Friday, February 1, 2013

The Pride of Birthing Accomplishments

For anyone who has ever doubted the importance of the impact of a woman's birth experiences upon her life, I thought I might share this.

As many readers know, I've been dealing with some major health issues.  Statistics of my chances of survival get bandied around while I stick my fingers in my ears and go, "lalalalalalalala".  I am not interested in these stats at all.  I focus on what gives me passion and what feeds my sense of power. That's all I need to really know.

I was sitting in the bath today, thinking (as I often get my best thoughts in the bath) of what have been some of the most powerful experiences of my life. I can unhesitatingly say the most powerful have been my birth experiences.  I am one of those women incredibly blessed to be able to look back upon four births with a sense of deep, glowing, beautiful accomplishment.  What people perceive as powerful is individual.  It isn't about some standard to judge one's birth against, it is ultimately about how one feels about her birth.

I have 2 oncologists I alternate in seeing for checkups.  One is brilliant with his patients. I've already talked about him, so I won't go further with that.  The other is the one who diagnosed my cervical cancer.  Sweet guy for sure, but because I haven't really dealt with him post treatment, I'm a bit nervous about how he's going to treat me.  He is decent and kind, that's already been established.  But I fear he might be the type to give me big "reality checks" if I come off as "cocky" for fear I may feel like a "failure" if I do end up croaking.     So much in Medicine seems to be geared to making sure a patient doesn't get their hopes up too high so their hearts don't get broken, but why the heck not?  That is literally encouraging half living until you die.  I mean, you don't have to REMIND me of how serious my illness was, so let's just agree to unbridled hope, which I believe influences and nourishes our biology for the better.

The point being, having a strong well of Resource within me, fed by my feelings about my glorious births, gives me immense power.  I can connect to and draw from that power whenever I may feel shitty about myself, hanging my head like Eyore the Donkey sighing, "Woe is  me....I had body is a lemon."  My passionate belief about the empowering qualities of a well perceived birth are so strong, they led me, like others, to pursue work that could potentially help others have great feeling births too.  It beats the depression, trauma, guilt, shame, feeling of loss, etc. that so many women associate with their births.  Had my births been different, I may not have the sense of as much power as I do, and I could be in a very different place in my healing process right now.  Birth doesn't just touch the day our babies come into this world, which is why it drives me bonkers when people claim childbirth is only a means to an end;  it emphatically touches us for all our lives.  A bad experience can certainly be healed and integrated, but I'm glad I didn't have to expend energy in that department, that the glory is right there and ready, easily accessed in that well of Resource.  I think of Lance Armstrong (let's put aside his troubles for now), and how advanced his testicular cancer was.  It had metastasized to his lungs and other areas.  Statistically, most don't survive that widespread of cancer, but what an amazing resource of power he must have to dip into knowing the accomplishments of his spectacular body (blood doping or not)!  Feeling badass undoubtedly has long term curative properties.

I sometimes have fantasies of the gynecology oncologists giving me grave news or breaking down statistics for me.  I figure as gynecologists, most of them have some pretty thorough OB training, and have seen many births.  I see myself asking, "What would be your thoughts about a first time mother,  a five foot not quite one inch tall 98 pound woman (when not pregnant) having a completely OP baby, the baby's head visible for three hours of the second stage?"  "Oh, impossible, never gonna come, she'd need a Csection or at least an episiotomy and/or instrumental delivery".  WRONGO!  I pushed that kid out stargazing while epidural, no tear.  "Hey, how about a second time mother birthing a substantially smaller, earlier baby than her first, but in labour for a couple of days, stuck at five cm for about 12 hours, then 9cm for a few hours?"  "Oh, that's a terrible situation, not normal at all, definitely something wrong, C-section for sure, or at least an epidural for rest."  NOPE.  Pushed that baby on out stargazing too.  No epidural.  No tear.  "Ever seen a woman have a labour of a term baby in 40 minutes from the first contraction to the baby, born with water bag and perineum intact?  NO?  Gee, this is all one one woman's obstetric history, Docs!  I have nothing to say remarkable about the fourth, it was fast, easy , and normal.  Except, oh yeah, I caught him myself while I was on my hands and knees.  Yeah, just reached between my legs and received him on my own. That's not at all unusual in my world."

