Published on September 19th, 2016 | by Lilly Bright8
I WANTED A PERFECT BIRTH: Lilly Bright on Fractured Plans
“….I have become a mother, which is an unspoken agreement to be forever vulnerable.”
Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
As first-time mothers, we’re never truly prepared for the greatest challenge, and gift, of our lives. I embarked upon the role of mother idealistic, naïve, and arrogant. I enjoyed being pregnant so much I figured the rest, like the part after holding my child for the first time, would continue like gravy. Easy. Smooth. Delicious. No matter how many authorities, books, and parents tell (or warn) of the radical change that is motherhood, we can’t actually know what’s on the other side of pregnancy. Blinded by a heightened sense of wellbeing (I loved being pregnant) and a healthy dose of perfectionism (I stand in a long line of stringent over-achievers), I journeyed into motherhood eerily calm and in control. I had all the ingredients for the perfect I-am-in-control-of-this-God cocktail. The kind of fizzy drink that makes the universe laugh, then whip the rug up.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I sought out the ideal mid-wife. I confirmed a dear friend as my doula. I scheduled the prescribed medical appointments and exams. I enrolled in weekly prenatal yoga and meditation classes. I devoted entire evenings to Googling the perfect cloth diaper and bookmarking humanistic parenting approaches. Anticipating sharing my passion for the human body, I bought an anatomy book designed for 7 year olds… while in my first trimester. I assigned only wooden, Montessori-approved toys to my birth registry and set about arranging the baby’s room simply and serenely, without a crib or musical mobiles or primary colors, per the guidelines in an esteemed Montessori handbook. I relished the nesting phase, practicing self-care by eating wholesome foods, like freshly ground almond butter and coconut smoothies. I anointed my skin with daily slatherings of prenatal shea butter.
My brain loved being pregnant as much as my body. I was happier than ever. Normally a moody person, I was harmonious and even-keeled. My senses were electric. Food tasted better. I moved with elegance and precision, a reverent gait for my cargo. Telepathy became a viable and accessible form of communication. I never felt alone. While I didn’t logically question this state coming to an end, I struggled in empathizing with grimacing pregnant women on how badly they wanted their babies out. I never wanted pregnancy to end. Imagining how the baby was going to exit my body was another question. Beyond the intellectual understanding and textbook instructions, I simply couldn’t.
It’s taken me over 6 years to write publicly about the birth of my first child. My commitment to a particular kind of birth- “natural” (meaning without medications), a home birth, a water birth- while heartfelt, blinded me to the messy imperfect process that is motherhood. When labor and birth don’t go as planned, when the departure is so vastly different than what was imagined, a hole of shock, shame, and grief is created. Bubbles are burst, announcing an invitation for reflection and close examination.
While I read that post-natal support was highly recommended, I never dreamed I would need it. My son would sleep easily. Breast-feeding would be a breeze. My husband and I would transition seamlessly in our relationship. I would instinctively know what to do. It never crossed my mind that I could feel anything other than joy and wonder for my child. To put it bluntly, I didn’t know squat before becoming a parent.
As part of my preparation for a home birth, I wrote a birth plan. This included all of my intentions and desires for my ideal birth. I wanted to labor naturally without pain relievers. I wanted my doula present at all times. I wanted a quiet peaceful space where I could move about freely, I wanted to labor in various positions and locations around the house, including our saline hot tub which we converted into a birthing tub. I wanted to eat and drink throughout labor. I wanted to listen to my playlist of groovy world beats and kirtan chants I had specially created. I wanted my water to break naturally. I wanted to keep and eat my placenta.
On the last page of my birth plan, I was instructed to give written directions in the event the birth didn’t go as planned. I eye-rolled the idea that the universe would not conspire on my behalf. I was entitled to an orgasmic birth! Nevertheless, I wrote my “worst case scenario” instructions. I skimmed through the cesarean-birth chapter in The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth and after another eye roll head shake ditty, I wrote that only in an emergency could a C-Section be administered. At no cost did I want an epidural or pitocin. A cesarean birth was truly inconceivable.
