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In Rachel’s words, before she had her first baby, she makes references to a woman. She describes a woman in labour. She talking about that woman- that woman, who does the hypnobirth, looks serene and tranquil and just births in the pool like its nothing. That amazing, powerful woman?
In the weeks up to Rachel’s second birth, I thought about that woman a lot and of course whether she would become her. Through all of the birth preparation, the support from our consultant midwife and of course Rachel’s dedication and core belief in her body, would it be enough?
In the days following her second birth which was incidentally a VBAC:- a normal birth I thought YESSSS, this is momentous, a special moment a champion of birth. NOW she must be that woman.
Last week I bumped into Rachel, and I could not help but ask her if she was that woman now? That woman who she so wanted to be first time round?
Her answer was not what I was expecting. She was hesitant, unsure, as if somehow if she said it out loud, if she said yes that she was that woman, that it was disloyal to her first born son. That it was disloyal to the difficult circumstances of her emergency Caesarean section. It was in that moment, on the corridor, I realised; in reality I was asking a question that was not needed. I really didn’t need to know? I thought I did, because I also thought I knew the answer. I thought that because she had experienced her birth and really felt each moment that this would make her feel like that woman.
Of course having a baby, and experiencing the full on- absolutely hurts- but kick ass euphoria of doing it yourself should not be underestimated. I also know too well as a midwife, that birth can be healing and often is, I didn’t need to ask her, if she has become that woman, because in reality she has always been that woman.
Yes the detail of her births were different, and in the literal sense, first time around, she wasn’t that woman in the pool hypnobirthing as she eloquently described. She was in fact much better than that woman, because she experienced both births, her babies; each one is equally as pivotal and momentous. Each one, as important, each one so relevant because they made her a mother, the strong determined mother who she is today.
She was strong through a first birth a category 1 emergency Caesarean section. You can only imagine how frightening that moment was, but in a split second, she made the bravest decision of all. To go to sleep, to leave the dream of being that woman. To give herself, her well-being and the wellbeing of her baby to others. Health care professionals, who would always put her first, care for her with kindness. In reality being in the worst situation of all where you have gone to sleep in the hands of people who you have not met. The result? A birth where she was there physically but not present emotionally not connected- and still she was amazing. She was by a different description that woman. A mother. In that moment before during and after birth, she was powerful and amazing and she put him first. Despite this situation she was able to be present for him in a different way.
In her second birth she was powerful and brave, to choose a VBAC despite the fear. She put herself out there, even though she did not know what would happen. She was able to boldly shout-for the things that she wanted and despite the unknown, was able to birth her baby. Interestingly, second time around she was still that woman without the pool. She was that woman standing on a birth mat, catching her baby.
So Rachel my message to you is this. I am sorry that I ever asked you if you were that woman. I respect you equally for both of your experiences. Mostly I think that you are amazing, you and every single other woman who has ever been a mother, in any and every shape or form. Birth definitely affects you. It can be traumatic in any circumstance. But if you are lucky it only defines you in the best way.
I certainly high five you for having the courage and inner strength during both your births and applaud you for showing the determination that ONLY THAT WOMAN WOULD HAVE!!!
Baby number 2 made a staggering entry into this world in the early hours of a Friday morning. My body's ability to know what to do as well as my ability to just relax, let go and let it happen amazed me. As I had my head buried in the 'soft play' style birthing couch, I heard someone say 'wow she's so chilled' and remember thinking 'who are they talking about'?
Those hypnobirthing techniques were invaluable and my partner was so unbelievably amazing I fell in love with him all over again (don't tell him, after he's vomited he won't be able to get his head out of the door!). It didn't all go to plan, an induction after my waters broke meant I couldn't be in the water but I did have music, laughter and low lighting - not love and romance, that's what got me here in the first place but there was dancing. I found a position that worked for me and stuck with it, breathing for all I was worth, bossing my husband around with impunity (when else do you get to do that?), TENS machine pulsing (top tip by the way, if you have one of those controllers that hangs around your neck, try not to inadvertently lean on it turning it up to max when you're not expecting it - good lord that made me jump!).
The finer details of what happened in that room during the early hours of that morning are not important right now, what is important is the choices I was able to make. No one can dictate what is important to you and the reasons why things are important might not even be obvious. For me, there were some practical things like I know that opiate based medicines send me bouncing off the ceiling so I wanted to avoid them, but why I felt it was important for me to be the first person to touch my baby or for my husband to cut the cord (despite the fact that he really felt that that kind of thing should be left to medical professionals) I could not tell you.
But what I realised is that there doesn't need to be a reason for things, you wanting it is reason enough! Underlying all of my decisions was the word 'present', having previously had a section under a general aneasthetic I wanted to be present during this birth. And I was. 'You might change your mind when the contractions start' was the retort of one well meaning but ill thought out commentator when I was celebrating having been given the all clear for a VBAC. There were points when I shouted, swore (sometimes at the pain, and sometimes at people - sorry folks!) and one point where I uttered the words 'I can't do this' but the team around me pre and during the delivery believed I could and that made me believe I could. That I can never thank them for enough. There were choices that I made on the spur of the moment, ones that I had thought about long before, times when I changed my mind, and no one questioned me - not even me.
A few weeks later, I was pinned to the sofa after yet another mammouth cluster feeding session, baby was finally settled, snuggled up on my chest fast asleep and my first thought was 'put him down'. Voices began to echo in my head 'you're making a rod for your own back', 'you'll end up with a clingy baby', 'they have to get used to sleeping on their own', 'look at that pile of washing' (that's my voice!), 'why don't you have some time to yourself', and my personal favourite 'you should sleep when the baby sleeps' (by the way, anyone that starts a sentence with 'you should' I automatically ignore!) and I began to actually reason with myself about attachment theory and the fourth trimester, how baby needs that closeness, driving myself nuts trying through the sleep deprived fug to string together coherant arguments for staying put. Then it hit me, the biggest reason I wasn't jumping at the chance to put the baby down was because I was enjoying those cuddles. And I realised, 'I don't want to' is a perfectly valid reason! Of course this comes with a massive caviat about safety, health and wellbeing - but I'm an adult, I have lived independently for for the best part of 20 years, why was I suddenly scrutinising my decisions like Paul Hollywood pulling apart a technical challenge? And I started to give myself a break.
I may seem to have gone off on a bit of a rant but I do have a point I promise - and it's this - your wishes are valid, your choises are yours to make. Whether it's in pregnancy, birthing, or whilst raising children. During my first birth, it seemed like every choice was taken from me and there are times when decisions have to be taken by others, whether its a medical professional or when that baby becomes a very independent and head strong toddler screaming at you because they want the blue cup not the yellow one. It took the support of the awesome professionals, family and friends around me to empower me to be able to make choices the second time around, and now there's no stopping me. So now I am revelling in the choices I make and not giving myself a hard time because 'I want to' is enough of a reason in itself.