“So, did you have a good birth?” my friend asked. We hadn’t seen each other since we had both had our babies in the weeks before. I paused, unsure of what to say. I didn’t feel like getting emotional, knowing that she had gotten to have the home birth that she had planned. “No,” I finally replied, although that response didn’t seem to fully answer the question.
The birth of my son Theo did not go at all how I had hoped. I had planned on having a natural childbirth. I wanted to feel accomplished and empowered by my birth experience. I wanted a safe, low-intervention birth for my baby. And so I carefully chose a birth center with a midwifery practice, hired a doula, attended hours of childbirth education classes, practiced prenatal yoga, and read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. My back-up plan even included a hospital with one of the lowest c-section rates in the nation.
What I ended up with was an induction, a long labor, and a c-section. All told, it took 61 hours.
My story is not uncommon. Since Theo’s birth I have read countless stories of women’s plans for a natural childbirth shattering in the face of an unplanned surgical delivery. Many women feel shame or guilt. Many speak of grief for the birth experience they didn’t have. I have felt all of these things. And comments along the lines of “At least you have a healthy baby,” feel hollow. I am allowed to feel grateful that my baby is healthy while at the same time sad for the birth we didn’t get to have. His healthiness does not erase the grief over what happened—they do not balance one another out.
And yet, as I have slowly worked on piecing together the story of Theo’s birth, I am struck by how many sweet moments there were amidst the stress, worry, and disappointment of the experience.
I remember hearing my baby’s tiny first cry—so soft and sweet. I remember the doctors referring to my husband as “Dad,” for the first time. I remember the wonderful last anticipatory moments when I knew I was about to finally, finally meet him. I remember my baby getting placed in my arms and looking into his intense, gray eyes. After months of arguing that his nickname should be Teddy, I said simply, “It’s Theo.” And then we gazed into each others’ eyes, as if to tell each other, “So—it was you all along.” I remember introducing him to my mom, and trying to choke out the words, “This is Theodore.” I remember our first night in the hospital, with Theo in his little bed next to mine. I woke up every few minutes in disbelief that he was here—and that he was ours. And I remember how good it felt to finally bring him home.
I did not get what I wanted, but I got what Theo and I needed. My physical wounds have healed quickly, but of course, that’s the easy part. Processing and moving through the birth on emotional and spiritual levels—well, that work has just begun. The birth of our next child may help to ease the pain. Or it may bring it all back. For now, I find it most healing to focus on the sweet moments of the birth as well as those I have shared with Theo since.
So did I have a good birth? No. And yes. It was certainly unexpected. But it is our story. The story of how our little family came to be. It is a story to heal from just as much as it is a story to treasure.