“Women are not the cause of unnecessary and unwanted medical intervention in birth. Interventions are rising because the maternity system was never set up to promote physiology or support evidence-based, woman-centred practice. It evolved to sustain medicine and control women’s reproduction, and it continues to do so effectively.”
— Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage: Weaving ancient wisdom with modern knowledge by Rachel Reed.
UNCOVERING THE WOUND
My birth story is about celebration and transmutation.
Celebrating the ecstatic moments of transcendence.
While transmuting the painful and traumatic aspects of my birth.
Loving and healing myself back to a new level of wholeness.
For a time I thought that because I had a difficult birth something was wrong with me. If I was better prepared, more focused, more determined, or more positive, then I wouldn’t have struggled so much in my birth and afterwards.
I know this is just mental chatter, and it’s not true. It also goes by another name – shame. It is internalizing blame that is unfounded, unnecessary and also untrue.
Because of that internalized shame I haven’t shared much publicly about my experience with my first birth.
However, birth, healing, and transformation are what I’m most passionate about as a human, mother, therapist, doula and facilitator. My hope is that sharing parts of my journey and my own healing path, and owning this vulnerable process, might bring some validation and a sense of solidarity to you, too, dear reader.
When I began my study with the Shamanic School of Womancraft in 2017, to do the Eight Seasons Journey program (just as I was beginning to bloom in my first pregnancy) we needed to make an intention for our time in the course.
We were asked to make an intention for our deepest healing and what we needed to learn. A part of my intention was – “to help heal the feminine wounding”.
Words are magic Spells, and this was a big intention. I believe that the universe listened. My birth journey allowed me to travel deeply into the terrain of ‘feminine wounding’ AND it has also allowed me to find a path to deep healing.
CONSCIOUS CONCEPTION JOURNEY
There is so much one could say about their own experience of birth. Where does this tale of initiation begin and where does it end?
My story really needs to begin just before my son’s conception. I participated in a women’s circle led by a First Nations elder, Bilawarra Lee, who invited the folks in the circle to express something that we needed to heal, and to ask our ancestors to help us heal this.
I was 32 and had experienced years of irregular menstruation and fertility issues, and I was ready to welcome our first baby. When I shared this, Bilawarra spoke plainly, she said, ‘you need to do ceremony and ask your ancestors to help you heal’. So, when I returned home this is exactly what I did.
The next month I experienced some of the most intense feelings I’ve ever experienced, rage, hate, sadness, overwhelm… and then I soon found out I was… pregnant! I’d never experienced such profound magic in my life!
The conception date was (surprise, surprise) the date I had done the ceremony.
To fully emphasis the magic, this little gift from my ancestors was “due” on my birthday!
* Trigger warning: this story contains aspects of medical trauma, and discussion of surgical / cesarean birth*
I had always wanted a homebirth, but for several reasons this wasn’t possible for us in the town where I lived. So, I decided to birth in what seemed like the next best place, a local birth center. I assumed I would go postdates like most first-time mothers, but on the evening before my birthday I felt a strong thump into my pelvis and then my waters started gushing out… it was happening!
As labour was unfolding I had involuntary urges to push for many hours, starting early on, so thought it best to head into the birth center. I had done an internal examination on myself (because there was that part of me that was curious to ‘know’) so I already knew my body was working hard yet was ‘only’ open a small way.
Once we arrived in hospital things went downhill pretty quickly. Downhill in the labour slowing down, lots of people trying to do things to me kind of way. When I received my midwifery notes after my birth, I learned the midwife (my continuity of care midwife who knew me well) had written by 9am the next morning that she had recommended I have my labour augmented with syntocinon, despite knowing that this was the last path I wanted to go down (only 11 hours into labour, with a first baby, with an asynclinic presentation, where mother and baby were healthy and doing well).
To say I felt let down by her is a massive understatement.
As the hours went by with little ‘progress’, my resolve started to diminish. I had felt so connected with my baby throughout the labour, and my mantra with each contraction was ‘yes we can, we’re doing it together’. Despite my midwife stating several times throughout the day that she thought I should have an induction to speed things up (labour augmentation with syntocinon) I kept declining.
At one point when she was trying to convince me to accept the syntocinon intervention she said, ‘you’re getting so tired’, and I couldn’t even look at her, I just stared straight ahead and said “I’m fine”.
This moment here is so symbolic of the dynamic of power that a midwife or ‘care provider’ has in our birth space. To have someone hold the space for you in birth, when they don’t actually believe you can do it, can sabotage everything.
Labour is a mental challenge, not just a physical one. As Rhea Dempsey speaks about, the ‘crisis of confidence’ in labour is to be expected, and that’s why who is with you is the most important factor. Will they capitalize on this crisis of confidence, and coerce you or guilt you into a path that they’re used to (e.g., a medically managed birth) or will they support you in your own capacity, to labour as you need to labour, with belief in you and patience for the process.
I felt supported by my partner and doula, yet the environment, being in the hospital, with the way that midwifery is often practiced in this system, felt threatening and unsafe for me. After many hours I felt I lost my flow state, I was feeling panicked and stuck. My midwife who I had known and thought I trusted did not have the patience, or perhaps skills to support me to birth physiologically (especially in the hospital environment).
