How a birth can become a healing; a personal story.

In 1999, when I gave birth to my first child who was inconveniently posterior I pushed myself  through a 36hr labour with zealous determination. If anyone has ever experienced a posterior labour they will know that the pains are relentless, often not the kind that feel productive.

From the outside looking in, I had the birth that I wished for, a ‘natural birth’ at home, with excellent care from my partner and the midwives involved.  From the inside though I took months to recover.  I drove myself so hard. I forgot that there was even a baby coming at all, that it was about love, about my partner, and becoming a mother. With the intensity of the pain, I lost my softness and galvanized myself like steel. As long as my son’s heart-beat was traceable, I just had to see this through. I heard people whispering in the kitchen, wondering about my stamina which enraged me enough to fight on!

But why the battle though?  I see now that this ‘ battle’ was about  triumphing over my own birth. Proving to the world, that I could birth MYSELF naturally. Whatever it took, I was NOT going to falter. On and on to the same music while everyone was collapsing. I was a lone warrioress. As well as forgiving myself, as I totally depleted myself in the process, I have to fully forgive and embrace some others as well. 

I was sixteen when my mother first told me how I was born. She looked away from me as she told me that she had had to have an emergency c-section with my brother. The longitudinal incision was life-saving as he was overdue and the waters had broken a week before. Eighteen months later when it was my turn, it was decided that it would be safer to open up the same scar. As a theatre sister and doctor’s wife, my mother told me she felt ashamed and humiliated about the way the ‘babies had to be born.’  She would have known the nurses and doctors, as friends and colleagues, which would have added to her embarrassment. She spoke of feeling a ‘failure as a woman’. I was angry and disturbed that my birth was linked to such feelings. We fell silent and as she turned up the volume on the television,  I felt as though I was drowning in failure and shame.  Sadly at this time, I wasn’t mature enough to offer her any comfort; I became the baby who was lost and disconnected. 

Many years later in 1990 when I began exploring the lasting impressions that our own births can have on us, I began to see how my early birth impressions were influencing my life, relationship with my mother and others (see this blog post). It was nearly as though I was wearing my birth story on my t-shirt and I wanted the world to rescue me! 

So although I am very proud of my son’s birth, there is a piece missing. I wasn’t even holding my son when I called my mother straight after the birth…I just wanted her to hear that women’s bodies can give birth naturally, that they are strong and designed for this. In that conversation I felt as though I was helping her heal some of her unresolved feelings.

As with all of these things there are layers and little did I know at this point that I would have to face an even bigger challenge in the postpartum phase. Back then I thought it was all about the birth, the event, the achievement. *See my blog on Post-partum care.*

So thank you fellow warriors for reading thus far and yes, of course I need to fully honour how transformative my son’s entry into the world really was. To complete the story, I want to firstly pick up my son and reclaim my softness as I hold him tight. I’m sorry I had to be so steely hard but we did it together! I want to fully honour my mother too and forgive myself for rejecting her when I heard about her feelings of failure. 

My mother and my first born

It can be a wonderful thing for birthing  parents to write their mothers a letter. This is mine.

Dear Mum, (Geraldine)

Today I want to celebrate your bravery. You told me so many times how you hated to be on ‘the receiving end’ of  hospitals, even though by all accounts you were an incredible theatre sister!  You lived through the death of your young brother, a war, an emergency c-section and a thousand challenges. I can only imagine how terrified you must have felt during my brother’s birth and then having to face into mine too. The big scar once again, feeling so on show, it must have been your worst nightmare. 

I am so sorry that you had no one to listen to you and help you after you gave birth.  Carrying those feelings alone must have been so painful for you, no wonder it felt so hard for us to laugh and fully connect. I see now that it was your feelings of failure and shame that I wanted to push away; not YOU. 

I am sorry too that when I cried so hard and so long as a baby, that you thought I didn’t want your milk.  That must have been soul-destroying especially when you were feeling so vulnerable. I know now that I was  angry that I was dragged out when I wasn’t ready and I didn’t understand why it had to be like this. It wasn’t about you at all. I know now that I was crying and crying to build connection with you. I am so sorry that I must have added to your feelings of inadequacy.

Today I thank you for doing your very best with the support that you had. We lived though that birth together and because of that you will always be by my side in my work with mums and babies. You were always brilliant with babies so calm and strong. I know that those feelings of shame and inadequacy didn’t start with you and not one bit of it was your fault. I am strangely proud of all that happened between us and when I picture your scar, I feel it on my own body too, as a badge of honour. I have even imagined that scar to be like a gorgeous amethyst crystal cave, a magical portal I had to come through in order to discover my own calling in life.

I am flooded with gratitude, I will never turn away from you again. Thank you for showing me the bridge back to you and for helping me soften more and more as a mum with my own growing family!

Your loving daughter, Sara