A Baby, A Bond, And A Butthole: A Boring Birth Story

Main Street Mama is back with a tell-all narrative just in time for her first Mother’s Day 

By Jess Procter
@north_west_jess//@thenewprocters

Warning: this birth story will not bring tears to your eyes.

When Loose Lips suggested I make my daughter’s birth story public, I was torn (birth puns, LOL). The weekend our daughter was born was the most vulnerable, emotional, and completely bad ass I’ve ever felt, but I worried that my story was too boring to share with others, if I may call a human being coming out of another “boring.”

But I’ve spoken to so many women who felt disappointed by their own boring birth experience that I wonder if there are mamas out there who could benefit from reading something different from the intimate, weepy birth stories we read when we’re pregnant. While those stories increased my excitement and anticipation as my due date drew nearer, they can easily cause us to lose sight of the real point – it’s not to have a certain experience, it’s to get that mother-lovin’ baby safely into your arms. That’s it! Maybe that sounds jaded, and maybe you were one of those lucky women who had an orgasmic birth on a bed of soft moss in the company of onlooking deer, but spoiler alert: we do not all get that.

B I R T H

At some point in my pregnancy, I realized I should probably know more about the female body than I did. I found that despite the fact that women have been giving birth for forever, there are about a million different ways to do it in 2017. I liked the sound of a water birth before I remembered that I hate baths. Then I thought about a home birth because I’ve been waiting to exact revenge on our neighbours for their noisy dogs for almost three years (be careful what you wish for, you might get colic). In the end, we decided that giving birth at the hospital was the best plan for us. It was only a few minutes from our house and, tbh, I wasn’t really into the cleanup that I suspected would accompany a home birth, especially since we still hadn’t even cleaned our ceiling after our wedding night beer pong the previous year. My intuition turned out to be right; things can get pretty messy and amniotic fluid is just one of many, many fluids present at the birth of a baby.

I sought out some clinical resources so I would be totally aware of the physiological deets and then passed that information to my scientist husband before delving into the emotional stuff. The hormonal prego in me completely fell in love with each mama’s romantic re-telling of the day she brought her baby earth-side and I started to daydream obsessively about my own story. I imagined meeting my baby for the first time, that cherished moment that would immediately change me as a human being and bond me to my baby for life. I thought about it constantly until my whole pregnancy was leading up to that moment. Unfortunately, that expectation would later come back to bite me in the ass.

B U T T H O L E S

Learning to manage your expectations is probably the best thing you can do as you approach your labour. Our doula gave us the best advice: don’t make a birth plan. When we make plans we attach expectations and those expectations set us up for disappointment (take it from a Type A Planning Addict who has been dealing with that for a lifetime). Instead, we made what we called a “birth wish-list:” a list of things we preferred, but that was accompanied by a general agreement to remain flexible and go with the flow. My three wishes were thus: I wanted the baby to be healthy (duh), I wanted her to have skin-to-skin contact with me or my husband as soon as she was born (for maximum bonding), and I didn’t want anything bad to happen to my butthole (I had heard some horror stories). I’m a simple gal with simple dreams.

A friend told me, “Just trust your body and trust your baby,” reminding me that I wouldn’t be the one calling the shots, the baby would. The knowledge that the baby and I would be doing this together helped me relax a lot. This was instinct and biology. My baby, like every other baby who has been born before, would know how to make her own way out, and I thought that was pretty amazing. It turns out that ignorance is bliss, ‘cause If I had known that I was about to give birth to a tiny sadist with a gigantic head I would definitely not have felt as relaxed as I did.

B A B Y

When I felt the first twinges of labour on a Saturday morning I immediately texted my cousin to ask “is this it?” So much for trusting my own body. Despite my crippling self-doubt I decided this was it, and prepared to spend the rainy Vancouver day at home baking food to feed the hospital staff. By the time the late evening rolled around it was clear that a baby was indeed coming, and also that I wanted very badly to have an epidural. Many mamas have an unmedicated birth; yay them! I felt like a ripe cantaloupe being cleaved in two, and knowing that something existed that could put an end to that feeling was too tantalizing to turn down. I was 6 cm dilated when we were admitted to the hospital and I told the staff that I was quite ready for my drugs now, thankyouverymuch. They explained to me that there was a procedure for these things and it would be a while. In the meantime I was soon 8 cm and absolutely miserable.

They call those last few cm “transition.” I had read that transition was the most intense part of labour and prepared myself for it by reading about the psychology of pain and the possibility of having a baby in a state of grace and euphoria. That sounded really great so I had practised meditation and visualization techniques for months. Unfortunately, my love of being in control rendered me incapable of the surrender that is necessary to work through a contraction. My mind was too busy and too weak for me to overcome my own fear. I screamed like I was being burned alive, not even noticing when a man arrived to put a large needle into my spine. When he was done, a few contractions passed and the pain slowly faded to nothing. It felt shockingly normal to be suddenly fine. It was such a relief. So I did what anyone would do in my situation: I told the anaesthesiologist that I loved him, and then I vomited all over myself.

