As a rule, I don’t talk about the births of either of my daughters. The first because it left me feeling violated and abused and worthless; the second, because, although it was the complete antithesis of the first, it unavoidably invokes it, even as it heals. The ghosts of Ni’s birth haunt me and bring me to my knees when I least expect it. There are only two things that can unwind me like that when brought to mind unbidden; the death of my lover and the birth of my daughter. They are griefs akin in my heart. Both saw something irreplaceable taken from me.
Shae tweeted a few days ago about her lingering sadness after a similar birth experience and it was enough to have me in tears. Then I stumbled on this post on her site (please read it if you have time, it’s brief) and I cried a lot more and thought about how our pictures belie truths that sometimes even we cannot see.
After Ni’s birth, I lovingly began to construct a simple photo album. I didn’t get very far. I knew that I was supposed to feel joy and happiness when I looked at those photos; a document of the first precious moments of my dear, beautiful girl’s life under the sun, but they made me mournful and uncomfortable and so I put them away. It was a few months after her birth that I flicked through a book in an op-shop that had a diagram of something termed “The Circle of Intervention”. I went cold as I read. It illustrated the way in which one intervention during a birth almost invariably leads to another and another and another and so on. The examples they used in their diagram very precisely described Ni’s birth and thus I began to understand why I wasn’t feeling the way it seemed I was expected to feel about the experience.
I just pulled these photos out of that incomplete little album. Now they make me very angry and there’s nothing at all vague about my feelings. I know exactly why.
Here is a picture of a random nurse holding my baby in the nurses’ station while I am in the delivery room having stitches for an episiotomy necessitated by a ventouse delivery or “vacuum extraction” necessitated by fetal distress after administration of a Syntocinon drip, apparently necessitated by the hospital’s incomprehensible need to “move things along”, when they were, in fact, progressing slowly and steadily all by themselves.
Looking up the spelling of Syntocinon (Pitocin in the US), I found this, here:
“Pitocin-induced contractions differ from natural contractions, and these differences can have significant effects on the baby. For example, waves can occur almost on top of each other when too high a dose of Pitocin is given… Birth activist Doris Haire describes the effects of Pitocin on the baby: ‘The situation is analogous to holding an infant under the surface of the water, allowing the infant to come to the surface to gasp for air, but not to breathe.’”
Taken at around the same time, here is a photo of my naked distressed baby being weighed, because apparently it is more important to know her precise weight at birth than for a mother and baby to bond and have a chance at avoiding post-natal depression. Ask yourself why. I can’t think of a single good reason.
I was so fortunate and blessed to bond with Ni from the moment I laid eyes on her. It’s very easy to see why many women struggle, however. Here’s a photo of me looking stoned and beaten, but happy to be holding the most beautiful thing I’d ever beheld. At this stage I was still feeling quite dazed after having gas that made me nauseous and breathless, pethidine that made me vomit and didn’t even touch the sides of wave after wave of chemically-induced pain and finally an epidural that left me completely numb to my chest and unable to push effectively.
I know the rules. I know that we’re not supposed to tell these stories. I know that there are women who went through similar experiences who don’t feel traumatised or hurt by them at all; who feel that their babies were blessed to have trained medical staff to intervene and take responsibility during a fraught process. When I was pregnant with Ly, women would begin to tell me their devastating birth stories. They would invariably stop themselves on the verge of tears, saying, “I shouldn’t be telling you this…” Yes you should, yes you should, YES YOU DAMN WELL SHOULD! We should all tell our stories, good, bad and indifferent. If we didn’t allow ourselves to be silenced by other women complaining about those who tell “horror stories”, something; ANYTHING might have changed since Ni’s birth eleven years ago. They are NOT “horror stories”; they are OUR stories and they need to be told – in the interests of healing, if nothing else.
After being pulled from my beaten, drugged and stunned body, Ni was placed on my chest momentarily in a cursory nod to bonding, then whisked away to another part of the room where another team (there seemed to be countless people in the room by that stage) waited to establish her breathing.
Eight years later, a different circle was closed with Ly’s beautiful birth at home. I took my baby in my arms. I spoke loving words to her and blew gently in her face and she drew her first breath there in my arms. It was the single most empowering thing I have ever done in my life and it changed me profoundly forever.