What Birth Story Does Your Fear Tell You?

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There would definitely be blood. An ambulance siren would peal in the background, and the blue flashing lights would illuminate our living room window. Passersby would stop, stare, and wonder at the spectacle of a half naked English woman being stretchered through our portuguese village, while my newborn babe cried in her dad’s arms. Retained placenta, birth gone wrong, terrible business. Surgery inevitable.

Or perhaps I would not even get that far. Maybe my little one would try to come out, but my body would prevent her. Fight against her. Birth canal too narrow you see, birth failed, do not pass go, do not collect your baby.

Or…

Or this could be my imagination talking. In reality, neither of the above situations were remotely likely to happen. Even so, my fears felt so real that it was hard to believe they had no basis in fact:

The first example is what I feared might happen during our third child’s birth because the placenta had been a bit lackadaisical arriving when our second child was born, and it freaked me out. After doing a little research and reflecting on the circumstances, I remembered that I felt really cold after Sam was born, but was feeling too labour-stunned and baby-struck to ask for a blanket. I was also reclining quite a bit. Both these factors influence the timely arrival of the placenta, but even so, a 45 minute wait for a natural third stage is not that uncommon. By ensuring I stayed warm and somewhat upright I would probably deliver the placenta in a more timely fashion. My midwife assured me that, though it would be unpleasant, he would be able to deal with a reluctant placenta at home. In case of postpartum haemorrhage he had drugs to administer and would  be able to deal with the situation, though a transfer would be necessary. However, the likelihood of this occurring during the home birth of a third child after a low risk pregnancy was extremely small.

The second example is what I was told might happen during the birth of my second child by a nurse in the maternity hospital. I went in for a check up, and  cried on him. I told him that I had had an assisted delivery with my first, even though she was only 2.4kg, and was scared I could not give birth naturally. I was terrified because I had had a third degree tear last time too. He smiled reassuringly. “You’re really fat you see” he said. “You gained so much weight that your insides pressed on the birth canal and made it smaller. If you’re not careful about what you eat this time, you won’t be able to birth your baby”. Now, I have researched this idea as best I can, and have found no scientific basis for it whatsoever. I can only guess that it is this guy’s pet theory and he decided to share it with me with the best intentions. In Portugal, it is still common practice to do weigh-ins with pregnant women, which is his job, and it is not for nothing that my friend and I refer to him as ‘The Ice Cream Police’. Even so, I am pretty incredulous that I was subjected to this nonsense.

It was through addressing these fears that I became convinced that the best thing to do when you or someone else tells you a horror story is to listen carefully, then analyse the crap out of it. I was inspired by a brilliant TED talk by Karen Thompson Walker, which talks about doing just that.

 

 

In this day and age, there is a great deal of fear-mongering surrounding childbirth in general. Home birth appears to be enjoying positive press at the moment, due to reports which confirm the safety of planned home birth, and the apparent popularity of retro shows like ‘Call The Midwife’. However, it has been controversial for some time, and there may well be scare stories in the press again in the not too distant future. In a climate where there are so many horror stories surrounding birth it can be so difficult to pick out the real dangers from the dramatic fictions. I believe it is much better to address fears about birth at leisure, during pregnancy or even before it, rather than be confronted by them during labour. By reflecting on the details of your fear, the story it is telling you, you can a) Assess whether the birth will likely play out as you imagine, b) Create strategies for dealing with problems, c) Review options, d) Visualise a more positive story.

For instance, during my second pregnancy I was so worried that I would once more give birth with the assistance of forceps and sustain another perineal tear. This time it would be more severe and I would not heal as well.

A) Assess whether the birth will likely play out as you imagine –

I examined scientific studies, and read anecdotal reports in chat forums. It seemed that women in my situation tended to go for a managed birth with pain relief and a planned episiotomy, OR an elective C-Section, OR they went for a natural birth, often using water, adopting a leaning forwards position. Either way, most fared better the second time around, with the most positive results coming from the last group. In large, rigorous studies, such as this one, home birth has been proven to be as safe for babies as hospital birth, and safer for the mother, in low risk pregnancies.

B) Create strategies for dealing with problems-

I now knew that I had a great chance of pre-empting birth interventions by going for a natural birth in a forward leaning position. I could give birth in water or even just labour in it, to soften my perineum and assist the scar tissue in stretching. I could control the birth of the baby’s head by breathing and resisting the urge to push too fast.

C) Review Options

In my local maternity hospital the policy is that women all birth lying down with their legs in stirrups. Private clinics deal only with elective sections, and there are no birth centres specialising in natural birth. Therefore, we decided to plan a home birth with an independent midwife.

