When I imagined contributing my own little piece to the ever-popular discourse on births - and I wasn't sure I would - I didn't think I would need courage. It's all too easy for women whose births didn't quite go 'to plan', or who in fact endured something quite traumatic, to feel disempowered to speak about it. Writing a birth story almost seems like an anticlimax, or at best a cathartic exercise that won't actually inspire anyone else! And so I decided to write up my humble experience for a number of reasons - to describe with words of truth and love a birth that is far from perfect; to encourage all those women who have felt disappointed or upset by their births to still feel capable; and to not - on principle - remain silent because the story isn't conventionally worthy of admiration.
As the days rolled passed my due date, we remained content and grew very excited. My contractions (I called them 'surges' during pregnancy and then almost spat the word away after birth and latched back on to 'contractions' with a bit of disillusionment) came on strongly on Saturday afternoon. We had everything ready; swathes of beautiful fabric to shut out the light; energising food; breathing techniques galore; a special playlist of music; and a heartfelt desire to be submissive to the Will of God.
An encounter with a midwife on Sunday morning was far from reassuring, and I have struggled since to reconcile my feelings of disappointment in her manner with the forgiveness and love all are due. She wouldn't examine me because she didn't believe I was advanced enough, and rather forcibly told me to take pain killers despite our request in the written birth plan to avoid this. She left, and so too did a bit of my elation. The next two days came and went in a blur of pain and anticipation. On Tuesday morning my original midwife came to visit me after her holiday, and it felt like she was bringing home news from abroad when she told me I was 4cm dilated and in active labour. It felt so bizarre to be informed of something about my own body after days of uncertainty.
In the birthing centre, it was the combination of my eyelids drooping from exhaustion, the gloaming lights, and the disconnect between where I 'felt' I was at and where the midwives told me I really was, that created a heady and surreal impression of reality from then on. Progress was slow: 4cm to 'nearly 7' in 10 hours. My body's energy was waning and I could feel despair beginning to creep in and lap gently against me like the water in the pool. We decided to heed the midwife's advice and have my waters broken to speed things up. The pain was so intense and my capacity to deal with it so reduced, that I almost guiltily asked for some pain relief. I felt like I was letting us down, and that things were really slipping out of control. My sweet husband kept reminding me that I am in control and that I am also still calm - which helped tremendously but also felt like a somewhat nostalgic hope from the past rather than a living reality.
The next hours unfolded like dominos in a series of desperate choices and consequences until the birth of our baby. First, diamorphine caused me to fall asleep for an hour or so, and then to vomit profusely and repeatedly. My contractions almost died down and my cervix shrunk backwards to 5cm: I remember feeling panic for the first time. By 9am on Wednesday morning I found myself hooked up to machines, still very far off giving birth. We could barely bring ourselves to face the possibility, but the consultants were advising a c-section at this point. Our baby's heartbeat had never once dipped, and they reminded us that it wasn't an emergency but very much our choice. Bizarrely, this was the most empowered I'd felt for days, and as my husband and I quickly consulted and decided to go ahead, I felt an almost thrill of relief.
The operating theatre was full of the brightest lights and the kindest team of strangers. There we both still were, my husband and I, blinking and dazzled like newborns ourselves, and more welded together than ever before. We heard her first - the most beautiful, new and familiar sound I've ever heard - and tears of love rolled down my cheeks. Honestly this moment seemed sanctified from time and space; and doesn't every mother say this is why the course of events leading up to it - be they euphoric or horrific - really don't seem to matter at all? Love, gratitude, awe, humility and countless emotions leapt through us.
Having reached the pinnacle of the childbirth mountain, it didn't seem so important to dwell on the controversial route up there. But as we mothers sit at the top and begin nursing our babies and looking at the world from this new vantage point, I think it's important to acknowledge the tests and falls we might have taken on our journey. These difficult routes aren't the ones we would signpost, but inevitably others will follow and it will somehow be comforting to know that we've traced the same path, next to others on easier ones, leading up the same mountain.