I have learned so many things from the births of my 3 daughters. I had expected this to a degree. Birth and becoming a mama are supposed to be these amazing, heavy, life-changing and life-affirming events. I knew giving birth and becoming a mom would be unlike any other experiences I had ever been through and would forever change me. I had no clue the extent to which this would be true though, nor could I have predicted the ways I would be changed.
I should start by saying that none of our births went as planned. With all 3 babies, we planned to give birth outside of the hospital (the first at a birth center and the second two at home). I had always envisioned myself giving birth in a peaceful setting while my husband and I worked together as a unit. I wanted to trust my body and my babies. I hoped for my babies to be caught by me or my husband and immediately brought to my chest where they belonged. I did not want to use any pain medication but rather wanted to feel my body doing the work of bringing my babies into the world.
Unfortunately, none of these things came to be with any of our births. Instead, we transferred to the hospital three times in a row and for completely different reasons. The first two were unexpectedly born via cesarean. The third was the vaginal birth that had eluded us, but it was still in a hospital, and a number of our requests weren’t followed by medical staff. (More on my feelings towards the medical establishment in my next blog post…) Overall, my births were traumatic (mostly the first two), surprising, and overwhelming. There were feelings of defeat and grief and remorse that followed all of them at least to an extent. I questioned myself and my body. I struggled with why me. I am a doula. I know a lot about birth. I have been to many wonderful births and have seen what the female body working in tandem with her baby can do. I know what birth can be.
Our journey experiencing the pregnancies and births of our three kiddos has been a long one. It has tested me and my husband in unexpected ways. It has changed who I am and what I am passionate about. No, I am not the same person I was before this journey began. Here are some of the most poignant things I have learned about myself:
* I am strong. Stronger than I ever thought I could be. This did not come in the form I thought it would though. Before our first baby was born, I imagined giving birth without pain meds. Of course I would leave this experience knowing my strength as a woman. Women who birth without medication are strong! This was going to be me. This was going to be one of the things I would get out of that experience. But, that wasn’t my experience, as it isn’t the experience of a good portion of other women out there. Unexpected situations arise. Birth doesn’t go as planned. But we are all strong! We just find that strength in different ways. Maybe that strength is discovered by having to face your worst fear (such as having major surgery – this was a huge one for me). Maybe that strength is discovered by accepting the vulnerability that comes from giving birth and becoming a mother. Or by conquering the challenges that can come with breastfeeding. We all have our own hurdles, but birth and becoming a mom do cause us all to draw on our strength. To do things we never thought possible. And to come out stronger on the other side. I know just how strong I am now.
* I love and value and need my husband more than I ever realized. My husband and I had such an amazing relationship before children. Full of passion and life and love. Things change when you have kiddos though. Not that we don’t love each other after having children, but things are just different. And sometimes we forget how much we love and appreciate each other. Our relationship can be drowned out by the day-to-day of being parents. But I needed my husband to get through my last pregnancy more than I’ve ever needed another person.
My husband is the only one who experienced the previous two births with me. He was there to share in the fear and disappointment that surrounded our births. He was there when I went through the processing of our birth experiences after the fact (which he needed to do as well). Although our experiences of the births were different, he lived it with me. He got it more than any other human being. He got me. When our 3rd baby was transverse and it looked like our hopes of not only an out-of-hospital birth but also a VBAC were coming to an untimely end, he was there for me just as I needed him to be. He held me. He gave me space to grieve. He cried with me at our therapist’s office. He was everything I needed. And then he was there to share the joy with me as I pushed our 3rd baby out. We had done it together.
My love for my husband is different than it was before we had children. It might not hold the same passion or spontaneity or newness, but it runs deep. It is strong. He is my partner, my love, and such a great man. And I think we have so much more respect and love for each other after going through this journey than we ever did before. We are so lucky! Again, this connection did not happen as I thought it would. He was not in a birth tub holding me as I went through the waves of contractions. We never got to be a single unit that was working through birth together without intrusions of the outside world. We did not experience the births as we hoped we would. But our relationship was strengthened in other, unexpected ways. We had to lean in together to get through the journey, and the respect and love I have towards him are indescribable.
* Our baby’s births represent them. Realizing this helped me come to terms with the circumstances of their births. I questioned myself and my body as well as why the events surrounding our births (particularly the first two) had happened for a long time. I really beat myself up over it. What could I have done differently? How could I have allowed certain things to happen? Why did I agree to this, that, and the other? I felt a lot of guilt. I felt guilt towards my children that they were not born in the gentle, loving manner I had hoped for. I felt guilt towards my husband that he had to experience these stressful birth experiences instead of what we had planned. I felt guilt and regret towards myself that I would never get to have the experience I had dreamed of my whole life. But then in one moment I was able to let it all go.
