Since I started using Twitter I have met so many interesting and inspirational people. I'm not sure how Susanne and I became connected but I was attracted to her blog and read with mixed emotions the tales of her childbirth experiences. During my career I sat and listened to women who described their traumatic birth to me, and their world became mine for that time. I know first hand that childbirth can be transforming, empowering and has the potential to change communities. It can also be responsible for damage that resonates through whole families.
I invited Susanne to write a guest post for me.
I often view motherhood as a journey- one that has rugged paths and smooth sails, with howling winds and forks in the roads. I know it’s a cliché and an analogy that’s been overused, but I think there’s a very good reason for that. But what of childbirth?
Before my firstborn came into this world, before I even considered being a mother, I always just assumed things would work out. My body would know what to do. I trusted that a combination of medical professionals and my own natural instincts would be enough. But eight years ago that changed for me and my journey of childbirth hasn’t exactly gone smoothly.
My firstborn came into this world fifteen days past my due date. She was a pink little thing who mewled like a kitten when they plucked her from the hole in my belly and placed her onto my heavy legs for a moment. She turned me into a mother. She made me realise just how precarious life could be. She was perfect, but her birth was not.
Her birth set the seed of doubt in my mind and it was five years until we dared to do it again. I was convinced that my body would let me down again; I would be exposed as a fraud once more. My body didn’t know what to do, I needed another way out of this. I struggled to keep ahold of myself and my emotions and my mind became jumbled with
I wanted a c-section but I wasn’t allowed. They played on my mother’s guilt and told me that my baby was too small and would need special care if he was born too early. It was best to let nature take it’s course and allow my baby to be born when he was ready. I knew that; I knew he was safer inside me- oh, how I knew that. But they didn’t know that I was actually incapable of doing this the right way; they didn’t know my body wasn’t able to do it.
I know now that it wasn’t my body. It was my mind that lacked strength, clarity and confidence. I spent the entire length of my second pregnancy believing childbirth was a mountain to be climbed and endured, rather than an expedition to be embraced. All I could see was casualties and loss, when I should’ve been looking for achievement and celebration.
An elective section was reluctantly agreed upon and I held my breath until it was safe to believe it would all be ok. I changed tactics and focused on getting through the remainder of my pregnancy and into the safer realms of motherhood once more. Skip the childbirth.
And then they changed the surgery date.
And my body decided it wanted to have it’s say.
After previously failing to go into spontaneous labour, my body decided it wanted to have a try.
It was the day after my original surgery date, when my son should’ve been in my arms. He should’ve been safe and warm and wrapped in a blanket and feeding from my breast. I should’ve been breathing in the sweet smell of his skin and feeling his tiny finger curling around mine. I should’ve been reading cards and receiving flowers. I should’ve been feeling happy.
Instead I was terrified. My body surrendered to pain and confusion and panic. I was left alone to cry. I was left alone and I just knew that something was wrong. I was not listened to.
They didn’t listen when they insisted I was not in labour. They didn’t listen when I said I couldn’t do it. They didn’t listen when I asked for my c-section. They didn’t listen when I asked for help. They didn’t listen when I asked what was happening and I was shaking and crying and the room was silent and all I knew was that the beep beep beep of the monitor was silent... my son was dead.
They took me to theatre and they ripped my son from my body at speed. Afterwards, they tore the tube from my throat and put my son in my arms, but I was broken. This journey had taken me to the top of that mountain and tipped me over the edge, down to the bottom, all by myself. My arms were heavy and dead and my mind refused to relate this baby to the baby who had kicked me from within.
The rest is history. My son’s birth shattered my soul and pieces of me were scattered all over the floor. I spent months and months picking myself up again. And then to do it again.
Third time around I knew the path that childbirth could take and I refused to go there again. I survived the journey and I now know how wonderful it really can be. When they held my tiny daughter in front of me and she cried... I cried too. I cried for that baby who lost his mum for a while. I cried for that me, who lost herself for a while. I still cry for that baby who wasn’t wanted, who wasn’t loved, whose existence I wasn’t even aware of. He came into this world alone and his journey was rough. He almost didn’t make it. And how different it can be. I know that now.
So what of the journey of childbirth? It’s emotional. It’s exhausting. It’s dangerous. The end destination isn’t always marked clearly but I made it, in the end.
Throughout each journey, with it’s differently marked crossroads and varying landmarks, there has been one constant. The midwives. I don’t remember their names but I remember their faces so clearly. I remember the cool flannel held to my forehead and I remember the relief of having a strong body to lean against. I remember a kiss on my cheek, a whispered apology and a squeeze of my hand. I remember a smile. I remember a moment of feeling safe and cared for. I remember a cup of sweet hot tea, made without my asking to soothe my torn throat and I remember thinking I could never do this job. I remember every single midwife that came on my journeys with me; and now I know I could never do this job. I hope I said thank you, each time I made that journey.
I have so much gratitude to Susanne for sharing her vulnerable moments with me, and now you. Although Susanne’s memories of midwives were positive, the NHS and all maternity services workers whatever their grade, position or profession must listen and take heed; their actions and words matter. Thank you Susanne.
Susanne Remic is a teacher and a writer, and can be found here.
Photograph: Francesca and Flo