Healing Birth Trauma: Reflections on the meaning of my different birth stories.
My second son Idrisa at three days old.
This post was first published on 27th July 2015 as a submission for The Birth Story Project where you can still read it and many other inspiring stories.
Both my sons were born at home.
Calm, Serene and blissful; my first son was born still sleeping into a pool and gave a gentle sigh for his first breath, to a delighted audience of four, myself, my husband and two lovely midwives.
Loud, raucous and exhilarating; my second was born in a hurry on the floor of my shower, crying on arrival for his first breath, to a delighted audience of one, me.
I began to wonder about these hugely contrasting experiences in a similar starting environment. Was it simply their different personalities shaping the way they came into the world? Their birth, their chosen start to life and me a willing co-creative partner. Certainly each entrance was a perfect fit for what each of my children needed and desired to experience. Still, I felt there was more, I felt that there was also a message for me. What I wondered was my side of the bargain? What was the gift for me in their birth stories?
Rewind to my own entrance into the world.
A stark contrast, according to baby me's perception. Born breech, with my mum in the unfortunately all too common recumbent beetle position, pushing against gravity was never going to be easy. My mum and me, we did brilliantly, right until the end when my stuck head needed to be eased out with forceps and I was immediately whisked off to a temporary abode by a sunny window in an incubator.
Gentle as the doctor was in his assistance, I found the experience to be deeply traumatic. Birth and the first hours immediately after are a potent time for imprinting
I constructed my version of reality around an unfriendly universe, separation, and abandonment. Stripped of my power and any say in what happened to me, I felt truly worthless, unheard and unseen. I doubted my ability to complete any task by myself.
Of course this was only a short blip in a happy, loving environment. But my expectations were set: Life is hard, People take over against your will, maybe you couldn't have done it anyway. Better not try.
As an adult I have been gradually unpicking, unravelling and replacing this subconscious programming.
As free as I became, on the approach to my second son's birth I felt my foundations shaking. I was terrified. I didn't know if I could do it. It didn't matter that I knew consciously that women are made for birth, that it is an entirely natural physiological function performed without drama by every other mammal in the animal kingdom. Or even that I had already done it once. There remained a persistent doubt.
Hold on a minute I hear you question? You've skipped to your second? Shouldn't the terror have come up with the first?
Well it did to a point. But as I have discovered the universe is pretty friendly, especially when you ask for help. During my first pregnancy fears surfaced and were released. I dug deep and cleared out all the blocks and conditioning I could find. I felt confident. I was rewarded by a delightful birth experience. I was on top of the world. I had done it!
So why the extreme terror during my second pregnancy?
The answer was revealed to me in my ongoing growth and transformation as a confident woman that threads through my adult life and two birth stories. My first birth experience was my first opportunity to really embody confidence deeply into my cells. The first visceral, lived in the body proof that I was not worthless and a failure as a woman. That actually I was an amazing and powerful woman.
However, having achieved one birth with assistance, (albeit rather hands off assistance, limited to one respectful and consented to vaginal examination and two giggling midwifes lit up by their head torch peering through the ripples of the pool to tell me of my progress.) I still didn't know if I could do anything on my own.
Step two along the path was learning that I could.
And I needed a different experience to fulfil that. One I could not foresee or second guess. My second son's birth perfectly met that need and put paid to the remnants of lingering doubt of capabilities as a woman.
I can pinpoint the shift in my being, to the last stages of the birth. At the time I was still, with some delusion, telling myself the labour journey had only just begun. We had planned a water birth for him too and the pool was to be my husband's main responsibility...
"I want the pool and there is no pool" I roared. Dimly aware that trotting off to move furniture and make space for the pool was no longer the best use of my husband's loving support at that moment, I was already too far gone for ordinary communication. But that roar of frustration released my agenda for the pool and something else took over. I knew and finally admitted to myself what my husband was as yet sweetly unaware. This baby was coming right now.
I retreated to the shower with a vague thought; warm water, nice. All my focus and energy was on the task at hand. Just me and my baby, cocooned in the shower cubicle and all else ceased to exist. I was no longer focused outwards, checking externally if what I was doing was correct. I was no longer handing over responsibility blindly to someone I perceived as more qualified and competent than me. Failure wasn't an option. Of course I was not thinking in these terms. I was barely even thinking at all in fact. I was living my experience of birth in communion with my son. And in the crucial final stages I did it alone.
The imprint of disempowerment exploded against my shower floor as my baby was born in a sudden whoosh of amniotic fluid.
I brought him smoothly round through my legs and sat down laughing in total euphoria at the enormity of the moment and at the expression on my husband's surprised face as he came running to my summons.
I did it alone. No assistance needed. Nothing.
There is still a delighted young girl skipping around inside me going, "Look, look everyone, look at what I did, you didn't know I could do that, did you?" and, "See, see," she says to the doctors who helped me be born, "I can do it after all."
My next step on the road? Well I don't know if there will be a third child or not, but I do know that my exploration of personal confidence is leading me to a place where I am so confident that even though I know I can do it alone, I no longer need to. That place is filled with laughing women in community and support, and in that place I am truly home.