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Baggage Check

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Guest post by Angela Quinn

Wanna know a little secret?  Not all homebirthers are free-spirit, hippie-types who run barefoot and bra-less through life without a care in the world.  Some are (and I’m totally jealous) but a good many of us are really type-A, compulsive, control freaks.  I wanted to have a homebirth for a number of reasons: lack of confidence in the non-evidence-based medical model of labor and delivery, lack of desire to fight policy and procedure during contractions, and mostly because I wanted to be in control of my own birth process.  But I also wanted to be able let go at any time without feeling like someone was right there hovering over my shoulder waiting to take that control from me. 

So there it was in a nutshell – why I chose homebirth.  On July 29th, 2010, I had a “successful” HBAC and brought my beautiful little girl into the world to join our family.  However, I’ve struggled for the past couple months with why I have felt cheated, dissatisfied and disappointed.  After all, healthy mom, healthy baby – that’s all that matters, right? 

Recently I realized that I am suffering from the loss of my expectations.  I thought that I could control the whole process of birth. If asked, before the birth, I would have smiled serenely and said things like, “I don’t know what to expect, we’ll just wait and see,” or, “I’m just going to let things play out and see how they go,” or, “I’ll just go with the flow.”   

But inside, I just knew.  This birth, maybe my last baby, was going to be the most awe-inspiring-amazing-empowering-healing-example-setting-I-am-woman-hear-me-roar example of childbirth EVER.  Here’s how it would go, I imagined.  I would realize I was in labor, I mean, having surges, and I would immediately put on my Hypnobabies CD and go into hypnosis.  I would recognize the surges for what they were, functional and opening my cervix like a flower.  I would light some candles, send my husband out for Rita’s Italian Ice, read a book, and get into my nice warm birth tub where I would labor in stoic silence, a pillar of strength, telling my midwife and doula that they could rest and I’d let them know when the baby was born.  I would push for a few minutes, because (this time) my baby would be in an optimal position since I’d done everything right during this pregnancy (I exercised, ate well, saw a chiropractor, sat on my birth ball for work, watched my posture, did pelvic tilts, visualized).  I would have a waterbirth. The Hallelujah chorus would play as I reached down to feel the baby crowning and usher her into this world into calm, loving, peaceful surroundings.  I would immediately place her on my chest.  She would crawl up to my breast, just like the videos, and latch on by herself.  And, cut!  Fade to black with mother and baby happily bonding and music from a Summer’s Eve commercial playing in the background. 

My mom says I’ve always been like that, expecting things to go the way I plan them. When I was 9 or 10 years old, I’d write these skits that my younger siblings and I would put on for my parents.  Somehow I expected Broadway, and was always surprised and disappointed by the reality of 5 little kids who forgot their lines and had safety-pinned towels and paper hats for costumes.  In preparing for this birth, I thought I was just visualizing and being positive, but what I had really done was written my birth story ahead of time.  Well, guess what?  It didn’t follow the script.

In reality, I went into labor in the morning and worked through the first 6 hours or so finishing up stuff for my boss and sending emails.  Then I went to a scheduled appointment at my midwife’s office (an hour away), dropped off the kids at my mom’s, run some errands, and threw up in the car.  The Hypnobabies stuff worked in the beginning, but once it got harder, damn, that woman’s voice got annoying.  Surges, my ass!  How about hot knives being shoved into my lower back.  I had excruciating back labor (again!) because, despite my best efforts, I had another occiput posterior baby.  I didn’t like the birth tub after a couple hours and got out.  I whined and moaned…a lot.  I considered transfer to a hospital since I really thought she wasn’t coming out at one point, but the only reason I didn’t transfer is because I was so wimpy that I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle my contractions (or the back pain in between) in the car.  I never felt the urge to push since she was face up, but I pushed for over 2 hours, painfully, and she finally came out once my tailbone broke (again!).  She didn’t crawl to my breast by herself, because she wasn’t breathing and didn’t breathe until after about 5 minutes of resuscitation attempts. It was the scariest few minutes of my life, and I’ll never be able to think about her birth without remembering that heart-stopping, throat-constricting fear.  Fear that we would become a statistic, that this whole thing had gone horribly wrong.  After this birth, I knew I didn’t want to have any more children. 

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.  This birth was supposed to be healing.  I was supposed to overcome the physical and mental obstacles of the birth process through sheer determination and feel so powerful afterwards.  My education and knowledge was supposed to carry me through any tough times.  I was supposed to have a wonderful, idyllic story to tell to those considering homebirth.  I was going to be an example to others of how the female body is made to birth naturally and effortlessly.  My birth was to be a statement about what’s broken in maternity care today.  I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that’s a pretty freakin’ huge burden to put on one vagina.  That’s a hell of a lot of baggage to hang on the shoulders of one tiny little baby.

