This weekend I had a lengthy conversation with my family, centering around my bittersweet birthing experience with Simon and my hopes for a more holistic, peaceful experience this time. The discussion was meaningful for me, as it was the first time I felt like my family gained some understanding of why aspects of Simon's birth were so hard.... hard to endure and hard to accept. Almost everyone listened to me, expressed their regrets that I had struggled so last time, and extended their wishes for a better go round this time.
Interestingly, my sister seemed to have the hardest time understanding my story and my point. She tried valiantly to mask it, but her true feelings were pretty apparent, just as they were over two years ago, when the wounds from my complicated hospital birth were brand new and tender: essentially, she thinks I should stop complaining. I had a healthy baby, and what injustices done to me by medical professionals could possibly matter in light of that fact? I was, initially, surprised that I could meet such opposition from the only other person in the room who had given birth vaginally. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have been.
My sister and I are different in many ways, and our perceptions of birth are no exception. Here allow me to note, briefly, our birth stories.
With Simon, I was induced after being diagnosed with preeclampsia. I labored for about 24 hours and finally delivered after having an iv narcotic (at the insistence of my doctor) and an episiotomy (despite my very clear request, "Please do not cut me"). Because of my condition, I lost many of the options I wanted to exercise during labor. Losing options is one thing ---I can accept that the restrictions I endured were for the safety of me and my baby --- but losing dignity is quite another. Throughout my hospital stay, I felt routinely disrespected. One of many examples: I didn't see my doctor until it was time to push, but she did find time to call me at several points to reprimand me for being too difficult and to badger me into taking drugs.
Now, I lied about my story being brief, but my descriptions of my sister's really will be. They might look longer, but, remember, there are two! I wasn't there for either, but to the best of my knowledge, this is how they proceeded: With her first, my sis had a picture-perfect hospital birth. Halfway dilated before she got there, her labor proceeded so quickly that the nurses had to convince the doctor that she really was ready to push and he really should come NOW. No drugs, just an episiotomy, but no big deal according to my sister. Her second birth was a whole different thing, as she was carrying twins and went into labor several weeks early. One twin was ready to come out; my sister was fully dilated when she reached the hospital. After over an hour of trying not to push, she was wheeled in for an emergency cesarean, because the other twin was laying sideways, wedged up under her ribs. Only a miracle of modern science would've brought that baby out alive, and that's exactly what happened.
Perhaps our distinct birthing stories will shed a bit of light on our different views of birth...
I think birth is a natural process and a rite of passage for many women. I believe that under the right circumstances, most women, if they so desire, can give birth vaginally and without foreign substances. I believe that women in labor can experience strength, empowerment, and joy. I also believe that a woman's birth experience can have a significant impact on her spirit.
My sister believes that labor is but a means to an end, but not especially meaningful in and of itself. Good or bad, it can be easily forgotten as soon as a healthy baby is produced. She also believes it is a risky business, and that doctors only use interventions when necessary.
My sister believes that any woman who wants to give birth naturally should be able to do it in the hospital. Any woman who is strong enough, that is. Any discomforts, distractions, or disrespect dished out to her can be overlooked, powered through.
I believe that most hospitals are not conducive to natural birth. I don't have any on hand, but statistics support me on this. I think something like 30% of women in American hospitals deliver their babies drug-free. And while I agree with my sister that women can overcome the challenges presented by a hospital birth, I don't think they should have to. I think they should be supported by sensitive and competent individuals, made to feel powerful and capable, and allowed to move through their labor as they see fit.
I have to stop myself here, as I could go on and on. Also, I feel like the points I've already listed are unfairly vague. Each deserves further exploration, in my opinion, but I know not everyone is as passionate about this topic as I am.
Of all our disagreements and misunderstandings, the one that irritates me the most is that my sister thinks that because I have a lot of negativity about Simon's birth, I must be disappointed in myself. Not so, my friends! Honestly, I'm quite proud of how I handled it all, and certainly proud of what I accomplished. My negative feelings are in no way directed toward myself. My anger is toward the hospital system, which makes it so hard for women to give birth naturally, and, more specifically, toward my doctor. I've often had daydreams wherein I kick her in the face before she is able to slice open my perineum.
I only hope that, if I had the chance to do it, I would. Good and hard. A better birth experience is what I deserve this time, and a nice nosebleed was, at the least, what she deserved.