It is a miracle. One day you are used to the silence of your home. You return home and the silence is there, any time, waiting to be filled with thoughts. Thoughts everywhere. Suddenly, you give birth to a child and time is not yours anymore. For the time being, nothing is yours anymore, except this helpless child. This child is yours, and for some reason, it is enough. Your heart is content. This child is you.
Being a mother to a newborn is like giving your body and soul to someone else. I used to sleep 14 hours/day when I was pregnant. Now I consider myself having had a good night’s sleep if I can manage to sleep 4 uninterrupted hours. All of this comes with endless smiles. It is the most paradoxical experience I have ever been through.
I still recall the birth itself. The miracle of life. I felt every moment of it — zero pain relief. At six months postpartum, I better write it down now since I feel my memory slowly forgetting everything. The first thing I did in preparation for the birth after the positive pregnancy test was follow a friend’s advice to watch the documentary The Business of Being Born. It explores the healthcare systems’ over-medicalization of childbirth: treating childbirth as a medical emergency rather than a natural process. Our contemporary healthcare systems and gynaecologists are very proficient at introducing unnecessary interventions (like induced labour to speed up dilation which can cause unnecessary pain that has mothers begging for epidurals) instead of allowing the mother to slowly and gradually arrive to full dilation and push the baby out with full control. Over 90% of births today occur with interventions. (Interventions are sometimes necessary — and in that case one cannot argue against them — but I believe most of them happen for the convenience of the healthcare system over the mother.) This is more of a problem in North America, where most mothers choose a gynaecologist to follow up on their low-risk pregnancies. Elsewhere in the world (e.g. the UK, Europe, and Japan), midwives are still the norm, since they are more experienced in no-complication deliveries. The documentary shows how medical students of gynaecology have never actually attended a normal delivery that has no complications! Thus, they are only experienced to deal with deliveries when things go wrong. They do not have the time nor patience to help a mother through the slow progressions of labour. This is why I decide to follow-up with a midwife, who does the same routine tests as would a gynaecologist and consults a doctor if things appear abnormal. In the world of midwives, I am not a patient, nothing is wrong with me: I am an expecting mother, with feelings, desires, and a brain that can make informed decisions about what I want and do not want. My own mother, who is a gynaecologist, knows what happens behinds the scenes in OB/GYN departments and advised me to go with a midwife.
In preparation for birth, I started searching for different birth philosophies. One cannot really control what will happen during delivery and medical emergencies do happen. But I firmly believe that mothers can control only ONE thing that can be detrimental to their experience of birth: their attitude. I read a bit about hypno-birthing (no, it is not hypnosis during childbirth) and the fear-tension-pain rule. The idea is that a mother should be as relaxed as possible going into labour (be in a low-lit room, play soft relaxing music, enjoy a warm bath) since this will help her muscles un-tense and therefore feel less pain during dilation and pushing. You can imagine how much this contrasts with the exaggerated image of a hospital childbirth (thanks to Hollywood), where a group of people you’ve never met are telling you to push in a room that is also unfamiliar to you. While a home birth is the ideal place for a mother’s relaxation, I did not want to take the risk in losing time transferring to a hospital in case something goes wrong — especially since it is my first baby. I decide to follow up with a midwife and have her with me at the hospital. The best and most useful thing I packed in my hospital bag was a positive attitude and no fear. Some mothers who are following hypno-birthing programs actually wear buttons that say “NO BIRTH HORROR STORIES” in their attempt to be positive about childbirth and avoid any person who feels like they can just narrate their own negative experience to an expecting mother. My husband and I also read an excellent book in preparation: The Birth Partner.
The labour room was pleasant enough, with lots of natural light and large windows overlooking the city. There was a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom, but it was too late for me to use anything in the room since I arrived to the hospital at 10 am fully dilated — it was time to push! I woke up that day at 6 am to some pain, which kept escalating. My husband tried to time the contractions and kept calling my midwife, and she told us to wait until the contractions where 3 minutes apart. We waited until I started vomiting with every contraction! We then decided to leave a voice message to the midwife that we’re going to the hospital. On the five-minute ride to the hospital, I could not sit straight in the car and a nurse from the hospital called my husband asking him to not forget the baby car seat (we already did, too late). She then asked to speak to me. I took the phone, muttered a ‘hello’ and threw it on the floor.
Once we entered the labour room, I collapsed on the bed. In between pushes, my husband gave me fruit juice and water for energy and hydration. At one point, my midwife tells me, “Lina, I’m going to pour medical-grade olive oil, ok?” She pours an entire bottle and the student midwife starts massaging my perineum. “We can see the head!” “Keep pushing!” “Now stop pushing. Push slowly.” “Take a deep breath.” “Lina, would you like to reach out and feel the head?” WHAT? I thought. (I actually reached out to feel the baby’s head at one point and this gave me the motivation to continue pushing — that they weren’t actually lying to me when they said they could see the head.) I could see the clock in my peripheral vision. Two hours had passed. I screamed on the last push, my mother caught the baby, then felt the best feeling in the world. No, I’m not referring to being a mother. I’m referring to the greatest rush of hormones that had me on a happy high. That’s it? This is what mothers have been doing all these centuries? My curiosity has been settled.
They placed my baby on my chest, skin-to-skin, right after he came out. (Skin-to-skin helps regulate baby’s body temperature.) He was very calm. I could see his little curious eyes searching. Four hours after baby’s birth, I was dispatched and returned home with a new human being. A miracle!