That’s not to say that I’m not allowed to be disappointed.  Or grieve the loss of the perfect birth story that lived in my imagination.  Or to feel betrayed by my body once again.  I’m allowed to be sad about it sometimes.  But I think I would have been less so if I had not decided ahead of time that my birth story would be defined by what it could DO for me.  Assigning a value to the birth process based on a pre-determined “yes or no” outcome is exactly what frustrates us so much sometimes about the “quit whining you have a healthy baby” attitude of society.  So why do we that to ourselves with the other outcomes of a birth? 

I wrote down my actual my birth story a couple days afterwards, and it had a lot of grief and anger and sadness in it.  I could barely see to type it up because I was crying so much while I wrote it.  It was only later, when I started looking through my camera to add pictures to the story, that I began to see the details that I had been missing because I had so many pre-conceived ideas that were clouding my perspective. 

As I saw the pictures taken around my house, I remembered that there were times of peace during the process and that I was comfortable in my surroundings, allowing me to focus on what I needed to do.  I can say without a doubt that had I not been at home I would have had another cesarean.  The picture of my doula putting a wet washcloth on my forehead and pouring warm water on my back made me realize that I did need to rely on others around me and that it is OK to ask for help.  Seeing how often my husband’s hands were in the pictures as I leaned on him for support made me realize how much he was there for me.  Our relationship has been on the rocks for the past few years, and I even said to him that it didn’t matter to me if he was present for the birth.  I didn’t need him or anyone else.  I prided myself on my independence.  But I did need him, surprising both of us just how much.  He felt needed and I felt taken care of.  It’s quite possibly the first time in 11 years of being together that I have ever relied on him to that extent, and it changed something subtle in the dynamic of our marriage, for the better.  When I saw the picture of my husband cutting the cord and the one of her lying on my chest afterwards, I was grateful for the decisions I made leading up to and immediately after her birth.  I remembered that I was smart enough to choose a competent, knowledgeable midwife who understood the benefits of natural birthing, delayed cord clamping, skin-to-skin contact and the power of the human body.  My faith in my instincts as a mother returned as I looked at the picture of her nursing for the first time, strong, alert, and healthy.  And when I looked at the pictures of myself laboring in different positions, my muscles straining, my face a mask of determination, I realized that I was not a wimp.  I am strong.  Not with the kind of strength that wills away the presence of obstacles altogether, but with the strength that allowed me to overcome and to persevere despite the unexpected difficulties and challenges I faced. 

We can do our research; we can prepare our minds and bodies; we can make sure that we are healthy and ready.  But we can’t define our birth story ahead of time. We can’t go into it assuming it will be healing or empowering or a message or a political statement.  When we do that, we risk that we will not see our birth for what it is – a beautiful, amazing process that helps define us as women and mothers in ways we may not expect.  It may not be pretty.  It may not live up to our standards of perfection.  Sometimes birth just….is. 

And now, cheesy as it may seem, I have to close this post with this quote.  Ask not what your birth can do for you…nah, just kidding.  Worse, a Beatles song.  It’s been going through my head since I started writing, so I guess it has to make it in here somewhere: “Let it be, let it be, let it be-ee, let it be.  Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”  There, now it’s in your head too.


Angela is a mother of 4. Her first was born via unnecesarean 8 years ago. She then had a hospital VBAC with her twins 4 years later, and 3 months ago she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at home.


More by Angela Quinn:

Good Little Girls

The S-Word



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Reader Comments (33)

I loved this open and honest post!!! I am going to read it and read it again and then I will probably come up with a better comment, but for now..all I can say is where is the "like" or "love" button when you need one?!?

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpatrice

I've read a lot of birth stories but this one is just... incredible. Thank you so much for sharing.

I had one of those "idyllic" homebirths (and I happen to be a free-spirited "hippie" in some ways but also I wear a bra 24/7 and am rather Type A!) but... I always knew that part of that was the hard work I'd done and the self-educating, and a big part was just - how the events unfolded. Thank you so much for writing a story that includes the fact birth can be complicated. There are SO many issues that come up for so many women and what you write here is more valuable than all those parenting mag articles on birth (which are condescending and 'splainy) combined. I hope many people read it.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Thank you for this. My son was born three weeks ago and, although I've had two previous homebirths and no c-sections, I could have written this post myself. I've been postponing writing my own birth story to try to get some perspective on the whole situation and now I think I can go write it :)

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHerb of Grace

Thanks for sharing that ! It is ok to be disappointed the one thing I didnt plan for in my HB happened .. just an almighty 4th degree tear but the shoulder dystocia that caused it was scary .. i fell into a deep dark depression hours after the birth .. one of the reasons i had chosen HB to hopefully prevent the PPD .. it didnt go how i imagined but id do it all again minus the tear and the dystocia thanks .. the thing that touched me most in your post are the comments about your husband .. my birth was the only time in our 12 yr r/ship I felt he was completely and totally there for me and i remember that fondly.
There is some huge pressure we place on ourselves around birth all we can do is make sure everyone is and has played their part and see what happens!

