When Love is a Battlefield

Posted by on Aug 28, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on When Love is a Battlefield

I firmly believe one of the things that is broken in our culture is our need to out-do one another with our birth stories. Somehow we have gotten into the custom of spinning our tales of agony into drawn out horror stories. When you combine the somewhat out of body experience of childbirth with the common interventions and drugs that often accompany it you end up with stories that sound more like a horror movie than the miracle of childbirth. Unfortunately, this is made worse by the fear tactics that are used to justify many interventions and surgical births.

Recently I had the honor of attending the birth of a close friend. It was her first baby, long awaited, and it was a beautiful, inspiring labor. And long. From when she first noticed the consistent contractions until the birth of her daughter she was in labor for 53 hours. Much of this was early labor, the last part of which lasted for many, many hours with contractions 4-6 minutes apart and strong enough to keep her from sleeping.

She managed her labor beautifully, taking each contraction as it came, relaxing well between them, facing the disappointment of not progressing as fast as she would like with grace. I was so proud of her, throughout the entire experience. In the case of her labor, she finally moved into solid active labor after about 35 hours, and over 40 hours since she’d been able to get good rest. At 7 centimeters, 38 or so hours after her contractions started, she got an epidural when it became clear that she was just too exhausted to face transition and pushing without some rest. We had talked a lot about making the best decision with the information she had at any given time and her emotional flexibility as her labor took this unexpected path was spectacular.

After some good rest and waiting for her labor to continue slowly after the epidural was placed there were some moments of uncertainty. Baby’s heart rate increased, causing concern. Mama’s temperature spiked, which, while it is most often a common side effect of the epidural, can also be an indicator of infection. Progress was slow with the epidural in place, even after adding pitocin to strengthen the contractions. We talked about the possibility of a c-section, and again, she faced this potential outcome with a calm grace.

Her doctors and nurses in the hospital were incredibly conservative with intervention and inched their way quite reasonably, never once mentioning the possibility of cesarean themselves. The fever was treated with Tylenol and baby’s heart rate came back down into a normal range. Cervical progress continued with a small amount of pitocin. Periods of rest were alternated with being upright (which I’ve seen completely refused in other hospitals when an epidural was in place) and great patience was practiced as mama labored down for quite a while, moving baby as low as possible before pushing.

When it came time to push, she was so strong. She pushed well, finding just the right place, and in an hour and fifteen minutes her daughter entered the world, pink and squishy and perfect.

Lily was 10lbs and 11oz, 22 inches of a baby no one had guessed to be that big. Lily and her mom worked together for 53 hours, on top of over 40 weeks of pregnancy, to create Lily’s path earthside. It was beautiful, powerful, a testament to the strength of women and their endurance both physically and emotionally. Watching this couple become parents was one of the great joys of my life and I’m grateful to have been there.

How do we tell this story without making it sound like torture? How do we give this mama every second of credit for the work she put in, and still communicate how incredibly doable the whole thing was? I fear that this story will so easily become about the 53 hours, the nearly 11lbs, the “I’m so sorry’s” and “how awful for you’s”, rather than the incredible congratulations that should be offered for so gracefully allowing her baby the time and the space to find her path into her Mama’s arms.

Think hard about how you tell your story, and how you respond to the stories of others. When you talk about your birth, do it in a way that inspires future mothers rather than scares them. Provide the women in your life the gift of responding to their birth stories with joy and pride, confirming that they were able to experience birth (however it happens) because they are strong and capable. The simple act of each mother changing the way she tells her story can make all the difference in the world to how our culture views birth. A miracle, not a battlefield.