D) Visualise a more positive story-

With our strategies in mind I read tons and tons of positive birth stories involving home birth, water birth, birth of a second child, and birth after a third degree tear. This helped me to re-imagine how the birth would go and to get a general feel for the rhythm of the narratives: what happened, when, and how. I also listened to my Natal Hypnotherapy CDs often, which helped me to relax and anticipate my birth.

I am pleased to say that Sam was born naturally, speedily, and with no major bottom damage. We were really pleased with our experience of home birth, so we decided to have another next time. Evie, and the placenta which followed her, were born even faster with no complications and not a scratch to the perineum. Their respective birth stories are here and here. I wrote about what I learned from my first birth here.

 

 

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From Me To You: Dispatches From The End Of My Tether

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I can see why so many mothers write blogs. It is keeping in touch with yourself and making contact with others in one elegant package. Both these things can be a challenge when you are absorbed in the task of raising a family. Blogging is a way of sorting through all the disparate threads of half finished thought that accumulate in a typical day. I can remind myself that I make something which feels whole, rather than the piecemeal making do which comes from spreading yourself thinly across the needs of three little ones and holding up your end of a marriage (common-law or otherwise).

I often find myself composing letters to people which never get written…

Dear friends and family,

You may have noticed that I have not been keeping in touch all that well, these last six months. You may feel unloved, unconsidered. I assure you that it is not you, it is me. I have never worked so hard, got such little sleep, or been so often undone by life around me. I have never loved so much, but also not been needed so much. It is a wonderful feeling to have brought these small people into the world and to have the task of raising them. I love being their mother and spending time with them. So it is difficult sometimes to reconcile with this, the thought that it can be so damn hard. I do not want to be a person who only talks of coping with their children. It is more a case of figuring out how to work together with them and spend our time in a way that means no one feels their needs totally sidelined. The transition to becoming a family of five has been the biggest leap in some ways, bigger than the jump from two to three or three to four, because it is not so easy to meet the needs of five people at once compared to two, three, or four. Add to this the attention needed for houses, cars, work, tax returns and other admin, and the pressure mounts a bit more.

On good days I am finding my feet, and on bad ones they are buried under a pile of dirty dishes, adorned with dressing up clothes, or covered in nappies. I always love to catch up with you all though and I think of you often.

Much love,

Alexis xxx

Dear Mother Bloggers,

I understand why there are so many blog posts that talk about being overwhelmed on a daily basis, and I think it may have to do with expectations surrounding parenting. Jennifer Senior talked about this recently, saying that there is so much emotional capital invested in our children that standards for looking after them are placed incredibly high.

The internet, and books (remember them), provide amazing resources for connecting with others and sharing ideas. You can learn about whatever floats your boat: child behaviour and development research, communication skills, nutrition, mindfulness, upcycling or unschooling. The downside of this is that rarely a day passes where I don’t see an article titled something like ’11 Things You Didn’t Know You Were Doing Wrong For Your Children.’ Parents are invited to rethink every social norm and belief that they took on in their prior lifetime and to reshape their approach to raising their kids. For every article which promotes one way of doing things, there will be one which admonishes it. You have to develop a robust sense of priority and devil-may-careness to focus on what really matters in your situation and discard the rest. The more intense and lonely your parenting situation is, the more you have to discard what you do not have time or energy for. I try hard not to feel guilty about this.

I wonder too if there is a tendency for parents, perhaps most especially mothers, to ignore the warning signs that they need to slow down and take a breath. Sometimes you want to look after everyone and everything else, yet cannot find the voice to say ‘I need X. I cannot do Y.’ For some of us it may be easier to write it down. Hence, the anxiety ridden missives from the blogosphere. It can be hard to recognise when you have a need that cannot go unanswered, still harder to answer it. I am writing this now because I broke out into big gulping sobs in front of my husband, thus bringing the matter to light that I wanted a few minutes ALONE. I wanted it like plants want light and water. I wanted it with my whole mind and body. Here I am. Mother bloggers, I feel your pain. There seems to be various things we can do about it though:

  1. articulate what our needs are to ourselves and other people,
  2. discard prescriptive rules in favour of simpler guidelines like ‘do activities other than TV’, ‘get outside’, ‘keep healthy food in the house’, ‘listen to each other’,
  3. get better at saying ‘Fuck it. I’m doing a great job.’
  4. keep blogging

So mother bloggers, I think we’ll be ok. Sending you all a big hug of support,

Alexis xxx

Dear Reader,

I could go on, but now I feel a cathartic wave of peace has come over me. What a marvellous thing writing is and how much it helps to sort your head out. Husband is in the garden playing with the big kids and baby Evie is asleep. Time for that G and T. Bugger, it’s not yet noon and I will have to breastfeed soon. Well perhaps a cup of T. Thanks for spending a few minutes with me.

Cheers,

Alexis xxx