Reflections On Birth & Letting Go
Somehow two years have passed since I gave birth to my son. Although I can hardly remember what life was like before becoming a mother, it still feels like the blink of an eye. Publicly I’ve shared very little about his birth. It almost feels too close to my heart to share. But at the same time, talking about birth is essential to healing the cultural wounding of birth. So often expecting families only hear of birth as a medical event- something that needs to be managed and subdued. But what birth really needs is to be spoken about from the mother’s perspective with reverence. Birth changed me forever. It’s a process of death and rebirth for the mother.
I had what you could call a home everything but birth.
During pregnancy I got the idea that my labour would be short. Although I was aware of the damage timelines put onto labours in the hospital setting, I failed to examine my own internal dialogue. I believed I would birth quickly because I didn’t fear birth. I believed I would birth quickly because I had a hands off midwife and was at home. I believed I would birth quickly because my mother did. I believed I would birth quickly because I was hiking until 37 weeks pregnant. I believed that birthing quickly was the goal, that fast births were better births. When I didn’t birth quickly I assumed something was wrong.
I didn’t realize that short labours can be just as difficult as long ones. I didn’t realize that because they’re hard and fast, the mind doesn’t always have the chance to catch up to the body. They don’t have the build up endorphins to ease the sensations like in a long labour. I didn’t realize that long labours were normal and healthy- especially for first time mothers. Birth takes time, and that’s okay. The problem is that people get tired. Midwives, doctors and doulas burn out. Burnt out people make different decisions. Burnt out people have less capacity to hold space.
Even though I was at home, the hospital had me on a clock. The midwives are required to notify the maternity unit when a homebirth mother is in labour incase of transfer. The idea of hospital transfer was far from my mind, until it was suggested in the middle of the night when things weren’t progressing. I had requested no cervical exams but in this moment I caved, I had to know what was happening. Finding out after all this time that I was only 3 cm dilated broke me. Although I felt sure of myself that I wanted to birth at home, a seed of doubt was planted in my mind. Are longer labours unsafe? Should I be in the hospital? Was I burdening my birth team by staying home?
I laboured alone for the rest of the night while my team slept. I sunk deep into myself while the power of birth shook me to my bones. This time spent alone was actually when I felt the most at ease. There were no distractions to pull me away from the sensations. It was just my baby and I working together to bring him earthside.
I walked under the moonlight. I did squats in the shower with hot water pouring over my back. I was determined to move things along. When morning broke I felt sure that my baby would be born soon, only he wasn’t. The hospital wanted another cervical examination. I was still only dilated 3 cm.
An internal exam determined that he was posterior and acynclitic, meaning his head was off centre so my cervix wasn’t dilating. My doula and midwife used a combination of rebozo sifting and counter pressure to manual flip him. In the depths of my belly I felt a thud, and suddenly it was as if the volume got cranked to full.
So often birth stories are reduced to the medical story. They’re based on the time spent labouring and pushing, or interventions used. But labour is more than numbers and what was done to the mother. That’s the outside story. The inside story of the birthing mother is far more complex. Birth is an altered state. It’s primal, feeling more wild than ever before. It’s as if the outside world and inner one merge. What happens in a mother’s birthing space has a profound impact. Every smell, every word and every sound has an impact. The mother is far from her rational mind.
My rational mind would have told me this was transition, my birthing mind told me it was death. With every cell in my being I believed that I was dying and I was scared. I demanded to go to the hospital. After all, if I truly was about to die I’d hope the hospital would save me. In accepting transfer, I accepted death. It was as if a part of myself let go. I had to accept death to give birth. But it wasn’t a hospital transfer I needed. What I really needed was to be told that this was transition and that I would be okay.
Not long after arriving at the hospital my son was born unmedicated into his father’s hands- just as we’d planned, only I felt totally disoriented and confused. I couldn’t wrap my head around how I went from labouring at home to birthing in the hospital. Through the internal death I experienced it was almost as if I withdrew from the process. I heard a nurse mention that a mother in a room over was pushing and I couldn’t wrap my head around how she got to that point. I certainly didn’t know how I did.
The thing with birth trauma is that it isn’t about the medical story, it’s about the mother’s story. A hospital transfer with no other medical interventions is so small, yet some internal process was disrupted at the core of my being. For mothers to process birth trauma, it means going beyond what was done to you and remembering what happened inside of you in that moment. It’s about remembering where that disconnect was created and finding away to return home to yourself. In that moment, I died to be reborn as a mother- a very confused and exhausted mother.
In that moment I realized something that was both basic and profound. There is no birth without death, they are really just two sides of the same coin. We’re all born and we all will one day die. Sometimes it even happens many times within one lifetime.
Supporting postpartum mothers involves unpacking birth trauma. It’s all too easy to look at birth from how it could have gone worse. But the reality is that a mother’s trauma matters. It will spin in the back of her mind until it’s resolved, until her experience feels whole again. As a postpartum doula, I’m here to listen with open ears.
If you have a story to share about your birth or postpartum experience, please contact me for a chance to be featured on this blog. I hope to create a container for mother’s experiences to be held with love and care.