Friday, August 26, 2011

Preparing for Joyful Birth - Making Peace with my Soul

Welcome to the First Carnival of Birth Reflections

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Birth Reflections hosted by Patti at Jazzy Mama and Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Participants are writing posts that reflect on how birth has transformed them into who they are today. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


This is the third post in a series I have written about healing from trauma and preparing for a joyful birth. In my first post, I published the original birth story I wrote in the weeks after SchoopyBoy's birth, and wrote that things had been left unsaid - things that caused me to feel guilt and shame. In my second post, I wrote about making peace with my body after developing pre-eclampsia and then having two consecutive miscarriages. In this final post on birth reflections, I want to talk about what I experienced during the birth, how it impacted bonding with my newborn, and how I am preparing for a more joyful birth experience this time.

Throughout my pregnancy with SchmoopyBoy, I felt that if I needed an emergency cesarean I could live with it because I trusted my care provider and believed it wouldn't be done unless truly necessary. The one thing I had wanted to avoid with all my heart was a chemical induction, which is exactly what I was facing due to my pre-eclampsia diagnosis. I checked into the hospital with dread. My (extraordinarily opinionated and manipulative) childbirth educators had virtually drilled into my head that an induced labor was nothing more than hours of tortuous pain followed by an inevitable cesarean. I strongly considered bypassing the several hours of tortuous pain and requesting we go straight to cesarean, since I figured that was the inevitable outcome anyway.

I actually tolerated the induced labor well – until the bag of waters burst. Wow, what a difference that made! As I wrote in my original birth story, I thought I was less than 4 cm dilated since the balloon inserted behind my cervix had never fallen out. I didn’t think I could handle the pain for an unknowable number of hours, so I requested an epidural at that point. It was during the preparation for the epidural that I found out that I was in transition, at 8cm. My childbirth educator had sat in front of a room full of expecting first time parents and told us that transition only lasts 15 minutes (not that it may only last 15 minutes for a lucky few, but that it does last approximately 15 minutes). I thought I could tolerate the pain for only 15 more minutes, declined the epidural, and set to work.

I was not one of the lucky few with a 15 minute transition. I lost track of time, my head and body reeling from what it was experiencing. At some point, after almost 2 hours had passed, I figured it had been more than 15 minutes and cried out "Why is it taking so long?!” When my doula answered, “It takes as long as it takes” I knew I had been lied to, and was livid.

After another hour of pushing, during which time the intense pitocin-fueled transition contractions never let up, the doctor became alarmed at the baby’s dropping heart rate every time I pushed, and so initiated an emergency vacuum extraction.

Let me make this entirely clear. No living creature should ever experience having a baby ripped out of her nether region without so much as an ibuprofen. Seriously. No one. The sensation is Un.Real.

Having several hours of painful contractions that rated 11 on a pain scale of 1 to 10, culminating in a vacuum extraction left me… in shock. Literally. They immediately placed my baby on my chest, but I could not move. I could not breathe. I felt only a weight on my chest and horror at what my body had just endured.

The only thought in my head was “It’s still not even over. I still need to birth the placenta. What pain still awaits me?”

I finally calmed down enough to realize that I ought to at least look at my newborn son. The only thing I could move were my eyes, which had been staring ahead, seeing nothing. My eyes turned down and I saw blood on my baby’s face. I knew it was my blood. I knew it meant that I had either torn or had an episiotomy, and that I would need stitches.

The thought that ran through my head was “Oh God, it’s still not over. I need stitches too. When will this torture be over? I just want this torture to end.”

Did I mention that my newborn baby son was on my chest this whole time, and all I could think of was “Good heavens please just let this torture end”?

Where was the overwhelming flood of maternal love? Where was the exquisite tenderness? The immediate bond of falling in love with my child the moment he exited my body?

I could not feel any of it. I was so traumatized and in shock over what I had physically experienced that I was unable to bond with my own baby.

What the heck was wrong with me? Here I had just become a mother, my first born child lying in my arms across my chest and all I could think about was my own physical pain? What kind of mother was I? And if my maternal instinct had failed at this most significant of moments, what kind of mother could I possibly hope to be? As far as I could tell, I had no maternal instinct. First my body had betrayed me by developing pre-eclampsia, and now my soul – that which made me ‘maternal’ failed me.

Postpartum depression followed in the weeks after SchmoopyBoy’s birth. I didn’t trust myself. I kept repeating “I have no maternal instinct. I don’t know what to do for this baby, how to respond to him, how to take care of him. I can’t do this.” I think I loved him, but I wasn’t in love with him. He was a great scary bundle of need, and it terrified and overwhelmed me.

