I know lots of pregnant women right now. I am so excited for all of them. Squealing, practically, for a couple. In that face-achey, find yourself smiling at nothing, can tell your eyes are sparkling, could well-up in a sympathetic hormonal fug for them way you do when someone, or several someones, who you love have only gone and started growing a bloody person (or persons).
I am so thrilled and excited. And so hopeful for all of them about the nitty gritty path they have to follow, ultimately alone, but hopefully held by others, loved and supported and encouraged in that final fight for family: birth.
It is hard to know how frank to be, and I realize there were times, especially after Spider-boy was done when I simply answered things in a straight and graphic way when perhaps I should have been more coy. The devilment of too much detail. It can be a tough balance, especially when people ask you specifics about tears and contractions and pushing and placentas and you can’t easily offer reassurance based on personal experience. I find myself worrying about wording as I offer unsentimental but hopeful truths based on how and what things can and should and usually are like. And I remind them truthfully and honestly that I didn’t like it the first time, I wasn’t treated with much kindness and that made me feel awful, but I did it again.
The truth is I would, do it again, a hundred times for either lad if it were required. Of course I would. But I would tear off my own fingers if it protected them. I’d eat my face. All the blood and wrath and dread would be made real in a woman of steel if I was called upon to wreak destruction on myself to save them from something horrible. That is love. Blinding, untrue, unreal, dangerous, real motherlove.
My concern today is more that I find it harder than I thought to not still feel overwhelmed with sadness at how much my experiences of labour and birth rubbed out a part of me. I feel that for 19 hours with Spider-boy and 39 weeks with Newborn bits of me were stole and rubbished and judged and this made me bad and somehow made bad in me. It is a disgusting thing and threatens to drown me in self-loathing. Worse, I can tell my face gets tight and maybe I don’t sound as supportive and thrilled, as I am without measure, when I hear about friends being rightly and kindly and sensitively treated. And I don’t want to risk ever looking like some kind of fucked up schadenfreude woman, because I’m really not. I want birth to be as nice as possible for all women, if not empowering in its often slightly less than dignified squalling than not lifechangingly destructive.
As I thought about this I read a piece today about which featured the assertion that ‘the truth is that, so long as mother and baby are alive and undamaged, it can be counted a great success’. This is true, it is the holy grail, although I don’t love the piece it comes from as I think it is scary and personal but doesn’t admit that as much as it should. But wiser and better informed women than me can write about midwife shortages, the politics of birth, risks high and low, how those risks are calculated, how those risks can be wildly far from the mark, labour wards and home births. The debate is massive and fascinating and I am glad it is there. But in case anyone here is as troubled by birth daemons as me, I can at least offer the truth that I have found. My birth was a ‘great success’. Both my births were. I know this. But they did leave me broken physically, mentally morally. A fractured egg, loathsome in the fragility and need for care, and morally rotten in the all consuming rage which still travels through me and occasionally bounces out quite uninvited.
I really thought I was over the worst of my most horrible thoughts about birth. I thought I’d moved beyond any fear or worry or resentment as the year after newborn met its last quarter, as I’d kept writing here and trolling along to talking cures, looking around for ways of seeing things anew and bright and wonderous. That any symptoms of my reaction and response to my first labour and birth and aftermath, which had caused so much pain and destructive emotion, were now mere shadows and that the nonsense of mistakes and misdiagnosis and labeling and misfortune of my second pregnancy was behind me like my bump. After all, had I not, despite a Godawful pregnancy, had the perfect healing second experience? A super speedy drug free birth of a beautiful perfect baby? That often illusive, denied to many, soothing restorative second moment to rewrite the past and feel suddenly cured of my bad experience the first time…
Life doesn’t work like that though, or at least not always. And as with any other experience defined by pain and humiliation (heartbreak, loss, grief) I wonder whether it will always be with me.
I certainly enjoyed my second labour more. I enjoyed labouring at home, with my husband and my doula, I enjoyed the calm of it and being held and believed and comforted by those four warm, strong, certain arms. I felt something unearthly and intense and strange. I felt a total lack of control, but this time in a good way. A succumbing humming and buzzing through me as delivery drew nearer, a sense I was following a path with soft footfalls to pad through, supported by something bigger than myself.
I am aware, and have written many times, that I am bathed in that everyday but nevertheless miraculous good fortune. My stargazing son was delivered screaming to this world. Despite the force and surprise of his entrance and the long blue cord wrapped around his neck and belly after a frenzy of spinning he was alive, so beautifully and simply alive. I know this was the right answer.
But did that change the bottom rocking, woozy headed, sweaty palmed response I have to any thoughts about Spider-boy’s bloodier bow to the world? No. I still have a headache when I think about it. Mainly, because though time passes those moments, his delivery, following hours of lonely terror and mindless screaming, seems fixed in the now even though they were four years ago.
And in those moments, which return quite easily though they are over, I see that woman and am trapped as her. I watch those hours play out when I was alone and ignored, crawling down a corridor, looking a pool of blood in the hospital toilets and hoping for sanitary reasons it was, at least, mine. I recall the moment I stepped outside myself to watch the carnage because I had no place left to go, and the ghost of me I saw watching a writhing wreck and simply repeated a mantra of ‘the cannot be happening, I cannot be one of those women, I cannot be being ignored, I cannot be alone in this, any minute someone will believe me, or support me, or help me or be kind’. I watch it play out as still as the midsummer night it was and I am more than remembering. If I don’t sidestep any clues or reminders, if I let down my guard, I remember that along with plaintively wishing that I wasn’t really experiencing it, mainly I was thinking that we, we two, entwined and stuck together, would die.
I read that back and I hate myself. What a whining wretch I am. Me and Spider-boy did not die. He was born. He emerged. He screamed and snarled and settled only for me and Mr Thatwoman. He blasted through my shocked, unfeeling fortresses of fear and ensured that in year when my lips and face felt numb for the entire 12 months he was an insistent raging heat against my cheeks, burning to get inside my head, violently pulling my love from me to ensure we had each other however broken I was. I am the luckiest woman alive, for that.
And yet I can’t lose the nub of anger and outrage and loss and fury inside of me. It is like a shard of thick thick glass, sitting inside me, pushed right through my chest and down my belly. It is regret and sadness and fury at all the chances for things to be more held and contained and kind in both my first labour and my second pregnancy which were so unnecessarily torn and thrown away. It is cold but it makes my eyes bake and my face pinch. One false move, and it twists and cuts, it pulls me apart. It is an ugly, ugly thing: dangerous, deadly, deceptive. I am full of it and know it will tear my core to shreds if I let it. But can it be pulled out? Will it always be there? I don’t know.