It dawned on me one day that my children’s births represent them. They each have very distinct personalities that were apparent from the time they were little. For example, our oldest really takes her time with everything. She likes to look at things, think about things, and talk about things before making decisions or acting on her thoughts. I used to try to rush her through life before realizing that this is who she is and how she experiences the world. I needed to let her be because taking your time and experiencing all that life has to offer is a beautiful thing. She shouldn’t be rushed. Well, this same kiddo went over 2 weeks past her “due date.” We were pressured to rush her out by the medical establishment. In hindsight, I wish we had waited and not rushed her. That we had listened to our instincts. We did the best we could though. She was in there doing her thing. She just wasn’t ready to come out.
Our other kiddos’ births can be tied to their personalities as well. Once I realized this, the guilt went away. Many of the circumstances surrounding their births were present because of who they are, and who they are is an incredibly beautiful thing. We did the best we could given the various circumstances that were present. I have now decided to honor their births in a different manner than I had done before. They were all born in a way that represented them (mixed with the constraints put on us by the medical community given the particular circumstances). I love my children with my whole being, so I have learned to love and accept these births that are so representative of who they are as people.
* Birth is what I am passionate about. After the birth of our first child, I knew that I had found my calling. I have always been interested in the birth process. If I could go back and do it again, I would become a midwife straight out of college. Pregnancy and birth always held some mystery and intrigue for me; even long before having children of my own was on the table. Being pregnant for the first time caused this passion to grow and grow and grow as my belly grew. I read everything I could get my hands on. But it wasn’t until our first child was born that my passion for birth really developed. We felt let down by the system and our support people. My husband and I had felt so alone after we transferred to the hospital. It was then that I realized that I wanted to become a doula so others wouldn’t have to feel that way. I wanted to be able to support others in the way we hadn’t been supported. Suddenly my life had a new mission. That mission has changed slightly with each of my births, as my passion for doing this work has grown. I feel so lucky that my births have brought me this gift!
* I am a good mom. Although I second guess decisions that were made during their births, I know that in the moment my children’s well-being guided all the decisions that were made. I did the best I could to protect them and bring them safely into the world. Could things have been done differently? Probably. But, I did my best. And I have to let the rest go. I was a good mom then when those tough decisions about their births were being made, and I am a good mom now. I am not a perfect mom, nor do I try to be. I make mistakes. Then I talk candidly with my children about the mistakes I’ve made and how I will use them to grow. I try to teach my children to be loving individuals, and my biggest hope for them is that they will be good people and that they will be happy. Even though I have felt like a bad mom many, many times along the way, I know deep down that I do my best, that my children love me, and that I am in fact the best mom to them I can be. Their births were the start of this process. I learned through these experiences just how deeply I love them. I learned about the challenges of trying to make the right decisions for your children when the answers aren’t exactly clear. I learned how I am willing to go through anything to keep them safe and healthy. These experiences created the foundation for the mom I was about to become.
Our birth experiences have helped mold me into the person I am and the family we are today. And I love who we are today. Unlike other people who talk about how the day their babies were born were the best days of their lives, I would say the best days of my life were the days we brought our children home from the hospital. The days when we were finally all together by ourselves at home where we belonged. Those were the days I felt my life as their mom began. Those were the best days of my life.
For a while I struggled with trying to figure out how I would share my children’s birth experiences with them. Their births can still bring up negative emotions for me, but I don’t want them to ever feel negative about their births or who they are to me. I have decided that I want to be honest with them though. I want them to understand the dynamics that were present at their births as well as what was overcome to bring them into this world. Of course, I will wait until they are developmentally ready to be told the details.
I do plan to stress the positives that came out of these experiences with them. Aside from them coming into the world, which was obviously wonderful and miraculous, there were other, more subtle and unexpected positives that came out of these experiences as well. I will make sure they know about their mama’s strength and what it took for her to bring them into the world and how she got through things she didn’t think she could. I will tell them about the strength of their mother and father’s relationship. I will tell them about their wonderful personalities and how these personalities were already present from even before they took their first breaths. I will let them know that their births instilled in me a passion for birth and helped me to discover what I want to do with my life. And I will tell them how fiercely their mama loves them and how she has always done her best to be a good mother for them. I want them to know that although their births didn’t go as planned and although there will be things I always regret, I don’t ever for one second regret having them, and I would go through all of it and more again for them if I had to. They are worth it.
My hope for all women and mamas is that they can see the strength in all they do, the impact of these experiences on who they are, and the value they bring to their children and families. Having a baby is a life-changing experience, but it doesn’t always change you in the ways you think it will. It can take years of reflection and self-analysis before seeing the beauty in these experiences and the positive elements that they brought to your life is possible, but it is definitely worth taking the time to do so.
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