Thursday, 10 October 2013

recovering from birth again: thanks for the memories

Me and the littlest one, moments after her
caesarian delivery.  You know, the first time
I shared this picture I was worried it was a little
too much information.  Since then it has trended
on Pinterest, and I figure my body has just
survived major abdominal surgery, and is
switching into Mummy mode.  I'm allowed to look
rubbish, and anyway, nobody except me gives a
My most popular blog-post ever was one in my series of all things baby-related, entitled Recovering From Birth: 6 Things I Know Now, looking back at it now I realised that I rather glossed over some of the emotional fallout you can get from childbirth.

So, today I'm back on that topic, but talking about what our memories of our childbirthing experiences can be like for us.

I've given birth 3 times.  Once with forceps, once a natural birth at home, and once with failed ventouse and then emergency section.

The first one, by forceps, involved my having an episiotomy.  It took me two years, and another birth to recover from the episiotomy.  I couldn't sit up for a prolonged period for months, and any attempts at sex were painful for both of us.  Sorry for the information overload, but I've got to tell it like it is.  The pain, on top of the enormity of parenthood, and the lack of sleep really got me down.  The worst thing about it was that long ago I had worked in Midwifery research (I was not a midwife, I was a researcher), and I had learnt that episiotomies were hard to recover from, and controlled tearing was much better.  I know tearing doesn't sound much better when it's your nethers we're talking about, but honestly, the muscles can knit together better if they're torn, rather than cut, and so can the skin.  However, you still need to cut for forceps, so what happened had to happen.  But did it?  A lot of people have interventions on their first birth.  The reality of birth is new to them, and they panic.  I know I was terrified when my body started pushing, and being pulled along a hospital corridor backwards, sitting down after that didn't help.  I felt really bad about my first birth, because I didn't feel like I'd been in control.

The NCT have lots of resources on
good positions for giving birth.
People working in maternity units want the best for you, and they're the best people to look after you when things go wrong, but I really believe they're not the best people to look after you when things are going normally.  From the moment I arrived in that hospital for my first birth, people were offering my drugs.  I was repeatedly offered tablets to help me stop being sick, when I was being sick to rid my body of food so it could concentrate on having a baby.  I wasn't allowed to walk down the corridor, and I was required to be strapped down and monitored, when what I needed to do was move about.  How could I possibly give birth while I was recumbent?  I was using all the strength in my arms to keep my body off the bed, when I should have been in a birthing position.  All this happened because of hospital policy about how long my labour was taking (in relation to when the waters broke).  However, it didn't need to be that way.

I had wanted to have a home birth, but my husband was too scared.  After we had baby number one, and he saw what happened in a hospital, he was all for a home birth for baby number two.

Our second baby was a 'natural', 'normal' birth.  She was born at home, in between the chest of drawers and the bed, because I was not going to move into a better position for the midwives.  I was offered two puffs of gas and air to help slow me down for crowning, and that was all the medication I was offered.  I was up and at 'em and visiting friends the next day.  We had two midwives - one was the one who had called me fat during my pregnancy, but I forgave her by the end.  The other was a goddess in human form who gently took the flannel my husband was trying to put in my mouth, who made eye contact with me and said 'let's do this then'.  We did.  Awesome.  I felt like I was in control (as much as I could be), and the experience was good.  Not fun, but good.  I did have baby blues, I found it hard to bond with my baby, although that came in time.  I wonder if it was hard because the birth was so easy.  Humans are funny creatures.

Our third baby was interesting.  Although we had a move back up to Scotland on the horizon, we chose to stay in sunny Suffolk to have the baby.  Why?  Because I knew the midwives well, and trusted them, and because it looked like baby number three was going to be big.  'No problem', said I, I'm a big girl.  This time we had a birthing pool, and I loved being in it.  We were going for a home birth again, and I was lucky enough to get Lynn, my own midwife, whom I knew really well, and trusted completely.  There was another midwife too, from a neighbouring area, she was nice too.  Lynn and I really tried to have that baby at home.  We were going up and down stairs, leaning on doors, breathing, but it became obvious that it wasn't going to happen.  We agreed that Lynn would call the ambulance, and we all went to hospital (Kenny, during this had run into the street to find someone to look after the other children - thankfully a neighbour arrived back from a festival at just that point).  My waters broke as the ambulance pulled up, and the pain of the contractions for the one hour drive in the ambulance (due to the main road being closed) was excrutiating.  But Lynn helped me out.  Kenny helped me out.  It was amazing to be that supported.  I did think I was probably going to die, but the support was amazing.

imho I look awesome when I'm
When we got to hospital I was taken straight into surgery.  My surgeon was fantastic.  She talked with me.  She listened.  She tried ventouse, without a bloody episiotomy.  She nearly fell on the floor when the cup came off.  Then we agreed to go for the section, and I agreed to have a spinal.  And that's how I ended up in a hospital gown at Ipswich hospital.  The baby was 10lb 4oz.  She looked 6 weeks old.

Objectively I would have thought that my third birthing experience would have been my worst, and yet it wasn't.  It was actually a fantastic experience.  I learned that my body can handle more pain than I thought possible.  I felt incredibly supported.  I felt in control, and I agreed with the outcome.

From my experience, I feel that our subjective experience of birthing is massively impacted by how much control we feel we have.  And a lot of that is to do with how much people are listening to you.  If I were to have a baby again, I would go for a home birth again, even if it meant I'd have to have that hour of dying in an ambulance again.  

However, there are other theories.

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate, reckons that the memory we have of an event is shaped by how it ends.  If two people have a colonoscopy (which is not pleasant).  Person A's lasts for 10 minutes and gets increasingly painful, while Person B's lasts for 20 minutes, gets very painful, and then the pain decreases.  Objectively Person B's experience was longer, so should be worse, but they remembered it as being less bad than Person A's.  Why?  Because pain was at its peak at the end of A's story.  See more on this in Daniel's TED talk, below.

Daniel thinks that we need happy endings to make us want to repeat experiences.  From this point of view, maybe I remembered my first birth as a bad experience because of the lingering pain, whereas the third was a good experience because of the spinal.

What do you think?  What are your memories of birthing?  Or of other painful events?  Do you remember events as being better when they have happy endings?

Posts in this series

This post is from a series inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  You can find the rest of them here.
Also, other posts in my series on all things bumps and babies.  Here are a number of things I know about: