Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baby In Waiting

I was going to write about meatloaf today. Really.
But, Dear Reader, you are spared my musings about meat because something much more interesting has come up. One of my friends in South Carolina (shout out to Felicia) is mere days away from birthing her baby girl Abigail Jane, and she asked me about my experience at a birthing center. Birthing my daughter was simultaneously one of the most joyous and frustrating events in my life so far, which means I am going to blog about it. Saw that coming a mile away, didn't you?

BIrth, like weddings, first kisses, and many other social milestones, is a loaded pistol. We supply the ammo, in the form of expectations and aspirations for what the experience will be like, and hope it goes off in the direction we planned. Bullseye! A dream come true! Take a wedding. Sometimes we get so excited with the fulfillment of our own personal fairytale that we don't stop to ask where exactly we got our idea of what that day should look like. What do you mean I can't have a hundred doves released in unison at my exit, each bearing a single long-stemmed red rose in their beak? The wedding industry makes billions of dollars off women who buy into the pre-packaged fantasy of the Perfect Day and then spend the first five years of their marriage paying for it.

Birth dreams are even trickier. We have nine months to plan-- and sometimes panic-- for the arrival of this brand new person who is entirely dependent on us to make sure they get through customs okay. Sure, we know we have midwives and ob-gyn docs and husbands and family and friends but when the rubber meets the road, we're the ones pushing the baby out on D-Day. (Delivery Day, of course). The pressure is on to have the Perfect Birth, one that occurs without a hitch, without any messiness, and, for many women, without any pain. Dominant social and media images reinforce this fantasy with the In Depth Exclusive World Features of celebrity mothers who pose for glossy magazine covers, cooing over their angelic babies. They are graceful. Elegant. Thin. They speak in glowing terms of their Birth Experience and leave me wondering if they were actually even there for their own labor.

For those of us who see through the obvious birth propaganda, the Perfect Birth dream can be even sneakier. As you plan and prepare, the temptation is to focus on one certain type of birthing process as The Way the baby absolutely must be born in order for the birth to be that mystical, magical experience we've been told it should be.

My hopes for the birthing of my daughter were formed based on extensive reading I did about natural childbirth. I wanted to be strong, aware, and actively participant in my labor. I knew it would hurt, that it would be messy, and exhausting. I was okay with that. I didn't want to tear. Above all, I did not want medicine, whether for pain or otherwise, or any other unnecessary medical intervention. My husband and I chose to work with midwives that operated from a birthing center within a regular hospital, thinking at the time it would offer the best of both worlds-- midwifery service with a neo-natal unit just down the hall in case of complication. We took a natural childbirthing class. By the time the end of my pregnancy came, I was ready for anything--- except the news that the midwives wanted to induce my labor due to their concerns over my ability to deliver a large baby.
Looking back, I should have refused. Medically, both the baby and I were fine. I knew in my gut that I could have the baby just fine but I was a first time mom and they were the Professionals. We agreed to the procedure on the assurance that they would start with the least invasive methods of induction.

We showed up at the hospital, bright and early, with my suitcase full of all the labor helps I'd learned about in class-- music, castor oil, washclothes for compresses-- only to be met by a doctor and a nurse who did their best to convince me of a c-section. I could have thrown my bedpan at them. When my husband and I refused the c-section, they started me on pitocin, a common labor-inducing drug that is certainly one of the more invasive induction options.

Even though my childbirth instructor had told us that induced labor almost always required pain medication due to the severe intensity, we decided to hold off as long as I could and try to manage the pain using the techniques we'd learned in class. Of course, I couldn't use most of them because I was strapped to a bed full of machines-- none of which I wanted but at that point had no option. After several exhausting hours, the nurse informed me that if I didn't have the baby within a few more hours, the doctors were going to do a c-section on me whether I wanted it or not. An epidural, she said, would speed up the labor and allow me to still give birth vaginally. I agreed. Just before the labor deadline, I started pushing-- completely numb mind you-- and ended up with a third-degree tear. The last shred of my Perfect Birth Experience disappeared.

But I was holding my daughter. The moment I felt her head begin to emerge, as I pushed, all I remember is crying out my baby, my baby, over and over again. I didn't care how she got there; she was in my arms, already looking to nurse. I lifted her to my breast, awkwardly, and whispered her first Bible verse in her ear. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotton son....

As happy as I was to finally have my daughter, the deep-set disappointment in my birthing experience lingered. I felt inadequate, somehow a failure as a woman for not being able to follow my natural birth plan. I wondered if I was weak and spineless for not insisting on what I felt was best. Then it clicked...
no birth experience is perfect. I was holding onto my Perfect Birth Plan so tightly that I'd forgotten that God, in His sovereign grace, had a plan of His own that was far superior. He knew exactly the steps needed to bring Ember Rose into the world at the time He saw fit, in the way He saw fit.

So to Felicia, and anyone else with a Baby in Waiting, I'd say this-- certainly dream, certainly plan, certainly hope for the best birthing possible. But at the same time, rest assured that God's planning too, and be aware that His plan may look different. The birthing process, while important and beautiful (yes, I mean beautiful, even in the midst of the mess and the chaos), is just a journey. It's the destination that is really the point.

Tomorrow--- Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before The Trenches, and other thoughts on laboring.

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