After being 1 week overdue, I’ve spent the last 2 days in and out of labour. Its started and stopped, cranked up and slowed to nothing, disappeared and left me weeping.
“I’m REALLY not sure this baby is EVER coming” is what I remarked through tears to my husband, to which he answered “you know that’s not true, she is coming”. Did I know that? No. Seriously, I didn’t. I know that makes no sense, I know that rationally its impossible to stay pregnant forever, but what I couldn’t put words to was the feeling of dread, the irrational fear of my body not working, of my baby ‘not working’ and of being stuck here indefinitely. Stuck here, sore and tired and weepy and in some ways mourning the ‘loss’ of a baby I thought I was having yesterday.
What the actual fuck? I’ve birthed easily before, I assumed this child would ‘practically fall out’. I’ve done ‘everything’ this week. I’ve journaled, I’ve booked induction, I’ve done acupuncture and chiro, I’ve had massages, I’ve opened up to my husband and birth team, I’ve faced the fears and beliefs, I’ve rocked, I’ve danced, I’ve walked and done stairs, I’ve got ‘into my body’, I’ve connected down to my baby….and still I’m here, with a body not ‘working’ and a labour not progressing.
There was a niggling fear running through my mind – this is the first birth I’ve focused waaay less on the birth assuming I would ‘knock it out of the park’ and more on the baby, have I shot myself in the foot? Last time I wanted to enjoy an excruciatingly long labour and I got a baby within 10 minutes. This time I wanted a baby, not a labour and guess what I’m getting? An excruciatingly long labour.
When Bridget would hint at ‘you have to face a lot of yourself to even be in hospital’ I would bristle because I thought I had already. I thought in being pragmatic about my choice to birth in hospital, in being empowered and educated on the intervention cascade, on being willing to own my voice in an institution, being willing to step into the ‘pain’ of waiting, that I had indeed faced my fear.
Today though, another layer became clear to me and I realised how much I had constructed around birth and my identity.
Today I’m a sobbing, weeping, wailing, depressed and resigned mess. I can hear my internal dialogue berating me for “putting people out” yesterday when I called in my birth team and arranged care for my kids ‘all for nothing’ – for a labour that went ‘nowhere’. “I feel like such a drama queen and I feel like a fool” is what I said to my husband last night before bed. “What am I missing??! What am I NOT doing??!” etc. Of course he was quick to remind me that no one is judging me, no one thinks I’m a fool or a drama queen and I needed to be kinder to myself. I pretty much gave him a big fat “whatever”.
But where did these belief’s come from? Why wasn’t it ok for me to “put people out”? Why was it ok to ask for help ‘in these circumstances’ but not ‘in these’? I thought I knew how to ask for what I needed. In fact I prided myself on ‘how far I’d come’ in being able to connect with what I actually needed, even when that felt uncomfortable, and then to ask for it or seek it out, but here I was unable to let myself of the hook for asking for what I needed.
As an adult ‘parentified child’ I’m used to care-taking, it’s a ‘natural’ and comfortable state of being for me, but what a child like this learns is how to shrink your needs to be so small they are invisible and therefore won’t burden mum (or whoever), when they have so much going on already. So did I really know how to identify my emotional needs and to ask for the care-taking I needed??
Knowing this ‘fallback’ position, I pushed myself one step further into the discomfort of asking for emotional support. I messaged this to my Blessingway tribe:
“I’m calling on my Blessingway ‘crew’ to light your candles whenever you think about it this week. After 7 days over and labour that starts and stops, I don’t even think I’m a basket case anymore, its highly possible I AM the basket. I now need help to ‘be here’ and/or find the “why”, and get through another week. Thank you for all the love, thoughts and generosity you bring to my life xxx”
I received some beautiful messages back, all offering love and support and encouragement to keep going.
I received a couple of phone calls, but being too much of ‘train wreck’ at that point in time I didn’t answer them.
Then 15 minutes later there’s a knock at my door. I tentatively walked to the front door, half scared to open it, half knowing already who it was. “It’s just me Jules” a voice called from the other side and opening the door I was met by my very special friend from round the corner with arms out wide. I fell into her arms, a weeping, blubbering mess and I let her see it all.
My husband was out with the older two at sport, my youngest watching Netflix, so we retreated to my bedroom where she just held my space and let me cry and rant. She started with “I feel like there’s something you’re holding back, that’s why you think you’re the basket, you’re still carrying it”….”I don’t know!” I wailed exasperated. I couldn’t’ argue her logic, its exactly what I would of, and have, said to many clients before, but I didn’t’ know what was left!
“What’s your biggest fear?” she pressed. “Intervention” I responded.
