Birth stories are captivating, entrancing, consuming. I have always loved hearing them and reading them. The doula part of me listens openly and with compassion, listening for the moment of power, which is always there no matter what the story and no matter what the outcome. People sometimes apologize to me for talking about their cesareans or their epidurals, and it makes me sad that they feel they need to apologize – I love those stories and the women who tell them just as much as any others. They have the same glorious power that all people who have given birth possess, and there are no degrees or levels. All birthing people have it and it is there in every story.
I became more interested in reading birth stories while we were trying to conceive and after I became pregnant. Naturally I gravitated toward stories that resonated with me and mirrored my own experience and my vision of my ideal birth. Home birth, birth after previous trauma, birth with midwives, vaginal breech birth, VBAC, and unassisted birth all drew me the most, but I read the others just as voraciously: the standard hospital births, the inductions, the inductions turned cesareans, the homebirth transfers, the CBACs, the HBACs, I read them all and truly loved them all.
I still do, but as my pregnancy goes on I am finding that I am less and less interested in reading the stories of others. I realized recently that this is because the VAST majority of them have a lot of things that I would never want, indeed that I would fight against. I’m not just talking about episiotomies and inductions, unnecesareans and epidurals. I find myself increasingly rejecting every small thing in my head: no, no, not that, not me. I don’t want to time my contractions. I don’t want to look at the clock. I don’t want to hear the fetal heart tones and I don’t want anyone announcing the exact minute and second the baby emerges, and I’d even prefer if the time noted down was approximate. I don’t care how much the baby weighs and I don’t think I’d include that info in my birth story. And I certainly don’t want anyone else to touch my baby before I do.
I find myself reading so many of these “natural” home birth stories where the woman feels a strong urge to push but the midwife will not “let” her until she has confirmed with her fingers that the cervix is dilated to precisely 10cm. Generally in these cases the woman is 9.5cm with an anterior lip.
The presence of strangers’ hands and fingers in the birthing woman’s vagina is euphemized by continuous proclamations by the storyteller of how many centimeters she “is.” Often labor progresses quickly and the midwife rushes in to catch the baby “just in time.” Midwives and others tell the woman what position to be in or whether to be in or out of the water. Even fetal heart tone checks seem to be done, or at least mentioned, far too often for my comfort as I imagine the doppler broadcasting the galloping heartbeat into the room. Obstetricians cannot ever wait for the placenta, pulling it out at first opportunity, and this even happens sometimes in home births.
I don’t want to criticize other people’s birth stories, so it makes me a little uncomfortable to be writing this. When I listen to others’ birth stories, I still hold them with love and without a shred of criticism, to embrace THEIR experience of it, and validate their power in a truthful way. And I think I can still do that while recognizing that my own power will come from a different kind of story.
In looking forward to my own second birth, I find my anxiety over the presence of others is still very strong. The first time, I labored powerfully for 6 hours and 50 minutes with no one telling me what to do, no one timing anything, no one touching me without my permission. I think my dislike of reading about even the smallest intervention is linked to my desire to create that kind of situation in my future labor and birth from the initial sensations all the way through the birth of the baby and placenta.
I wonder if I would feel differently if my birth attendants during my first birth had respected my body, touched me only with my consent and with care and love and gentleness, and had never screamed in my face. If my first birth experience had been devoid of violence and also full of support and kindness, maybe I would feel fine about a midwife checking my dilation once I felt pushy. I didn’t have very strong feelings about this before my first birth – I just wanted to avoid too many dilation checks. I consented to having one in triage when we went to the hospital and were then sent home, and it didn’t bother me too much. I think I even timed my contractions for a few minutes, before they started coming back to back.
Thinking about the what-ifs is something I do often. I don’t think it’s damaging, because it makes me more conscious of who I have become and what I need now. I don’t feel the same way that I would have before, and I’m unapologetic about that. I will still be able to read and appreciate others’ birth stories, and at the same time know in my heart of hearts that I am different. Isn’t that the beauty though, of birth stories?