What I've Learnt... From A Tale of Two Tears
Preparing for the birth of our first child in 2013, I was utterly convinced we had it sussed. I expected to breathe my baby down in my bedroom, upright, giving my tissues time to expand, gravity supporting my open pelvis etc.
I knew if there was a real emergency, I would have an unplanned C-section, but I never considered any outcome in the middle.
When I started bleeding with each surge, 12 hours in, we transferred into hospital during transition. I’d been coping brilliantly, feeling supported, enjoying it even.
When we left for the hospital, all of that changed. I was treated as an inconvenience, a nuisance, a first time mum who had been foolish enough to imagine she could do it at home.
Unidentified people removed my clothes and cannulated me without discussion or consent. The consultant told me I would need an epidural as the pain would now hit me all in one go- I remember her laughing as she said it, mocking my optimism about managing without one.
For almost 5 hours, I came under the most enormous pressure to get the baby out promptly, despite there being no indication that either of us was struggling medically. I withstood threats of a caesarean, of stirrups, of episiotomy, and in the end, unsupported and exhausted, forced my baby out of my vagina all in one go, after much straining and screaming.
Unsurprisingly, I sustained a 3a tear, which I waited 5 hours to go to theatre to have repaired. There, people spoke about their weekend plans as if I wasn’t there, and dismissed my anxiety about feeling SO cold.
Every instance of pain, every feeling of weakness, every trip to the hospital for the following 6 months, I felt not just the tear, but the trauma of the way I’d been treated. Undermined, disrespect, unnecessarily injuring myself to try and maintain some autonomy over my body.
Fast forward 3 years, to the beautiful home water birth of my second baby. It was the most incredible experience of my life, birthing on my own terms, confidently boundaried, and wonderfully supported by 2 fantastic midwives. They were WITH ME, in every sense.
This enormous baby, with his fist upon his head, emerged slowly and gently from my upright body. And I sustained another 3a tear.
Don’t get me wrong- I’d have loved not to have torn. But I can honestly say, I wasn’t traumatised by it, even upset by it (beyond the inconvenience of going in). Everyone I encountered was compassionate, reassuring, nurturing.
I had very little pain beyond the initial recovery, and any time it smarted, I felt reminded of my capacity- how powerful I’d felt, how empowered and supported I was to bring the human I’d grown into the world as I chose.
The way we feel about birth isn’t simply about what happens- on paper, my 2 experiences were broadly the same outcome. We are limitless in both our strength and vulnerability in birth. The way that vulnerability is met carries forward with us into motherhood- can we expect to be belittled, mocked, disregarded? Or respected, held, accepted?
My experience tells me that our best route to more positive births and confident parenting experiences is to focus on how women want to feel, and how we can achieve that- through realistic education, through advocacy and kindness.