It’s been almost three years since the birth of my daughter, but sometimes I still cry when I think about how she came into the world and how I was treated during and after her birth. As a doula I’ve had to debrief my birth story. Talking about it and being listened to have been important parts of the healing process, but it was the acknowledgement of my suffering what finally brought some peace to my heart.
For a long time I felt misunderstood by those closest to me and alone in my sorrow, but above all I was angry with myself for not fighting for the birth I wanted for my daughter. Some people believe that it was the disappointment of having a caesarean (when I wished for a vaginal, unmedicated birth) what turned the birth of my child into a traumatic experience. But it was the lack of kindness, understanding and respect that I encountered during the procedure and postnatally what brought so much pain. Not only did they take my daughter away from me for three hours while they sewed me up and waited for the anaesthesia to fade away, but I also had to put up with nurses who pushed my baby’s head to my breast in an attempt to get her to latch on and wouldn’t help me bath her or change her even though I was recovering from surgery. Even though I felt helpless and heartbroken, the physical pain concealed those emotions for a while.
As soon as I was allowed to go home I shut everyone out. I become overprotective of my baby and wouldn’t let anyone take her out of my room. I limited visitors and spent my days in bed breastfeeding (successfully, despite having missed the golden hour and being forced to give my baby a bottle of formula the day after she was born because my milk hadn’t come up). Despite my family’s disapproval, I wouldn’t let anyone wake up my daughter from her dreams so they could hold her. Overwhelmed with love, I indulged in her sweet smell, holding her in my arms and having her at my breast all day. In the evenings I would sob, consumed by fear and regret. Night seemed to pour its darkness over me, weighing me down. Those episodes stopped a couple of weeks later, but what seemed to be the baby blues was the beginning of a long, silent grief.
Things got worse after I recovered physically. I had pushed aside the emotional suffering but I knew I had to face it in order to heal. The problem was I didn’t know how to get over the trauma. I couldn’t talk about pregnancy and birth or read a positive birth story without breaking into tears. I felt guilty and weak. I had prepared myself physically and mentally for birth by doing pregnancy yoga regularly and practicing breathing and relaxation techniques, but once again, I had let fear lead. I believe in my heart that if I hadn’t let the obstetrician pressure me and I had trusted my body’s wisdom, things would have been very different. Instead, I allowed others to dismiss my choices, and I accepted their disdain with resignation, hoping things would turn out for the best. There was no one to blame but myself. Or so I told myself. The truth is, the journey into motherhood is a vulnerable one and women need a lot of emotional and practical support in order to get through it in one piece.
Society has lost its admiration for the wonders of motherhood, but the birth of a child is full of magic. Pregnant women are like goddesses who should be worshiped and taken care of. The dance of hormones and the physical changes the body of a woman goes through in order to grow another life is a miracle, and we should all safeguard the integrity of this sacred path. Nowadays, a lot of new parents live far from their families and know almost nothing about how to take care of a newborn. On the other hand, the system fails to offer mothers the support they need during the postnatal period.
They say the birth of your baby stays with you forever, so taking the time to write a birth plan and surrounding yourself with people who will support you in your choices during and after the birth of your baby will make a huge difference. You might end up not having the birth you longed for but the experience can still be a positive one if your wishes are acknowledged and you’re treated with respect and compassion.
I still get angry with myself sometimes and I continue to feel misunderstood by my family, but I’ve made peace with my mistakes and I hold tightly onto my believes. I know that next time around I will choose more carefully, and I will let my heart and my body’s wisdom lead me through pregnancy and birth. I might not have given my daughter the birth I dreamed for her, but the pain has made me a more mindful mother and the emotional suffering has awoken a deep desire to nurture other women in their own journeys into motherhood. For that, I am truly grateful.