Posted by: emjb | January 17, 2006

Sacred

Man, all I post about is my birth experience. I would say I’m sorry, but who’s forcing you to read, anyway? No one, that’s who. So piss off.

Ok, now that I’ve alienated my readers unnecessarily, I just wanted to copy a post I made over at the Moms Who Think forum. The topic was, “what is your dream birth experience”? And the debate took a turn in which women who have had elective c-sections wondered why so many other women felt the need to have a natural birth..something I’ve been thinking about, obviously. Because yes, you get a healthy baby (hopefully) either way. So here’s some of what I posted:

….there are two things that I think about this question; one, that the reason so many women do feel disappointed when they have a c-section is that they feel there is something sacred or special about a woman’s body giving birth naturally. Not everyone thinks that, but a lot of us, like myself, do. …

And when we do have c-sections, things like bringing the baby to the mother’s breast and allowing her to bond are seldom honored as much as in a vaginal birth. No woman should have to wait hours to hold her child if that child is born healthy…

So yeah, having a “healthy baby” is great, and it’s not that we’re not grateful. But we’re not just uteruses with feet, and our feelings and needs for birth and after are important. And many many hospitals, especially with a c-section, just run you through like a factory.

…my perfect birth would be in a setting that was comfortable and safe, surrounded by people I knew I could trust, who were committed to doing everything possible to let me birth naturally. And who, if a c-section were necessary, would still treat me with dignity and compassion and do everything in their power to help me bond with my baby, start breastfeeding right away, and feel that my birth was special.

I haven’t said all that much about my feelings of birth as sacred, or a spiritual event, and I thought maybe I should. I’ve had my problems with religion, which I’ve written a lot about here, and this year I moved pretty firmly into the Agnostic column, where I’ll most likely stay. Because that’s more honest than saying I always believe when I don’t. Still, there are things in life I consider “sacred” even if I’m not sure I mean that in a religious sense. Things that are very deep and significant to me, that raise feelings I can only classify as spiritual or religious. Love is one. The power of art (music, painting, writing) is one. Death is one. Childbirth is one, also.

It has nothing to do with a romanticized view of birth. I know about the blood and pain and bodily frustrations and exhaustion, all of that. I knew before I gave birth. But the act of bringing a new person into the world is something special, something, yes, sacred to me, and I didn’t realize how much it mattered until I was cut off from the full experience. Not by my c-section so much as by my treatment, as a patient no different from someone having gallbladder surgery or their wisdom teeth out. Birth is not like that, for me or many other women, not a simple medical event. It has a very deep meaning, to us, a meaning that demands respect and a bit of privacy, a space in which to stop and absorb what has happened.

This is not an unreasonable desire; in fact, hospitals do respect similar needs for their other patients. For example, when my father died in the hospital, he was not immediately and efficiently bundled off to the funeral home. The staff respected our feelings by disconnecting and removing the equipment and leaving him in his bed, so that we could come see him, and say goodbye. They understood that the strength of the family’s feelings was something that should be respected, given space and privacy. It wasn’t a huge effort on their part; we only stayed with my father maybe an hour before we let him be taken away. Birth is no different. The new parents and their family need that space and respect, without the machines or doctors to intervene, just an hour…or even half an hour…to process what has just happened, the ways in which their lives have just changed.

To welcome a life is as profound an event as to say goodbye to one.

I think we often don’t understand this because death is an event that affects men as well as women, and birth affects women much more. We respect the pain of the grieving families, but not the profound feelings aroused by giving birth. Women’s feelings in general are often considered less important; we’re told “You’re making too big a deal over this,” or “stop whining, you should be happy for what you have.”

What people who say this don’t understand is that a woman in labor is having an experience that brings her closer to death than she may ever have been. Even if she’s surrounded by medical professionals, the process of birth always has the potential to be fatal or damaging, and in labor, I think that you know that, deep down. Your body is being pushed to the edge of its abilities, and you are forced to confront your own weakness in a way you never have before. And while you find strength you never had before, either, it changes you, and after the baby comes out, however it comes out, you are still shaking and transformed by this change.