I feel the power surge at the thought of this interaction, not because I have any desire to argue the rightness or not of clinical choices with a gynecologist or feel good about shunning the beliefs of a medical doctor, but because my birth stories, each one a shining picture of beautiful uniqueness, as all births are, fill me with a sense of badass that nobody can ever take away from me.  When I've talked to doctors about my births they don't criticize me, they actually say something like, "Oh, wow, that's pretty amazing, I don't see that often at all.  Good for you!"  The point is, I, as many women do when they are able to choose to birth on their terms, defied statistics.  I stretched the boundaries of what is medically considered to be normal birth, picked my battles with courage (yes, at my and my baby's own risk...that is for me to decide), and I feel, though some of those births were intensely challenging, success unparalleled.  And this is GOOD for me.

I don't want to yell at the doctors, "In your faces!" I simply want them to know how superimposing their stats onto me limits my potential as a fully recovered and healed human being, my births being evident of how wide I can stretch, of how very much I can handle.  And, by the way, had these births ended in necessary Cesareans or episiotomies or forceps, I don't think they would have too much altered my sense of success at how far I went (I would have gone a lot farther had I needed to).  I chose my own battles, so I would not have felt a "failure".  I would have gone into an OR in a blaze of glory and emerged victorious.  And may that be, hopefully when I'm a bout 193 or so, how I will face my own death.

Call it feminine macho-ism if you want, but if at this point in my life, dealing with what I'm going through, I have the ability to look back to those births that I DID and glean power that is healing, uplifting, and inspiring, then guilty as charged for laughing, swinging my vagina around like a lasso, shouting, "Yippie kay-yay, Motherf****ers!"


  1. Lmfao Lesley. You have a way with words and are so very inspiring!!!

  2. Lesley,
    I've never met you, but have heard much about you from friends who have had the wonderful experience of having you as their birth doula.
    Reading your words, I feel a great deal of admiration for you, and I have to say also, I'm very jealous. Firstly, I'm very happy to hear that you've kicked cancer to the curb. I'm sure your strength and positivity are in large part responsible for that. Amazing.
    My jealously, well these days it doesn't take much for me to feel envy when I hear birth stories of women who look back on their birthing experiences triumphantly. 7 months ago, I had a birth experience which has left me with such a sense of defeat. I thought I had prepared as much as I could; I hired a doula, read all I could to prepare, and was keeping an optimistic and positive attitude for the birth of my first baby, all the while reminding myself that births don't always go as we hope and dream, and I thought I would be okay with it if things didn't turn out how I wanted.
    Toward the end of my pregnancy and my blood pressure slowly creeping up, I felt pushed in to an induction I did not want, a fully medicated labour that was slow and painful, an epidural I wanted to avoid, and ultimately felt bullied into a c-section. It had never even occurred to me that things could go "this badly." After too many hour in labour, my hopes were lifted and was told I'd deliver with an hour or two. Our doula had to go and we were left to do the rest on our own. A shift change at the hospital and a new OB arrived (the 3rd one we'd seen in 3 days), and he declares to the nurse that I'll need a c-section. He didn't look at me or explain why. As my tears started, he yelled at me saying that it was a c-section, or I could "do whatever I wanted" and he left my room. Things went from bad to worse. I'd never felt so powerless in my life. I still question myself about having gone along with the induction.. What if I was stronger, less scared, had listened to my instincts. Difficulties breastfeeding afterwards, low milk supply, domperidone, pumping, baby losing weight, formula supplements. All of what I didn't want or expect. We didn't see our doula for quite a few days afterwards, maybe even a week or so, I can't remember. I do remember that no one around me could understand why I was so upset. My husband got it a little bit, I guess, but I didn't want to ruin his happiness with my sadness, so I pretend. I still can't hear peoples' birth stories without getting a pit of sadness in my stomach and wonder if that will ever go away.
    Since the birth of my beautiful son, until I read your words today, I hadn't heard anyone say that the birth IS important, I've only kept hearing how I shouldn't be thinking how he got here, but just that he IS here and healthy. Of course I am grateful for that, obviously. But I am still hurt by the birth, more than I can express.
    Even though we've never met, I'm very thankful to you for your words. I needed to hear them. Badly.

  3. Sweet Lea,
    My heart breaks for the pain you have had regardimg your birth. You were very hurt by an uncaring doctor . If, given your.challenging situation, you were treated with more kindness and compassion, you may have felt powerful. If a better space for your grief had been held, you would have felt free and supported to cry over the loss of your dream birth. I know you never once needed to be reminded to be grateful for a healthy baby. Being sad about your birth in no way denotes a lack of gratitude.
    At MotherWit we are in the process of forming a support group for women who experience a sense of loss of power around their births. Healing can.absolutely happen. I am hoping in the near future you will find the healing and be able to claim the power you did have and see yourself as the hero you were. It is easy enough to have a normal birth. the mothers who dive into parenthood while dealing with all the challenges they did are the real heroes.

  4. Hi,

    I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?