*Trigger warning: This post talks about childbirth.
From the moment I knew we were having twins, I knew that *I* would be having twins. As in, I would be birthing… twins.
Two babies. At once. Well, not simultaneously (ouch), but – consecutively (still ouch).
As if carrying two babies wasn’t challenging enough (and trust me – IT WAS), I was tasked with the climactic job of actually getting them out of me. Although, climactic might not even be the right word when it comes to twins… I mean, by the time Baby B surfaces, everyone’s like, “Yeah, it’s ok, I already saw a birth like, a few minutes ago, I’m good.”
Even though I’d been through it twice already, I was still… well, terrified.
I want you to read this next sentence realllll slow. Birth is a beautiful, emotional, humbling, life altering, empowering, primal, crazy, surreal, mind bending, panic inducing, painful, terrifying as hell, and often, traumatic – experience.
I mean, mine were most of those things. Maybe yours weren’t any of those things. And that’s fine! Even though elements can be similar, there are also no two births that are the same – even when a womb is shared. Your birth experience is yours and yours alone. Just as the experience your partner has if they witness it, is theirs alone. Having gone through it four times now (and yes, I count each twin as two separate births because they are in fact, two separate births!) I feel like I can attest to this statement – that all births are in fact different.
With my first pregnancy, I was riddled with apprehension approaching my due date. Let me just say that when you are pregnant… Google? It ain’t your friend. YouTube? Even worse.
I mean, I actually taught a Child Studies class years and years before, when filling in for someone. I remember putting on the birth video. Whyyyy? Why? Those poor teenagers! I even avoided watching it myself but after I went to the room next door to retrieve something, I turned back into the room and, to my horror, saw the exact moment of birth up on the big screen.
You can’t unsee that.
I mean – bless every woman on earth and every partner, doctor, nurse, doula, midwife, and labour ward custodian, because WOW – it is something. It’s miraculous, truly… and in the absolute deepest way, but it is also, well, a bit horrifying. Yes, I said it. It’s scary!! Your body goes through an incredible transformation, one you can’t even really control, and you’re just along for the ride. You simply can not look at any woman after giving birth – after the euphoria of holding their baby, after their body stops shaking, after they have a minute to realize what they just did, and tell me they don’t look completely shell shocked.
I still remember rushing to the hospital to visit a close friend right after she gave birth. I will never forget the look on her face when I entered the room. She looked at another woman who had had three children who was in the room and said, “And you did that two more times?!! After feeling that???!”
I remember starting to feel sick to my stomach and getting flushed, as I was only a few months into my pregnancy and it was all just too real for me. It was like an out of body experience and I wasn’t even the one that just gave birth! All I could think was, “This will be you soon”. Even watching them care for their newborn… even though it was beautiful and tender and touching, it still induced some panic within me. I mean I was just truly overwhelmed. And I was 32 years old!
Fast forward six months to me approaching my due date, and do you think I could get that look on her face out of my head? Nope. I mean, I knew – I was going to go through something big. Those leading months felt like gearing up for a marathon, except there’s only so much you can do to prepare. Now, on the other side of four births I have the hindsight to know that I am so, so lucky to have had positive experiences, and all, also very fortunately, with good outcomes and healthy babies. But that doesn’t change the fact that although there are so many supports and information readily available, people still don’t really talk about how crazy an experience birth really is.
And don’t even get me started on Caesarean deliveries. I have never experienced one, so I feel I really can not say anything about them. But I will say that after hearing many first hand accounts, I wanted to avoid one if possible. I mean this is major abdominal surgery people. And people talk about it as casually as someone getting their brows waxed. I can not even imagine the recovery involved. So whatever type of birth you had, while you are sitting there on your cot, trying to play catch up with what just happened, you are handed your baby all the while thinking, now what? There’s no processing time for the birth because you are immediately thrown into motherhood without a safety net in sight.
I know that times have changed and with them, so has the birthing process. Medications. Procedures. Protocol. Hospital or home birth? OB Gyn or midwife? Laying down or squatting? Planned C-Section or not? I mean, yes there are many decisions to be made, but ultimately the one thing you know is that that baby has to come out. I’ve seen it in movies and said it myself on the delivery table, “I don’t want to do this anymore!”
Too bad. That baby is coming out. You just pray that it happens safely.