And now you have a child, a new person, at the end of this terrifying and wonderful experience, and you feel the need (or at least I did) to just stop, hold them, allow yourself to connect with them outside your body instead of inside it. To take a deep breath after your struggle and enjoy the literal fruits of your labor. To have those around you acknowledge that your universe has just turned inside out. To have them share in your joy, or at the very least, give you some time to let that joy happen for you.

I needed that, and I wasn’t given that. I was barely allowed to touch my baby before he was taken from me for several hours. When he came back, that sacred, irreplaceable moment was gone and it could never happen again. Our first meeting was a sacred and necessary thing, and it was disrupted, and our relationship has been a cautious, halting one ever since.

I love him…that’s not in question. But it still sometimes feels like he’s not mine; we’re having to build our relationship in a slow, fragmented way rather than having started it with his birth, almost like he’s adopted. And I grieve that loss, because it was unnecessary. There was no reason to take him from me; he needed to be warmed, and I could have done that, nursed him a little, gotten to hold him while he was still new to the world, before he was handled by everyone but me.

If you take a newborn animal from its mother and handle it too much, sometimes the mother will reject it when you take it back. There is something deep and instinctive about bonding at birth, and it should not be broken without a very good cause. If Nathan had needed immediate medical care, I would have accepted being separated from him. But he didn’t; he was taken from me for the hospital’s convenience. There was no room for the sacred in their schedule.

It may be that some women don’t feel the need I did, and wouldn’t feel the loss I feel in the same situation. But judging by the email lists and websites and organizations devoted to women who are grieving the way I am, for the same reasons, I’d say they’re the minority. For the rest of us, the need for something better runs too deep to give it up. It’s not about being selfish, or wanting some sort of fakey mystical experience. It’s about respecting the work and courage and beauty of giving birth, and the strength of the bond between a mother and her baby.

Nathan and I will be all right, eventually. I’m at peace about that, because I know time will let us re-weave our relationship and get back to the place we should have been. Love is strong enough to overcome our obstacles. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be complacent about a system that put those obstacles there in the first place.

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Responses

  1. Considering the birth of a child is a HUGE thing in anyone’s life – never mind all the other crap you went through around it – I’d say you’ve got every right to talk about it as much as you’d like to.

    (Not that you were looking for validation or anything. Heh.)

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your thoughts surrounding your son’s birth, and it has made me think a lot about my own birth experiences. After my first son’s birth, we were so deep in the grief of his medical conditions that I didn’t allow myself to grieve over the loss of the birth experience. I wonder now if it was part of my sadness, or if everything else just made that seem like a small piece of the puzzle.

    With my second, planned, c-section, things were so different, but again health concerns cancelled out any wishes for a certain type of birth. I was so focused on seeing a child born healthy, that I just wanted to get him out in the fastest way possible.

    Of course, even that birth was much different than yours. They brought my son to me immediately in Recovery. The nurse helped me to hold him and start nursing while I was still paralyzed from the spinal. I had a large private room and was able to keep him with me for my entire stay.

    I guess everything is relative. Without experiencing my first son’s birth, and without the helpfulness of the nursing staff, my second son’s birth would have affected me completely differently. I looked at that as an “ideal” birth experience, even though many other women would have been devastated in the same situation. It’s strange how low our standards can get after a trauma.

    Don’t mean to hijack your site, but you inspire me to think!

  2. Mete, you’re not hijacking, and I totally agree. I think if you know a c-section is necessary and you are treated well, it can be an ideal birth, because you know you did what you needed to do for your baby and for you. I would feel the same way in your shoes, and if I birthed again and trusted the doc or midwife who told me a c-section was necessary,and then treated me well, I wouldn’t grieve the way I have this time. But yeah, I might still grieve a little. Everyone would rather have a happy story than a traumatic one, right?

    I don’t believe in a perfect birth, I just think there a lots of ways it could be better. I’m glad yours were handled well and that you and your kids came out healthy!

  3. you didn’t alienate me, lol. i read almost every post you write.

    i think that your ability to be so eloquently vocal about the type of birth you experienced, and all your observations and feelings relating to that, is invaluable to the female community.

    i hope that, given your experiences, you will have an opportunity somewhere, somehow, to make a difference in the system that has mistreated you.

    p.s. your son is so adorable. i’ve enjoyed seeing his pictures. 🙂

  4. ((blushes))

    thanks, rachael…


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