Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Birth of Hosea: Leaving Birth Work: Lessons from Laboring

In the days that followed, we basked in the feeling that God had protected us. Still shell-shocked by what had unfolded, I could only be grateful for the pieces that could have gone wrong, but didn't. We went over and over the details we were grateful for: the kindness of nurses, the compassion showed by doctors, the well-being of our son, the mere chance (an oversight, really) by which we avoided NICU (not by need, but by policy), the incredible support we received from our community. We fired the midwife and learned what it was like to heal from abdominal surgery without any postpartum care. I was grateful for everything I knew about the physiology of bonding and I catered to it all. It took weeks, maybe months for the grief, disappointment, anger, questions to rise above the numbness.

I had hoped laboring would show me I was strong, but I learned I was weak. I wanted to learn that my body was capable, but I learned what it felt like to need help. I wanted to learn what pure, joyous love felt like, but it took two full weeks for me to feel the bone-aching, teeth-cracking love of motherhood. I hoped that the birth of my son would bring me back to birth work, a path I had taken some time off from.

Instead, my experience with this midwife may have ensured that I never do birth work again.
It's tempting to say that the midwife we hired was a cruel and uncaring person, but I don't actually believe she is. Perhaps this is all projection, but what has been hardest to come to terms with when I reflect on her behavior is that I think I can identify with it. I don't know what inspired this midwife to act the way she did, but I am quite sure it had very little to do with us. I recognize some of (though not to that severity) behavior in myself... feeling paralyzed in potential conflict, not feeling able to claim my own opinions, freezing or remaining silent out of fear of displeasing, wanting to project my own short comings onto others, to make other people pull the weight of my fears. 
 We all have bad days, days of self doubt, when our darkest parts rear their ugly heads and we forget the tools we have to overcome them. We take it out on our loved ones, ourselves, cars in traffic, people at the grocery store. We might slack off at work and feed the kids take out. And we get over it, we apologize, we go on about our week. Her bad day, her weakness, her blunders, they were just another day of work for her. One botched birth out of hundreds she has attended. But that one job for her was a monumental experience for my family. It was how our child came into this world. Her actions turned what would have been, on its own, an extremely difficult labor, into a trauma. Because of her, I had anxiety attacks whenever I left the house for the first 6 months of my child's life. Because of her, I might not get to have any more children. And, because of her, I no longer have any sense of vocation. It's not that I love birth less, or that I am more afraid of birth. I still believe birth is usually normal and can usually unfold at home, without intervention. 

In my years of studying birth, people would occasionally tell me that the idea of "holding lives in their hands" was too intimidating. That never felt true to me until now. I realize now that midwives, birth workers, OBs... they do hold lives in their hands. But it's far beyond the beating heart or breath in a body. A baby can be well and a life still wrecked by the actions of a caregiver. My loss of vocation comes from the realization that midwives hold stories in their hands. The stories they create are what parents carry forward into their lives, their parenthood, what their children carry with them. That is a huge responsibility. One I'm not sure I am ready for yet, perhaps not ever.
One way I grieved was to remember all the birth stories I had heard from families who loved their care providers. How many of those stories had I cringed at because they contained unnecessary, even unkind interventions? But these families loved their care providers, never questioning them, because they were kind and the family felt supported. I felt the midwives got away with putting their clients in jeopardy by being kind. Now, I find myself a little jealous. How different could my story have been, under the same circumstances, had my family been treated differently? What if I felt like my midwife saved me, instead of traumatized me?

As useful as that exercise might be to me as a birth worker, though, it isn't helpful to me as a parent. Wondering what might have been different doesn't change what happened. Finding all the ways my midwife was responsible for my family's trauma doesn't make my family less responsible for its own healing. I don't know if I will ever forgive my midwife (and I still pray I don't run into her at the grocery store), but I don't need to forgive her to move forward.

The most surprising thing about being a parent? (People ask me this all the time). I learned that there is life after birth trauma. I know that sounds simple, maybe even obvious, but it wasn't to me, until I had my son.
I didn't really expect I would get a baby out of my c-section. I blame that, mostly, on the sleep deprivation, but I think I also sort of believed that, if I didn't have a good birth, I wouldn't experience parenthood. But, I did get a baby. And though, in retrospect, I understand that I struggled with bonding for the first 2 weeks, I did bond with him. Fiercely. I get up and care for him every day and every day he does something (or a million somethings) that make my heart burst and I wonder how I managed to win the lottery of life and get to be his mother.

It's been one year since my labor and his birth and I have come a long way. I am rarely haunted by flashbacks anymore. I still shake when I talk about his birth. I don't have anxiety attacks when I go to the store. I still cannot say that I gave birth. My partner and I have experienced the typical ups and downs in the transformation of parenthood. All the ups feel like victories and validations. All the downs are still haunted by the accusations of the midwife. They are heavier than they need to be. I am sharing this story a year later to release the demons that still haunt me: the shame and fear, especially around my experience with this midwife. I cannot change my birth story, but I am ready to claim the good memories. I am ready to remember the protection and gratitude I felt during those early days. I am ready to claim a story of resiliency for my son and my family. It is a practice, which telling this story is a part of. We are practicing resiliency- understanding that healing will never fix what happened, but will help us feel whole, help us feel enough. Enough for each other. Enough for our son.


  1. I can hear myself in your story. It won't likely help to hear it, but know you're not alone in your feelings. Sometimes I think I'll always suffer from that lack of love, of kindness...

  2. I had the most horrific birth with my son I was so damaged it resulted in many miscarriages and a full hysterectomy at the the age of 36. I'm sorry you went through what you did but to this I say to you. I wish I had had a midwife as caring, considerate, passionate, well versed and last but certainly not least someone who has experienced birth trauma first hand. Because I personally feel you would have so much to give any expectant parent. I follow you on Instagram and although I don't know you, you make me believe the world is full of amazing care givers. I hope this makes sense as I think I've Rambled a lot. Take care Linds xx