemical induction techniques. None of which worked. The final attempt saw me hooked up to machinery, a drip in my arm with a dial being turned up to create my contractions and force my body into pushing baby out. Nothing natural about it. I couldn’t even stand, change position or move around. I was catheterised, injected, poked and prodded often. I took to all this as I do anything, cheerfully. Every event is a new adventure even if the voyage is by tank rather than by foot.
As the chemicals stormed my body, I attempted to utilise my natural birthing learnings. I coped nicely for several hours on meditations and mantras, but then the chemical dial was switched up and the pain it brought was astounding. Bye bye, any aspects of breathing the baby out; hello, vile gas and air followed by epidural, followed much later by episiotomy and forceps delivery.
And so my natural birth was made chemical, forceful, medical and surgical. The most important question here though is… Am I bothered? Well, if you’d told me in advance this was how things might go, then I would have thought I’d be devastated. But in reality, I’m happy. The birth was not how I planned, but my baby came out perfect. Despite being dragged into the world with great metal spoons she was alert, happy and did not cry all day long, not even following her “traumatic” birth. Maybe she knew some thing I didn’t… Maybe she was cool with it. And if she is cool with it, so am I.
Indeed I’ve now had a birth people can relate to, which as a writer is all I could ask for. Whilst it would have been lovely to sit and squat whilst humming mantras and envisioning my lady bits opening like a flower, it wasn’t the way things went. Such a birth, as romantic as it sounds, is out of reach for the vast majority of people, and so to make the most of what we do get, is an equally powerful way of birthing.
My natural birth education had told me to be wary of the medical brigade, and I had been. I started off the week convinced I was being dragged into some kind of medical conspiracy to drug me and remove my baby by force. Now this did happen, but was it a conspiracy? Or was it simply a bunch of professionals acting to their protocols. I had not liked being subjected to procedure, but who is to say that I did not need to be? Given my babies stubbornness to launch into the world, perhaps I did. I’ve learned since that my mum and grandma’s children were all delivered by forceps. Our families women carry well, but apparently we need a little help at the end… No shame in that.
In spite of my reservations about the medical model I learned too that it is staffed by lovely people. They are far from wishing to harm me or anyone. A medical birth challenged my jaded view and the midwives came up smelling of roses. A natural birthing in a darkened room would have missed out on their cheery smiles, helpful advice and heartfelt encouragement.
I have read many women’s tales of guilt and woe at not having their picture perfect birth. Even years after birth, some gals torture themselves on how it all went wrong and the apparent disservice they did their child. But the thing is, we are a medically altered peoples living in unnatural times. I could mourn the loss of my ideal birth, but then I may as well grieve the fact I am writing this on a computer as opposed to using chalk and blood on my cave wall.
Things did not go to plan but I had an amazing birth. It was gritty, drawn out, painful and emotional. It was hard work and it tested myself and my husband far beyond what we ever expected. There was a great deal of blood and tears and everything, literally everything I planned went out the window. Yet it was perfect. It was how it should of been. I’m so happy it happened as it did and I know all I can do is respect life’s greater plan. Perhaps what my soul and spirit really wanted was not the lightness of a pretty birth but the challenge of something real, something fleshy, messy and hardcore.
A perfect childbirth is all in the mind. Relinquishing control and letting life be as it inevitably will be is an act of powerful contrition. My childbirth has been a life lesson. We may think we know what we want, we can plan and wish and cosmically order it. But if it’s not right for us, life intervenes. We can choose to rail against that intervention, or we can accept it, thank it and be at peace. I choose to be at peace. I have a beautiful healthy baby, and any injury to myself was well worth that outcome. A perfect birth, like a perfect anything in life… Is all in the mind.