“Why?” she asked. “because I’m scared I’ve made the wrong choice, that by putting myself in an institution built on intervention, I’ve ended up with a birth of intervention. And I know that even if I got there I’d be empowered, I know I have the answers and the rational deliberation before any choice was made, I know that at each step of intervention, if I got there, it would be because I’d tried everything else and this was the next step and therefore it would be ‘right’. And I know that if I ended up here I’d gain more wisdom and insight and that all of it would ultimately be ‘perfect’. I know that up here (in my head), but I just don’t feel it in here (my heart) and honestly, I don’t want to end up there. I don’t want to…..” now flooded with tears I couldn’t finish my sentence, so she finished it for me “you don’t want your baby taken from your body, you don’t want a ceasar”…. “yes” I nodded before the next wave of tears overtook my body.
There it was.
This was the deepest fear I couldn’t connect with.
This was what my body was feeling when I said “I seriously don’t know if this baby is ever coming out of my body” – what it was hiding was my biggest fear of having my baby taken from me because I couldn’t do it on my own and beyond that, that my baby would feel abandoned by this separation. Not ‘reality’, but my childhood story. As a “motherless” child, I had built a whole life around my identity of being present, of doing it on my own. So if I couldn’t do it on my own, if I couldn’t meet my child’s need; who was I? My ego would take a beating and my identity as I know it would be shattered.
All of this hit me at once, like a lightning bolt of ‘download’ and insight. My beautiful friend, mother of four, woman of 1 natural birth and 3 Caesar’s wept with me. There are no accidents. I was reminding her of her with her second and she had the wisdom I needed to hear.
“You know Jules, when I look back I feel so sad for the days I feel I lost in my sadness; mourning my natural birth and feeling like I’d failed myself and my son. And you know what I realise?
The joy you have with this child over a lifetime, this one moment in time is but a blip in it.
I wasted more time in my grief and anxiety about the ‘birth gone wrong’ than I did in enjoying my new little baby. So you know what I would tell myself now if I could go back to then?
I would tell myself 'it’s all going to be ok, you’re going to be ok and this is just a blip in the whole spectrum of love and joy you’ll have with this child – so be here, own your voice and make this yours, bring the love that’s missing. I would tell myself what I’m telling you because no one was there saying it to me – you’ll be ok, this will be ok'".
We spent the next 2 hours talking about her Caesar experiences, what she’d learnt, how she felt about her births, culminating in her loved up, beautiful birth of her fourth – the birth she managed to take all the lessons from her previous 3 and apply, and her Caesar birth of her fourth was the most connected experience she’s ever had.
I’ve said this before, that “you can have a beautiful Caesar” – but this was the first time I really felt it. It was the first time I could really hear a woman's experience of a different type of birth and feel the divinity within it. Full of intervention, full of everything I was afraid of, here she was with a story of incredible love and connection. How had I ever judged that before??
I was starting to feel my body let go, let go of the fear of ending up here because I could see the love and I could transform my view of connection.
As a parting question, I asked her what advice she would have for herself about to enter her second birth, or for me should I end up there? She answered with this:
“What do you need to reduce the sterility and bring the love you want your baby born into?”
I instantly thought of how I would do this – owning my voice about what I needed in this birth, asking for quiet, playing music, bringing my baby’s blanket in with my husband, watching her birth, bringing my birth photographer etc. And then I felt my body let go, a sort of heavy sigh. I still felt tender, I still weep when I think about ending up here, but my tears now have the resonance of love and surrender, not shame and blame.
So this is how I’m meeting my hospital experience – how do I reduce the sterility and increase the love I want my baby born into?
When I hold this vision, I can feel my body melt and I know I’ll be ok. Even if I end up exactly where I never thought I would, I’ll be ok. If I stay at home longer, if I have a baby at home, on the way to hospital, in an induction or a Caesar, I’ll be ok – we’ll be ok – because I am strong enough to create the love that is needed for both of us.
Thank you to my beautiful friend who had the willingness to share her deepest vulnerabilities with me and meet me exactly where I needed.
As a side note: I went into labour later this day. I'm still convinced it was this very conversation, that led to the 'missing link' in my transformation that allowed my psyche and my body to open to birth. In the end, I had the most magnificent completely intervention-free hospital water birth.
I met my daughter in the warm dark water that night and was overwhelmed with the magnitude of love and the pain we travel as we wait for each other in this most spectacular of mother-child dances.
You can hear my birth story in our Podcast "Julie's Birth Story" and see my birth story in photographic images on Facebook.
Julie Tenner is Co-founder of Nourishing The Mother and is The Pleasure Nutritionist. Julie is a Naturopath, specialising in women’s and children's health, with specific focus on awakening women to their full potential – health for the mind, body and soul – creating lasting life change for you and your family by “coming home” to your magnificence.