Yesterday morning I gathered with a group of mothers to share stories of courage. We were also invited to share an object that represents courage to us to be placed on an altar created for our Waldorf school’s Michaelmas festival. I brought a small, ceramic mother and child.
My story centered on the courage needed to be a mother. For me, even the becoming, especially the becoming, took so much courage. My first child’s birth was an unexpected c-section and our time in the hospital was traumatic. I only just recently admitted the depth of my depression that first year as a mother. I felt broken open and lost. I slowly had to rediscover myself and I feel that process is still happening nearly 11 years later.
My VBAC preparation for my second child’s birth was as much the difficult inner work I had to do to face my fears as the challenges in finding care providers who would support me on this journey. It was a path of deep healing from my first child’s birth and a recognition of the trauma that my mother and grandmothers also endured in birth. And a hope that there was a different way. My planned birth center VBAC became an unexpected home birth. There was fear of my birth plan once again being radically changed but I was surrounded by people who whispered messages of courage into my ear.
We planned a home birth for my third child. And once again I was asked to have courage to allow life to play out not according to my plan. Labor was so quick that my daughter was born before my midwife could arrive. My husband, two friends and sleeping boys were there as she slipped into the world.
I continue to call on this courage in mothering. Courage to let go of my plans and allow the lives of my children to unfold in their own way. Courage to recognize when I don’t have the answers and to let others help support me as a mother. Courage to witness my children struggle. Courage to witness my own struggle. Courage to try again tomorrow.
“Motherhood is always an act of courage.”
– Stacy Schiff
Vanessa, thank you so much for this, your sharing of your birthing stories is beautiful and powerful. You have inspired me to share too. I realize that I have never written any of my story down. Our stories are meant for sharing, for empowering, for acknowledging.
I felt, and still feel, that for me, giving birth was savage. It was raw, bloody, painful and felt like somewhere between life and death.
I remember waking from a nap and the bedsheets were wet. A month early. Oh no. A trip to the hospital. Inducing. And then, pain. Just, pain. I could never ride the wave of that pain, like I’d read so much about. I could just never get my head above water. I was in Hong Kong, in a public hospital. I remember lying on the bathroom floor, calling Kevin, with a jagged, “get here now. Please.” No cell phones were allowed in the ward. So I was hiding in the bathroom to call him. Kevin hadn’t been allowed to stay in the ward, he’d been told to go home. But I needed him, badly. My midwife was not allowed in the public hospital ward. I felt so very alone. I got myself back into bed and cried out for help. The ward was packed, the nurses spoke mostly Cantonese and I spoke all English. A kind soul beside me whispered, “tell them you want to push, they’ll come.” So I did, and they came. Then Kevin arrived, and then the epidural. So much for my “all natural!’ birthing plan. One nurse said “you gweilos” (gweilo means white ghost, slang for Caucasians) “all come in with your natural birthing plans, and look at you now.” Such a cruel statement when I was so very vulnerable.
After my miracle epidural, a fitful rest. And then, PUSH! “She’s not doing it right,” I heard another nurse whisper. WHAT? I am pushing with All my Might!! I thought to myself. But something wasn’t right. Jonah’s fetal monitor was showing his breathing stopping and starting. All eyes were glued to that monitor. And then, suddenly, a group of 20 hospital workers in the room, shouting, PUSH PUSH PUSH. The Chinese public hospital way! Kevin tried, ever so politely, to ask them to leave. I couldn’t have cared less at that point. I just wanted this baby, out! And then, out he came! With one eye crusted over completely, but, the other eye, trained on me. We saw deeply into each other. For one moment. One, precious moment with my son. But there was too much silence. And then, finally, WAAAHHH. And then, Jonah was pulled off my body – taken away to monitor his lungs.
The nurse carried on working the cord out of me. She looked up at Kevin and I and said, “you are lucky.” There was knot in the cord. A proper, big knot. I don’t like to think too much about what that knot could have done. I know we are so lucky, yes, so lucky. And I am so, so grateful. And I do think it was the wisdom of our bodies, both Jonah’s and mine, that got him moving out of me one month early. One month later and he would have been that much bigger and it would have been that much harder to come through.
Jonah stayed one week in an incubator. His lungs were fine. But that was one horrible week. I remember lying in my hospital bed, with a catheter after having had an episiotomy, and crying, just sobbing. All the other moms had their babies brought to them for breastfeeding and cuddling. My empty arms! And then we had to leave the hospital and go home –without our baby! That was a kind of hell. And, it totally messed up breast feeding. Another story.
I remember Kevin, dear Kevin, beside me, breathing, breathing, encouraging me, supporting me, whispering, push, push, push. Later he said he felt like he might be giving birth, too. I remember him whispering in my ear, “I have never seen you more beautiful than you are now.” At the time, I just thought you are crazy! I’d never felt Less beautiful in my life. I felt vulnerable, scared, exhausted.
I too feel I was depressed for about a year after Jonah was born. Mostly I felt in a state of overwhelm, all the time.
It’s interesting to me, right now in this moment of writing, that I feel shy to share my story. But I also feel it’s important to me that I do.
Kevin wrote our family after Jonah was born. He was in awe of all women, having been witness to and a part of Jonah’s birthing process. I remember him writing my sisters-in-law, “Ladies, you are so powerful, you could take over the earth. What are you waiting for?”
Oh, Karina, thank you for sharing your story. There is so much courage in vulnerability. I wish I could have been in the room with you so many years ago to offer you support and presence. I’m glad we can stand together now as mothers and as friends.