Rethinking birth culture: Steven's birth story
Before Steven's birth, I had things all figured out (at least I thought I did).
I thought that had figured out labor.
I was a second-time mom. So why did my contractions slow down when I got to the hospital? Was I afraid of something?
I thought that I was open-minded.
Adapting to and appreciating new cultures was my thing, after all. But when they told me that I had to have IV antibiotics because they found strands of group B Strep (GBS) in my anus and there was no other way for me to lie but on my back, I was not open-minded. In fact, I was quite closed-minded. I wanted things my way and any other way was not good. At all.
I thought I knew a thing or two about this world I live in.
But I could never have imagined that there are people whose job is to see life enter this world and instead of pausing to let their eyes meet a new human or to congratulate a new parent, they are looking at the clock to see how many minutes until their shift ends. Steven’s birth was my first jolt into the realization that life is fast. And people tend run with it and not question things (because that requires slowing down).
I thought that being goal oriented was always a good thing.
A healthy baby, that was the goal. Honoring the process was not a priority. Whether or not I was comfortable or traumatized was not a priority, because I was not the baby (the goal).
And so, parenthood held up its first mirror at me.
Am I one of them?
Am I just another person trying to get through the week? Open-minded but only when it's convenient for me? Thinking I know so much when I actually know nothing?
When my amniotic sack burst and the liquid was brownish, nobody thought to ask me how I felt. No one cared that I knew that my baby was fine, that he was about to make his debut, to stand back and watch because a miracle was about to happen.
They told me that I would have to go to another room, because my birth was no longer completely “physiological,” even though I was 8 centimeters dilated and Steven came out 10 minutes later, before anyone had a chance to move me.
My two university degrees didn’t matter. The knowledge that I deemed important didn’t matter.
Feeling mad at them didn’t help. Feeling better than them didn’t help.
The system is flawed, but how can one be mad at a system?
Are we all just getting through the day?
Those people in the hospital were getting through their day. And this is what we all do, I guess because we are socialized to survive in a fast paced world. We are all just trying to get home so we can make dinner and have a little peace and quiet before we do it all over again. Because we have to.
Then with a blump (head out) and a bloop (body out) he was with us. Little blond and chunky Steven. My husband got teary and I felt relieved. Oh my heavens the love that I felt for that little guy.
A fierce energy exuded from my being.
“No one touch us,” I felt like saying. This is sacred. This is special. You tried to make it not special but now there is no I.V. No one has any reason to tell us where to go or how to be or act so STAND BACK and let me do this.
He felt it too. The threat. Of being shoved into the rat race culture. He cried if he wasn’t attached to my breast. We wanted to stop time.
I limped out of the hospital with my baby in my arms, my oxytocin levels high, a proud feeling in my chest. I had done it. We had done it. Together.
I knew, though, that it didn’t have to be that hard. There was something missing in that hospital. But what was it? What was I missing?
That feeling continued, for a long time. That feeling of knowing that something is not right but not able to tell what. I felt little. Like little Steven. Unsure of the world and a little scared of it. But like I could somehow make a difference. Once I figured things out.
It’s been four years since Steven’s birth, and I have figured out what was missing: compassion.
Compassion is something that we are all capable of showing and feeling, but for some reason it’s often lacking in the most transformational moment of a parent’s life.
Birth can be amazing, wonderful, and powerful if there are birth workers present who treat it as such. People who lift the birthing person up and treat her as a giver of life should be treated: with awe-filled respect.
Sometimes I imagine what Steven's birth would have been like if all the people involved had been there exclusively for us. Explaining things to me, asking me how I was feeling, speaking in hushed voices, knowing when to talk or when to be silent. I would have felt like this work that I was doing was immensely important as opposed to a mere bother.
I think that widespread respect for people giving birth is completely possible, but it requires a culture shift, which I know takes time.
But little by little, baby step by baby step, birth practices can change. We can slow down and witness the miracle of life.
And when the day arrives that birth is seen as magical, worthy of delicate care and attention, that will be the day that this earth becomes a more compassionate place to live.
I can’t wait.