The Myth of Labor
Let me tell you what I learned from the birth of my two daughters.
I planned a natural birth for my first daughter. I left my OB in favor of a practice of midwives, took all twelve weeks of our natural birth class (yes - twelve), did kegels like it was my job, blew up my birth ball and oh so patiently waited for labor to start. I trusted my body. Unfortunately at 42 weeks I was still only a “tight 1cm” and after 27 hours of dilating during three rounds of Cytotec, a painful foley bulb, and four hours of Pitocin, I “caved” to get an epidural and ended up with an emergency forceps delivery three hours later, a sick baby in the NICU, and a very nasty infection that had developed during labor. To say I was devastated at my birth experience is a massive understatement. (But thank God for epidurals - can I get an amen?)
Despite encouragement and positive affirmation from my close friends and family regarding my not-so-ideal delivery, I was suddenly keenly aware of how little I had to do with my labor. This wasn’t what I had planned. I didn’t choose to not go into labor on my own. I didn’t choose to not dilate and develop an infection. It just happened to me. Just like my college roommate’s scary fast three hour labor wasn't her choice: her body just did what it did, and she barely made it to the hospital. I felt like I needed to defend my birth story: I wanted an unmedicated birth. I wanted to go into labor on my own. I explained away my decision to get an epidural until I was blue in the face - but the only person I was trying to convince was myself. My body did what it did. I needed what I needed. Period. What happened had gone so differently from what I had planned, but ultimately it wasn’t up to me. I’m the type of person who always accidentally ends up with ketchup on her shirt, or trips right at the most embarrassing moment, and it felt like the same thing applied to my childbirth experience. It got fudged.
After my daughter was born, every time I saw a friend praised for her labor on social media, I felt passionate to defend all the other women who might be out there seeing those comments who had harder labors. I didn’t want those comments to make them feel little, because I knew how they made me feel little. Like somehow because my body didn’t “perform” as it was supposed to, that I wasn’t a “rockstar” or “champion.” I felt ashamed of my body for the way it handled childbirth. For fudging it. I would try to remind myself that a healthy baby was the ultimate goal in every birth, but truly - in the depths of my heart - only a small, honest part of me was grateful to it for giving me a healthy baby despite the way she got there. I was mostly just angry that my body didn’t seem to know what to do in the process.
I shouldn’t have been comparing myself to my friends in the first place, but I kept finding myself reliving my own disappointment after every new baby that was born.
Fast forward two years and I’m being induced with my second daughter, a few weeks early due to a complication with her umbilical cord. I wanted to try a natural childbirth again, but knew how unbearable contractions on Pitocin are and was fully resigned to getting an epidural when I needed one, like I did with Amelia. To my greatest surprise, by the time I was even considering an epidural I was already pushing and Bettye was born an hour and a half after my first contraction. I was floored. The entire experience was completely opposite of my first birth.
Bettye’s birth only further proved what I’d felt after Amelia’s. I worked harder during my first delivery. I had to dig deeper that time. It was surreal to receive the “rockstar status” comments that made me feel so small only months earlier, and yet I felt like I deserved them less. I felt like I cheated the system: my labor was only an hour and a half. What about the 33 hours it took me to push out my first child? Did that not count?
I realized between these experiences that beyond the decisions we make about how we’d like to have our babies (if all goes according to plan), ultimately we’re handed our birth experience. We can’t make our body progress. We can’t make our bodies go into labor (trust me, I tried every old wives tale out there when I was 42 weeks). The way our bodies respond to birth is out of our control, and it’s not that women with shorter or unmedicated births don’t deserve praise - it’s that we ALL deserve praise. Whether by c-section (planned or unplanned), unmedicated, medicated, water, home, hospital, short, long, early, late, hard or easy - our body grew a human being and that is something to be celebrated. I couldn’t make my body go into labor with my first daughter, but I didn’t make it birth a baby in under two hours the second time either.
So do me a favor. The next time you see that classic photo of a bare shouldered mama with a fresh pink baby on her chest (or any birth announcement for that matter), be sure to remind her of what a champion she is. Her body nourished and protected that child until birth and regardless of how her body “performed” during childbirth, she deserves a generous share of virtual fist bumps. You never know… she may really need it.
What was your birth experience like? Can you relate to Jill's first feelings of under performance and lack of control? And were you ever able to reconcile those emotions with closure? Please share in the comments below!