What I wish ‘care providers’ would remember is: if you don’t believe women can give birth, get out of the birth room.
Many maternity care settings struggle to make space for ‘longer’ labours. So with the ‘slow progress’ and contractions that were often on top of each other, and an almost constant involuntary bearing down/pushing even in between contractions, I chose to accept having my labour augmented with syntocinon, in the hope of still having a vaginal birth.
Those who have experienced an ‘early’ urge to push must listen to this podcast episode by The Midwives Cauldron, where Rachel Reed discusses how the approach to pushing in labour needs drastic change. How I wish I had a midwife with this approach during my labour. Being told not to push and to go against my own bodily instincts felt like one more layer of losing trust in my own body not working as it ‘should’.
At this point there was a midwife shift change, and my previously unsupportive midwife was replaced by a midwife I’d never met. I wish the story gets better here, but unfortunately the next midwife whilst also being unsupportive actually treated me with disdain. She barely got out from behind her desk, she ignored me and requests for assistance and support. She made me feel like I was the last person in the world she wanted to ‘care’ for. The midwife roulette was not on my side.
In terms of the rest of the labour, what unfolded was what is known as a classic ‘cascade of intervention,’ as my baby quickly became distressed due to the syntocinon. Then meconium liquor was present. Alarms were ringing and people were rushing into the room, getting me to move different ways to help my baby get more oxygen.
For the many women who go through this, you know it’s a scary place to be when you’re fearing for your baby’s wellbeing (even despite all the knowledge that that CTG machines don’t reduce infant mortality and instead increase cesarean sections).
The next best thing was to have a cesarean birth. I was feeling so excited to meet my baby, and turned my focus towards this next step. I said goodbye to my beautiful doula as she couldn’t accompany me into theatre. I felt her love and holding from afar.
Luckily the universe sends an angel in the form of the kindest, sweetest anesthetic nurse to be by my side. I’m beyond grateful, as my midwife has left me alone in the corridor by now, as I wait outside the operating theatre for about an hour, stuck in a bed, with cords and straps everywhere, unable to move around to cope with the intensity of the surges.
This dear nurse is so lovely. She wishes me happy birthday and asks about my son, what his name will be, and gets ready to take our birth photos. The support from these simple acts of kindness I will never forget.
The next phase of the birth initiation was having my body cut open to birth my child. There is so much I could say about how I experienced this, but I cannot do justice to how distressing this was for me. I know cesarean birth can be beautiful and empowering for some women and families, and I’m grateful for this life saving procedure when it is needed.
I actually found the moment of greeting my son THE most heart opening experience of my life, which I am deeply grateful for. However unfortunately the surgery was not straight forward. There were several complications including the anaesthetic not working properly, having a PPH that took a long time to get under control due to a tear in my uterus. I won’t describe anymore because I don’t think it will benefit anyone to read this (if you have experienced cesarean complications and want support for this then please get in contact with me directly to speak more).
I was shaking (our body’s normal response to shock and trauma) so much uncontrollably on the operating table that I could barely hold my son, let alone have skin to skin with him.
I left the operating theatre feeling distressed, in severe pain, disoriented, and the most broken I’d ever felt. My nervous system was shocked and overwhelmed.
I was the one in three women who experience birth trauma. These unnecessary and exceedingly high rates of birth trauma are inseparable from the high rates of obstetric coercion and violence that women experience. The way women are treated by care providers is one of the leading factors in birth trauma.
There can be many aspects of birth that could be overwhelming for a birthing person. For me feeling unsupported by those I trusted to help me was a big factor. However the overwhelming nature of the medical interventions was another massive factor.
If you’ve read this far, please stop and take a breath. Move your body. Take care of yourself however you need to.
Know that this is not the end of my story.
Remember there was magic too, right from the beginning.
My birth and postpartum experience has taken me on a deep dive into embodying the ‘feminine wounding’ in the world and within me, and in doing so it has revealed some of my deepest shadows. I had many issues postpartum with breastfeeding, that lasted for several months (that could be another post entirely).
However the real struggle was seeing the unhealed stories starting to settle in my bones. Stories of lacking worthiness. Stories of not enough-ness. Stories of failure.
I had hoped for the positive, empowering kind of transformation that can come from birthing our babies and birthing ourselves anew. I had hoped that my birth would leave me feeling strong and fierce as a new mother.
Yet here I was. Recovering from an emergency cesarean after always having hoped for a gentle, physiological birth for my baby at home. I felt so much anger, sadness, pain, and overwhelm, interspersed with many moments of joy, laughter, and the fiercest love I’ve ever experienced.
I was a new mother. Yet I felt so broken.
How could I have known so much about birth (as a birth worker/doula and student midwife, and after journeying with many families during their births before my own) and still meet this fate?
How could I have believed and trusted in physiological birth so much, and yet it escaped me in my own experience?
How could I heal from this experience?
Please go to my next article, Reclaiming Yourself After A Challenging Birth.