Things promptly slowed to a crawl and my midwife and doula crept off to sleep somewhere in the hospital, urging me to do the same. Had I known that the adrenaline in my body was going to keep me from sleeping any longer than a few hours a day for the next month I may have taken their advice more seriously, but instead I stayed awake watching my husband enjoy a cup of tea and an upright snooze in a hospital chair. Hours passed. I’m not sure how many because it was Daylight Savings Time and no one seemed to know what time it was for the first half of the morning. Finally we collectively decided to move things along, so our midwife broke my water, shot me up with some oxytocin to get my contractions going, and said, “it’s time to meet this baby!” What an anti-climatic moment. Depictions of the actual birth of a baby usually show a busy room and a woman pushing two, maybe three, times. For me this part was peaceful and quiet, just the sound of my breathing over the steady counting of my husband, one to ten over and over and over.

Remember that giant head we talked about? After more than four hours of pushing, that head was tilted and stuck in my dilated cervix, waiting to come on out. I had agreed to trust that my baby knew what she was doing, but clearly she needed a little help and that help came in the form of forceps. I was dead tired. They dialled up my epidural until I couldn’t feel my legs again, counted to ten, and somehow maneuvered two giant silver salad spoons into the already cramped space inside me. I gave another few pushes and they pulled her big baby head right out! After that, her body slid out like a wet harbour seal and suddenly, she was in the world with us.

B O N D

Here’s where my expectations got the best of me. I know, I made it so far, right? We had promulgated a vibe of flexibility for the delivery but all of a sudden our baby was on the outside and my expectations for that part were way off. Without realizing it, my obsessive daydreaming about the intense connection I would feel when I first met my daughter had set me up for disappointment, shame, and debilitating guilt, because that moment just never happened for me.

By the time our baby was born our quiet room was packed. In addition to the forceps crew, the NICU team was present for her birth and the room was busy with an army of strangers literally peering right into my vagina. She came out blue so they cut the cord right away and whisked her away to a little incubator they’d brought into the room. I waited to hear her cry but they were sucking meconium from her lungs. My husband assured me she was fine but I had waited 40 weeks and 2 days to hear that sound and the relief I felt when I finally heard it almost knocked the wind out of me. It was such an emphatic cry, not the feeble whimpering of a newborn but an assertive, insistent cry that announced “I’m finally here, and I am miserable!” Had I known that she would continue to make that sound for the next three months I may not have exalted so much in hearing it, but the despair of colic is a story for another time. Once I had been convinced that my baby was okay I posed the second most important question to the resident who was sewing my vagina back together: “is my butthole okay?” She assured me that it was, and we all lived happily ever after.

Just kidding, not so much. A few hours later, in our tiny private room as a new family, I still hadn’t felt that mother-baby bond and the self doubt crept in fast (pregnancy hormones are no friend to a postpartum mama). I wondered if I was mistaken in thinking I was maternal. I stared at my brand new baby and thought “I love you, but I love your daddy more.” I didn’t think that was normal. When we had to stay in the hospital for a few extra days to run some tests on our baby, I felt so anxious that I think my body shut down as a defence mechanism. Even once we had made it home to our own space, I felt nothing. I had never been more tired but I wasn’t able to sleep. Our daughter screamed constantly at us and I cried while singing “I Can’t Make You Love Me” to her. It took months for us to build a bond with our baby and I suspect it’ll take much longer for me to let go of the guilt that I feel because of it. Sometimes I still wonder if it’s normal to feel that right away and what it says about me that I didn’t. I’ll never be able to bring myself to look into it because I’m afraid of the answer.

My daughter is sensitive and I respect that it takes her a long time to warm up to new people, but it’s admittedly easier to accept that fact now that she’s obsessed with us. At first it was annoying that she never let us put her down, but now we consider ourselves lucky that she wants nothing more than to be constantly in our arms. She is completely captivated by us and we are, in turn, enamoured by her ever-growing list of skills, her sweet little face, her fat thigh rolls and the bluest eyes we’ve ever seen. We always loved our daughter but it took a few months for us to like her.

While our birth experience did not result in an immediate bond between myself and my child, it sure brought an additional closeness to our marriage. Our daughter’s birth was meaningful to us because it was the first thing we did together as a family of three, but it wasn’t anything like the story we were hoping for. No parent expects a hospital stay full of tests or a newborn diagnosed with a congenital heart disease, but even negative experiences are a part of a family’s unique story. We didn’t get the foggy and blissful first weeks we expected with our newborn but a stark, stressful first few months of appointments at the children’s hospital. My point is: it’s okay. My experience was joyous and silly, but also traumatic and emotionally wrenching. It was mine and in time I have healed. This doesn’t mean that my daughter’s body has miraculously healed or that there won’t be any more hardship in our future, but I suspect that the three of us needed extra time to get to know each other in order to build an even deeper bond than we could have wished for. That’s one expectation I’m happy to have gotten completely wrong.

 

 

Jess is a wife and mama living in East Van. She is a constant worrier and coffee drinker but refuses to believe that those two facts are linked. She is currently planning her next beer, next tattoo, and next baby.