I am a childhood abuse survivor and so I didn’t have confidence or trust in my body. That lack of confidence was reinforced when my first birth, a planned natural birth, resulted in a painful and highly medicated induction. I suffered post-partum depression for over a year after the birth. But I am blessed because though I was defeated in spirit, I had great support. When I told my husband, Rob, that I was changing my care to a group of Certified Nurse Midwives who deliver at a local hospital he stood behind me. We did not know it at the time, but the choice to change my provider became one of the pivotal moments in my recovery as a survivor, and monumentally improved my joy in mothering and my marriage.
When I discovered I was pregnant again, I fearfully avoided my first prenatal appointment for 12 weeks. My previous doctor wasn’t nurturing. When he checked me he did it in such a way that I was left feeling violated. No “cold touch.” No “gentle pressure.” No bed-side manner. He just walked in, “I’m going to check your cervix.” Check. “Everything looks normal.” It wasn’t his intention to make me feel bad, but when you’re an abuse survivor it’s not unlike being abused again. My midwives gave me care which chipped away at my fears. They talked with me about my feelings about my past birth and my future hopes and concerns, not just my medical history. They treated my whole person. I was more than a body which happened to be wrapped around a baby. Our first appointment lasted over an hour. I felt safe in their care. But I still didn’t feel confident in my self.
My due date came and went– nine days, ten days, eleven, twelve– I feared I was unable to go into labor. My midwives gave me the best standard of care and monitored my baby’s health. They trusted my body to go into labor eventually and encouraged me to be patient. On the evening of my thirteenth day post-due my contractions finally started, 15 minutes apart, and I tried to prepare myself to welcome my baby to the world.
I called Rob from work, and I drove my daughter to my in-laws’ home and called the midwife. She told me to hang out at home until I felt I needed more support or contractions were coming very close together. Bedtime came, and Rob put our daughter to bed. I labored quietly in the living room while my husband’s family went to sleep. Everything was normal, peaceful.
In the back of my head I feared things progressing, feared going to the hospital and what would happen to me once I got there. Would my body do its work? Would I have spent 7 hours in labor just to be dilated to 2 cm when we finally arrived? As night turned into early morning we decided to make the trip to the hospital. My fears escalated as we arrived. I was defensive towards the nurses and Rob, nervous my labor would stall.
When my midwife arrived, she brought her calming presence with her. Within thirty minutes she had the lights turned down, and every unnecessary person removed from the room. She gave Rob instructions on how to rub my back. The three of us fell into a rhythm. Rocking, massaging, humming, moaning… finally I relaxed. Finally I felt like things were the way they should be. I joked between contractions. I was actually enjoying being in labor!
Suddenly, I felt the urge to vomit and my contractions started bashing on top each other. I had been lying on my side in bed and I called out for help. While I lay shaking and panting in the bed, my midwife and nurse filled the labor tub with warm water. I climbed in as soon as I could. Laboring wasn’t fun anymore, it was harder work and I had to focus, but I was still calm and relaxed. My midwife leaned against the side of the tub and talked me through contractions, Rob poured warm water down my back with each one and I focused on the sensation of water going down. It was just an hour until I began feeling the urge to push.
I don’t know if it’s because of my past abuse, or if it’s common to become fearful during the pushing phase of labor, but I suddenly became panicked. I was thrashing around the tub crying, “Help me!” splashing everywhere. I tried to get up and leave. I was holding back against the pushes, trying to escape my own urges. I will be forever thankful for what came next. My midwife grabbed my arms and looked right into my eyes saying, “Hold it together. Your body is strong, and you can do this. You need to hold it together and your baby will be here.” I started to sob in her arms, “I need to you help me. Help me please.” My heart was breaking because I was so afraid of what I would think of myself if I couldn’t push my baby out on my own. “Moan low. And push into the pain. Push your baby through the pain.” Ten minutes later my beautiful daughter was born into the water and placed on my chest. I rested there with her, relief and joy in my heart. She barely even cried, she just nestled in to me. Rob beamed with pride. We had overcome the obstacles and done it.
The next morning the second midwife from the practice came to visit me to see how my birth had gone. I told her how it had been so peaceful except the end. But I had managed to keep it together and go naturally. Besides my pride in my accomplishment, her words built me up: “You are powerful. You birthed a baby. You can do anything.” That was truth.
I took that confidence and power home with me from the hospital. Unlike after my first birth, I suffered no post-partum depression. I started to trust my instincts more. I began to be more open-hearted to Rob and my daughters. I don’t want to pretend that one event changed my whole life, but in some ways it did. My natural birth experience was the first time someone other than my husband trusted and respected my body. I was expected to be powerful, and I was! My daughter’s birth was a foundation of confidence that I can build my strength upon. It can’t be taken from me.
Devona Brazier is a wife and mother of three lovely daughters living in Akron, OH. She works to support pregnant and breastfeeding women through La Leche League membership and studying to her Lamaze Educator Certification. She enjoys kickboxing, running, hiking and sewing. She blogs at tobravebirth.com