The happy ending to this story is that of course, it did get better. It took somewhere around 8 weeks – about the time it took my body to heal – for me to realize one night as I was nursing him to sleep how truly, deeply, and tenderly I loved him. I started to feel more competent and trusting in myself as a parent.

Today, I can gaze upon his sweet sleeping form and feel so full, such deep and poignant love, that the feeling overflows from my body and spills out in tears.

But guilt remains. And shame remains. I couldn’t bond with my baby. I couldn’t love him the way I was supposed to. I was too self-centered, too focused on myself.

I don’t want another birth experience like this. I can’t stand the thought of going through that torture again. A torture so acute that I cannot bond with my baby.

That is why I freaked out when my doctor once again expressed concern about my blood pressure and put me on medication a couple of months ago. My brain buzzed and hummed No No No Not again. I cannot go through that again. Fear and dread overwhelmed me.

I am lucky to have a great doula team. One, an apprentice midwife, had a similar experience. Her first birth was a cesarean, her second was a pitocin-induced VBAC, and her third was a midwife assisted home birth. She tells me that, according to her experience, the worst of the natural contractions doesn’t come close to the most mild of the pitocin contractions. Her greatest fear is that I will be looking for those intense pitocin contractions, and won’t realize that I’m in labor until I’m in transition, and she and her partner will barely get to me just in time to catch a baby. Ha-ha, the unassisted home birth I never planned!

It was also my doula that suggested, as she reacted to my telling her of this birth experience, that I might be suffering from post traumatic stress as a result of a traumatic birth experience. It was she who emphasized the need for me to forgive myself, that trouble with bonding after a traumatic birth is not uncommon.

So here I am, preparing to birth my second child with joy. Learning to forgive myself – forgive my body for developing pre-eclampsia in the first place, and forgive my soul for reacting to physical trauma in a common and normal way. Writing and sharing my stories to find healing for myself and encourage healing in others. Practicing gratitude for all the joys in my life. Repeating positive affirmations – “I welcome my baby with happiness and joy” so the fear and dread have no room to breathe and are crushed out of existence among all the positive and joyful energy engulfing me.


Carnival of Birth Reflections

Visit Jazzy Mama and TouchstoneZ to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Birth Reflections!


Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


  1. Writing honestly about your experiences is so brave and it opens up a world of support from others. For me, it is comforting to know that while my situation may have been unique, the way I felt about it afterwards was not. Being able to read other mothers' birth stories has made a tremendous impact on my ability to forgive myself. Thank you for sharing.

    Leah @ Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. Best wishes for you as you continue to heal and strengthen others on their journeys.

  3. Thank you for being so honest and brave in sharing your heart. Many blessings to you as you prepare for a healing second delivery!

  4. Shana, after having two hospital births with Pitocin and then a natural homebirth, I can honestly say that natural contractions are NOTHING like Pitocin contractions. Your body would never be that cruel. Best wishes!

  5. Oh, Shana. Thankyou so much for sharing this story in the first Carnival of Birth Reflections. Your honesty and insight is beautiful and raw.

    I think that your positive affirmation is SO IMPORTANT. Also, the visualization of your strong, capable body pushing your babe out.

    Joy to you and yours,

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your truth for the Carnival. I can see your bravery and your love. That darn mom-guilt gets in the way and blocks.

    You can do this and you will. Accepting fully and embracing those feelings with compassion. Loving yourself as unconditionally as you love your child. You deserve it. I'm here to extend and hold a hand if ever you need it.

    Reading you previous posts on your birth story and making peace with your body, I can see you are well on your way to accepting what comes with love and self-compassion.

  7. Wow! Wow! Wow! I love your brutal honestly. Soooo many mamas go through traumatic births and are deeply afraid to share and release the pain through words! Talking about it and forgiving yourself is certainly the best way to bring about healing.

    I have known a mama who could not bond with her baby. It took months and the guilt she still deals with is so very sad. I am sharing your post so she can see that she is not alone. I think your words will help her let go of all of that guilt.

    The most important thing is that you intend to change both your mindset and your birth experience this time around! You sound like a VERY strong mama and I wish you so much love and peace as you gently experience birth and bonding!

  8. Shana, I am glad I came to read. I appreciate your honesty also, and willingness to move towards experiencing birth in a new way. To me, fear is a signal - of pain or doubt that asks for attention. It's not the bad emotion many make it out to be. Soothed by love, it is a valuable marker of something we can tend to and learn from.

    Maybe sitting in relaxation or meditation (if you're not familiar, try this: while thinking through either the last birth or the upcoming one, while feeling what you feel will allow you to look into the fear a bit and consider what you would do in the "worst" of a situation. It can be intense. And it can be healing.

    Again, I appreciate your sharing and look forward to hearing about your next birth. :)