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiss

This was perfect. Wow. I felt so much of that...you are right. I tried to define my experience ahead of time, and even though I had a natural delivery, my first time without medication (after 3 inductions + epidural), I was disappointed in the experience because - I went to the hospital too soon. I wasn't strong enough. It lasted too long. I didn't stay in the tub. I whined. I screamed. It HURT. But my Baby B was born healthy. Without medication. I got through it, and I didn't once ask for an epidural. (I thought about how freaking nice it would be, at once point, but as my doula mentioned afterwards, I never actually ASKED for it.) It was going to be the most AMAZING story ever. The most AMAZING hospital birth ever. And...it wasn't. It was average. Normal. Nothing went spectacularly well, maybe, but nothing went wrong, either. I still haven't written it up because it wasn't what I expected, but now I realize even if it wasn't what I expected, it was still RIGHT.

I didn't bring anything into it other than expectations of perfection (my first two births went very smoothly) - so no painful history for me - so my situation is different from yours, but thank you, because you've helped me see the good things about my experience. I appreciate that. And I will be writing that birth story soon, before I forget it (or before I forget what I haven't already forgotten).

Also, the part about your relationship with your husband - how he supported you through it - just amazing. It brought tears to my eyes. It's amazing - the birth wasn't what you expected, or planned, but if it HAD gone that way, you wouldn't have had that experience with your husband.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLysana

I absolutely loved this post. Two years ago I had a planned home birth with my first baby which was flippin hard work but somehow I was able to go through with it. Afterwards my son would not latch on to the breast. No matter how hard I tried and how many experts came to help me figure it out (we even bathed together to recreate the birth process?!) he simply would not latch on. I expressed for six weeks until I physically couldn't anymore and felt angry...angry that I had this drug free birth in a calm and comfortable environment and I couldn't breastfeed. It took me about a year I think to come to terms with it all.

Now I'm 26 weeks pregnant with my second child and am faced with another birth plan to write...things are different this time...this time I'm "expected" to have another home birth (it is assumed by all) and, perhaps am putting expectations on myself to make this birth EVEN BETTER than the last one...and be sure to be able to breastfeed this time! I too have been investigating Hypnobirth this time, trying to incorporate anything possibly beneficial that I didn't last time...the pressure has been mounting. I feel like I need to go back to the way I was before I had my son...not having a clue what was going to happen and not really having many expectations for the birth, other than to not be bullied into doing something I didn't want to do. Seems as though there is some freedom in lack of expectation...to an extent obviously! Anyway this really helped me and I'm going to be sharing it with some pregnant friends of mine as well!


October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

I love this post. You've found words for a lot of what I have been feeling in the 5 months since my VBAC - not quite on the same level as homebirth, granted, but something I had worked so hard and fought so hard to get. Whilst I "succeeded" and birthed my gorgeous 9 lb 2 oz baby girl without an unnecesarean, it definitely wasn't quite the all-healing experience I had dreamed of. A 4th degree tear, pit and purple pushing on my back were not part of the grand plan! But I love that you had the guts to write with such honesty. Helps me immensely to appreciate how much I did accomplish, even if it wasn't "perfect" - whatever that may be.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicola

This is exactly what I needed to read today. I'm preparing for a VBAC; my first birth was a traumatic scheduled unnecesarean. I KNOW I've built up unreasonable expectations/political statements in my mind. I know that more likely than not, if my VBAC doesn't work out and I end up with a c-section, I won't be able to see the beauty in the time I DID have to experience labor because I'll be too busy feeling like a failure for not living up to the expectations I've set for myself. A perfectly average, unglamorous VBAC is fine with me...no need to have sunshine, butterflies, and an orchestra, but a VBAC it must be. I don't know how to let go of this, since obviously it's not all in my control...I wish I did. Seriously. If you have suggestions, things you wish you knew ahead of time, please tell me! :-)

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterM

Thank you. As a mom planning an HBAC right now, I needed to hear this.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Thank you for posting! This is exactly what I needed to read. I've been worried that I put too much pressure on myself and if my planned homebirth does not go how I want it to, I will be depressed. I'm going to read this over and over again until my baby (due in Jan) makes his appearance. Thank you!

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie
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