And part of the dread about the birth is the fear that something goes wrong. My heart aches for anyone who has ever experienced birth complications. It’s unimaginable. But, my mind would go there. And I have talked to many, many moms, and the reality is, I’m not alone in those thoughts.
Some women can approach birth with a zen like calm, while others will scream the entire way through it. For either option and every possibility in between – they are all perfect. There is no one in the world who can dictate how a woman will go through their birth experience – even the woman experiencing it.
When I was pregnant for the first time, I wanted to hear everyone’s birth story. I wanted to hear what it was like from people I knew. But afterwards, I don’t think I really needed to hear anyone’s story, because I really wanted to share mine (how self involved, I know). Sit in any Parent Tot class or meeting of moms, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a woman who isn’t eager to share theirs. Typically, and especially the first, we want to talk about it. To know that our experience was important. To have someone validate that what we did was remarkable. And for many, to recognize that we have gone through something very intense.
I remember seeing a post by The Ugly Volvo quoting hospital advice that referred to her postpartum recovery as recovering from a car accident, while also taking care of someone who also was in an accident.
I’m not sure I’ve ever related to something more. Yes. This is what it feels like. You have gone through something – you are STILL going through something, and you feel a bit like you are being thrown to the wolves. Okay, maybe not. They do give you a tonnnne of pamphlets… while still throwing you to the wolves! Except, now you have a lot of reading material in hand. And if you think it would be hard to read and comprehend all those pamphlets while fighting off wolves, it might actually be easier to do than while caring for a newborn (and yourself), and for many moms, other young children as well. There is no time to even process it because you are still going through it. You are still exposed, still so vulnerable, and now you have a baby on your chest doing the ‘breast crawl’ (no, not a swimming maneuver) – another new experience to navigate. Birth is both the finish and start line, with no overlap or chance to catch your breath in-between.
After my first child’s birth, I remember being scared to leave the hospital. We dragged out our stay for four days. I soaked up as much as I could about how to care for her, while simultaneously checking my bed for blood stains every time I gingerly got up. When we got home, I went to the bathroom and suddenly passed a huge blood clot. It terrified me. I started bawling immediately. What the hell was that?? Was I hemorrhaging? Was I okay?
I called the hospital and whoever answered received this news with about as much concern as if I’d told her my toaster wasn’t working. I pictured this girl on the other end of the phone playing with the phone cord while she chewed gum and asked how large it was.
“Was it the size of a baseball? We’re usually only concerned if it’s the size of a baseball.”
“Yes!” I said with trepidation.
“Well, like a baseball, or like a softball?” She asked.
I mean if you asked me what my first ten minutes home with my baby would be like I know for certain I wouldn’t have ever anticipated it would include me hiding in the bathroom, bawling on the phone with a stranger while having this conversation.
“I don’t know, more like a baseball I guess?”
“OH okay, you’re fine then. Just let us know if it happens again.”
“But you just said…”
“I know I know, but really I meant more like a softball.”
Okay, so luckily for me, I didn’t have anymore sports equipment sized things falling out of me in the coming weeks, just the ‘normal’ postpartum care.
I remember saying in the weeks after my first daughter’s birth, “If I just had ME to take care of, I’d be fine. If I just had HER to take care of, it’d be fine. But taking care of both feels impossible.” Newborns don’t care that you need to have a sitz bath or take your meds or eat. They just want you. They’ve had you non stop for 9 months. They went to the bathroom with you. Ate with you. They are an extension of you. You can’t just leave them now.
So even though we may feel like we’ve just been through one of the most life altering 10, 20, 30 (or more) hours of our life, we push it down, and we soak up the newborn days while also feeling guilty for worrying about ourselves. We sometimes hide from our partners the gore and intensity of what we went and are going through,… but why? We should be able to talk about it, and not just in hushed tones and self deprecating comments while minimizing the outrageous transformation we have just gone through.
Birth is your baby’s introduction to the world, to you, but it’s also the birth of a different person, a different version of yourself. And maybe you’ll want to talk about it, or maybe you’ll want to shut that conversation down if anyone asks because it was too traumatic, but if you can… write about it. Get it out. Maybe so it can sit in a journal in your drawer for your eyes only, or your kids some day… or online, for all to read. Cause yup, that’s where I’m headed. Coming up next: The Birth Series – ‘cause when you have four births, it’s a (limited) series.