My labor at home was not only painful beyond all belief but it was grueling beyond compare. Everything felt futile. My cervix didn’t dilate beyond 2cm and my water didn’t break by itself. In my bi-weekly prenatal class we practiced holding an ice cube in our hands as a way to simulate the kind of pain we were likely to experience in labor. By holding and allowing the ice cube to melt in our hands for up to 5 minutes, we were supposed to be developing our ability to withstand pain while maintaining focus on breath, holding our baby, and the present moment. Can I tell you how much holding a cube of ice in the palm of your hand is like that experienced during childbirth? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t even teeter at the edge of the actual mind numbing absurdist agony that is childbirth.
36 hours into labor, my body goes into transitional contractions, my cervix is 3cm dilated (my mid-wife scraped it open 1cm more with her finger), and my water hasn’t broken. It’s no stretch (no pun intended) that I can’t see an end in sight. Through dry tears and exhaustion, I cried to myself: “What the fuck!? Who lied??!” I am certain that whoever felt the ice cube exercise came anywhere close to preparing one for childbirth was not only delusional, but also sneaky and deceitful with a sick sense of humor. Or else… completely unaware of how literally I took that particular preparation.
Eventually, my water broke with the help of my obstetrician (who attended the attempted home-birth) and a birthing tool equipped with a small hook on its end with which to puncture the amniotic sac. While the contractions continued to intensify, it was the release of meconium that prompted us; myself, my husband, the mid-wife, and doctor, to immediately head for the hospital.
The drip of a beautiful elixir named epidural cued angels to descend upon my hospital room. My arms and legs warmed and my hips, who believe they were wedged between car crushing plates for the past forty hours, breathed a deep sigh of relief. I’m probably not going to die now- I remember thinking—once the epidural hit. I rested for two hours before the nurse administered a slow drip of pitocin. Finally, cervix fully dilated, and with my son’s hair revealing itself to those positioned between my legs, I was given the instruction to push. I was given the instruction to push as if—wait, get this—as if I’m having biggest bowel movement of my life. I don’t know what my expression showed, but my sense inside was disbelief. Excuse me?
After 9 months of child-birth classes and reading at least a dozen related books, I hadn’t heard one word about the push coming from my anus, rather than vagina, nor likening the push with the sensation of taking the largest and most resistant poo of my life. Fearless, and with the stamina of a “stallion” (my doctor’s words) I pushed fiercely and futilely for 3 hours and 15 minutes. Eventually, when it became clear that neither me, nor my baby, were up for any further attempts, we had the big “C” talk. I cried. This time with actual tears of defeat, and then I relinquished to the inevitable. I called my older sister, who delivered premature twins via emergency C, and who I had previously judged as too weak and unpledged for a “natural birth” (birth by its very nature is natural!), for support and empathy.
Thirty minutes later, I cradled my son skin to skin on my chest. I kept him with me all night in the hospital. I was grateful to keep this aspect of my birth plan intact.
The birth of my first child cracked me open beyond the literal and began the loosening of my long held noose of perfectionism. Along with a son, I birthed a self who capable of embracing the messy, imperfect, and unpredictable journey of mothering. Yet there were still bridges to cross: post-partum depression, a violent post-nasal drip cough bursting the stitches with each uncontrollable croup, and the painful and bloody escapade of breast-feeding my ravenous lion-hearted child. I needed over two years of grief-filled and patient reflection to accept, love, and treasure the birth I had.
I’m neither bitter nor regretful. Being a mother is a harrowing process of raw vulnerability. I admit warm heartedly what many moms are afraid of admitting—I love my child, I can’t stand my child. I love being a mom, I can’t stand being a mom. All I crave is my freedom. I want to permanently tether myself to this glorious person. I’m not at odds. We’re human, we’re fallible, we’re whole, we’re fractured. We show up. We scar and grow. We keep doing our best.