My personal view of giving birth when I was pregnant with my first baby was different from a lot of the pregnant women I knew. I think this was probably because I taught Childbirth Education classes for almost 2 years before I ever had any babies of my own.
I know what you’re thinking, “I’ll bet your credibility rating went way up after you started pushing babies out yourself!” And it did. I came into this field of Childbirth Education in kind of a backward way. Teaching Childbirth Education was never on my radar. I would never have imagined doing what I do now. So how’d it happen? Well, my best friend was having a baby.
Liesl & Andy were our first friends to make this huge transition of becoming a family, and she asked me to be there for her birth. Not one to ever do anything half-way, I found out what a doula was and took a 4-day training at the Seattle Midwifery School. I wasn’t just going to be at her birth, I was going to be her doula. By the end of that first afternoon, I called my husband and announced, “I’ve found what I’m going to do with my life!” That’s a pretty strong statement, but it was completely true. I came home full of ideas about how I was going to rock this birth and be the best damn doula anyone had ever seen!
I’m not going to lie to you — I was not the world’s best doula at that birth. I kept my calm, and I think Liesl was happy to have me there. I’d like to think I provided her with some help, but in retrospect, there were lots of missed opportunities from a doula’s point of view. It was a successful and beautiful birth — but there were some bumps along the way.
During those 24+ hours together, I fell in love with birth. I fell in love with Liesl — her power and strength amazing to witness as she labored for hours to open her body and bring a brand new human into being. I fell in love with Andy — feeling helpless and wanting so badly to do anything to make her feel better in the midst of the contractions. I fell in love with Olivia — the squirming, squawking little newborn who looked like she held the key to all the secrets of the universe. And I fell in love with the feeling of witnessing not just the birth of a new baby, but the birth of a new family. There was a high in that room after Olivia was born, a sense of having witnessed something sacred that I could not get enough of!
I couldn’t figure out how I could make this my life’s work, though. The hours were rough and I wanted a family of my own someday. Plus, I couldn’t actually charge someone after they’d allow me to witness their baby’s birth and I got to feel that high again. It just didn’t seem fair. So, I became a Childbirth Educator. I could still work with expectant couples and do a few freebie births on the side.
I had no fear of giving birth when it was my turn. I’d witnessed it first-hand several times, and while it was definitely hard work and probably painful, I still believed birth to be a normal, healthy process. My body was designed to do it and do it well.
I was happy that I didn’t fear birth. But after I gave birth to my daughter, Elisa, my view of what birth could be changed dramatically.
Now I’d love to tell you that I’ve always been a completely unbiased Childbirth Educator. That I’ve never had any notions about the best way to give birth. But that would be a complete lie. I will tell you that I was able to not bring any bias into my teaching, but I still had some pretty strong ideas about the “right” way to give birth for me: no medications, no interventions, grunt my baby out and head home two days later.
The birth I actually had, helped me realize something very important. There is no “best,” “right,” or “perfect” way to give birth. In the hours that you’ll be laboring hard to bring your baby into this world, the only way to give birth is your way. And on that particular day, with that particular set of circumstances, with that particular baby, and that particular birth team — the way to bring your baby into this world might involve: medications, interventions, even surgery.
If we enter into this experience of birth with a rigid idea of what it should look, sound and feel like in order for it to be “best,” “right,” or “perfect” we can sometimes block our own view of all that it could be. We can shrink our own view of birth to include only the desired elements in sharp focus and leave all other possibilities blurred along the edges. When these other possibilities become our reality, we declare this birth to be less than — less than “best,” “right,” or “perfect.” But this doesn’t mean that the birth we actually had has to be any less sacred, less beautiful, or less empowering. Even if, maybe especially if, it doesn’t line up with our personal view of birth before we’ve ever gone through it ourselves.
If we can expand our own view of birth, not only of what we want, but what might become necessary, we can move into this experience with a richer sense of possibility and witness all the gifts that are available to us. It’s this shift in our own view of birth that can allow us to receive the full measure of what birth really is: messy, wild, intense, spontaneous, intimate, powerful, vulnerable, full of awe and wonder.
Shifting my own view of birth not only made me appreciate the birth I actually had for all that it contained — which was so much more than I could ever comprehended before I was in the middle of it — but it made me a much better Childbirth Educator. I can honestly say that my own birth experience allowed me to drop any and all bias about what a great and positive birth could look like for any individual woman. I had a birth that didn’t look anything like my “ideal.” Yet it was still sacred, empowering, and positive.
How did your own view of birth change after your first experience?