When I was pregnant with my first child, I was a very nervous mother-to-be. My childhood was full of stories from my mother, grandmother and aunt about the difficulties of childbearing. The pain. The length of labor. The medical difficulties. As a family, we do not give birth easily. I didn’t see why I would be any different.
Also, it was pretty clear to me at a young age that my mother and aunt considered life before having children to be vastly preferable to life after children. They were honest about the struggles of parenthood in a way that is almost considered to be taboo in today’s society. And with the 1970s feminist movement swirling around them, the women of my family were caught between the values they grew up with and a society that suggested they should want something different. It wasn’t an easy place to be, I think.
As a product of that mindset, I waited to have children until my early 30s. I don’t regret waiting — it was the right time for me. The uncertainty about motherhood I harbored for most of my life needed time to give way to different life perspectives, ones that simply come with age.
My first pregnancy and labor were relatively calm and drama free, until an emergency c-section was performed. I don’t regret the c-section, although I would have preferred to avoid it. My mother and grandmother had c-sections, and sometimes I wonder if there’s a link there.
What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was when I first held my son. Bruised and red-faced, I looked into his gray newborn eyes and thought, “Where have you been all my life?”
It was like I started breathing oxygen for the first time in years.
The birth of my first child was an awakening. To date, I consider it to be the most pivotal moment of my life. The connection was instanteous, and three days later when they let me out of the hospital, I remember feeling blissfully happy for the first time in a very long time.
Not all women feel the same way about their birth experiences. I understood a little better a few years later, when my daughter was born. Her actual birth was sedate by most standards — a planned c-section. But the moment she drew breath and I heard her ear-piercing scream, I knew something was different.
My first words upon seeing her were, “What’s wrong?”
It took us three months to find out what was wrong. Three very long months of a screaming baby, of sleepless nights, of doctors and hospitals, of glimpsing the ugliest parts of ourselves. The experience pushed both me and my husband to our absolute limits. It was one of the hardest periods of my life.
She is fine now. We are fine now. But took a lot of work on both of our parts to not let those first few months define her. It is a piece of her story, but not the whole story.
I tell you these two stories to show the difference between them. Two birth stories, and both of them are mine. I have learned not to compare them, but to accept them for what they were.
Someone once told me that everyone’s birth experience is so different, and it’s almost like picking a card from a deck — you get what you get by the luck of the draw. I think she had a point, although there are only 52 cards in a deck, and I suspect birth stories are far more numerous.
If you had an experience that wasn’t positive (or was downright terrible), it can be difficult to listen to others tell their birth stories. It can be even harder when judgement, disguised as advice, slips into the conversation — something that’s all too common in today’s parenting world.
Tell your story. It’s a part of you. But it’s only a chapter in a very long book. There’s still time to write the ending.