Liz talks her second birth (and says “vagina” a lot, probably): processing vaginal vs. c section, language around birth, internet vs. reality, and finding her OB and midwives.
This is episode 4, topic: Liz Talks Her Second Birth (Episode 1 of 2)
In case you missed it, episode 3 was all about Making Friends As An Adult. I talked about:
- The friendship mistakes I’ve made, as well as some of the things I did right
- The times I got lucky, and what I learned from them;
- My “list” of things that have informed my friendships as an adult, and
- That girl who hurt my feelings in kindergarten.
Today I’ll talk about:
- “Processing” vaginal vs. c section birth
- Language around birth
- Birth imagery: Internet vs. Reality
- My OB…and my home birth midwives
And I want to warn folks: hardly any of these topics will unfold how you might think. Also: if you don’t want to hear me say “vagina” or “vaginal” multiple times, you might want to tune out.
[BUT before I begin, some UPDATES:]
-Thank you SO much for the amazing response to the first 3 episodes of Liz Talks! I was floored by the feedback and the number of positive messages I received and now I’m extremely intimidated and terrified but so, so excited. I have a LOT to talk about, and I’m planning on at least a season of episodes – somewhere between 40 and 50 episodes – so we’ve got a LONG way to go. I know every episode won’t be for everyone, since we’re covering such a broad range of topics, but I do hope you find something in here that resonates, or that’s useful.
-I’m also both surprised and excited at the number of interview requests I’ve received already! I know that, eventually, I’ll want to bring people on for interviews but … not just yet. One of the only reasons I was able to conceptualize doing a new podcast is because I set one condition for myself – that I wouldn’t have to coordinate with anyone to schedule and record! I’m starting this by fitting it in wherever I can – sometimes that’s 5am, sometimes it’s 2:02 PM right before I leave for school pickup. The schedule is way too inconsistent, and I only have so much headspace. Once we’re really rollin’ – I’ll start playing with the idea more!
-BUT FOR NOW, You’ll get sick of hearing it, but especially as this show is new, I NEED reviews and subscribers to keep the momentum going! Even if you share one of my episodes with one other person, I would be SO grateful. I’m not a marketing machine – I’m just a girl, standing in front of a microphone, asking you to share me with your friends.
– My second update is a sad one. As many of you saw on Instagram, we lost our sweet dog, Cal, to what we believe was undetected cancer in the digestive system – a huge mass in his abdomen that we didn’t find until it was too late. He was at least 12 years old – we adopted him fully grown in 2009 – and had been suffering due to bad hips for awhile, so while we were certainly paying attention to his mobility, we at NO point suspected there was cancer happening inside his body. We misinterpreted a LOT of signs his body was giving us, and i’ll always regret that. He started to really get sick, and we took him in, and were told he should be put down immediately. We couldn’t imagine that, so we brought him home for the night and sought a second opinion, but there was really no path forward. Lap of Love, a wonderful company that does in-home euthanasia, came to our home to put him down with us the next day. The image that’s just seared into my mind is his gigantic, beautiful head resting on the floor as the vet administered the medicine, and in that moment I definitely accessed a series of feelings that I try not to feel on a regular basis. He was really the dog of a lifetime for me, and it is just so nonsensical to me that he’s not still here. I’d love to read the tribute I wrote to him on IG here for the podcast, but I don’t think I could get through it so, if you’re interested, you can hop over to my IG to read it. I didn’t get the grief-over-a-pet thing before, but now I get it.
We did give our 6 year old the option to be there, and Lap of Love gave us some resources about kids and this process, and it seemed to be a common recommendation that she was old enough to be present and that she not remain in the dark about what was about to happen. I don’t know that we made the RIGHT decision, but we don’t seem to have any unintended consequences of it – it was very peaceful.
Now, to be a bit morbid – because I can’t help myself – we elected to pick up our dog’s cremains rather than have them mailed, because I was just imagining them never arriving, or the package splitting open, etc…so when I went to pick them up I realized that the crematory is literally right across from my daughter’s school. I had never noticed before, but there they are – the big old smoke stacks half a block over – I get to see it every day, twice a day…and somehow I think that the dark comedy of that would not be lost on Cal!
Okay! On to the show!
This will be the first episode in my personal birth series, which might not happen all in a row, but will be released over the next few weeks and months, one of which will also include an episode about my C Section, as I know many mamas are curious where I stand on processing that, now that it’s been almost 6 years. Some of you might have listened to my interviews about this, years ago, with the Modern Mamas podcast…I love Jess and Laura SO much and they really did hold space for me on that podcast. I’ll actually be on with them again in an episode that comes out in a few weeks!
For those new to my space, for reference, my first birth was an emergency c section for a surprise breech baby; my second birth over 5 years later, which I’m talking about today and in part 2, was a home birth after c section. I didn’t originally intend to have a home birth, but did have a shift about that around 20 weeks, which I’ll talk about.
For those of you who have been with me awhile, you know how long it took me to share about that first birth – years! – and much of it was just hard for me to share. I believed, at the time, that part of my feeling of privacy around it was because it wasn’t just my story, but my daughter’s also, and that holds true; but I’ve also felt a mental and emotional shift over the last few years and I believe I’m in the clear for sharing more. I think that the explanation for my being reticent about some of the personal stuff is more multi-faceted than I first believed, and I do want to point out that while a LITTLE bit of it had to do with the fact that I was just plain upset, or feeling like a failure, for having had a c section when I was SO convinced that I’d instituted all the failsafes against it; it’s actually not just that AT ALL. I think it was more about those first ugly, painful steps in the lesson my first birth was there to teach me: that control is often an illusion, especially in parenthood, and that being blindsided cannot be avoided through a series of calculations made in service of “doing everything right.”
I think I also needed a shift in my personal narrative around c sections in order to serve my community better, and I’ll talk all about that more in a future episode. But to summarize, I no longer have the same tightening in my chest when I think about c sections. …I believe it was actually unfair of me to think of them the way I did, to apply some blanket standard to all c sections as representative of a failing of the maternal health apparatus…it’s just not like that. MANY varied outcomes represent a failing of the maternal health apparatus, but not all failings of the maternal health apparatus result in c sections. Many women have beautiful births this way, and I hope I did not give anyone any “baggage” around THEIR births as I worked through my own. Gosh, so many things can be true at the same time – I don’t know how to tackle them all.
Now, I think all the work I did around my first birth might have given me the tools to move more quickly through the process of resolution with the second one. And I want to make a distinction that’s important to me. I am not able to speak more quickly about my second birth because it was a vaginal birth and the other one was a c section. The vaginal birth was not mentally or physically easier FOR ME, nor did it come with less to process through. Not at all. I saw a lot of talk on facebook in my VBAC – vaginal birth after c section – groups that unequivocally stated that peoples’ VBACs were MUCH easier, both for birth and recovery, than their c sections. This wasn’t the case for me, and that shocked me! I had a VERY long and tough recovery with my second birth, and it took me at least 6 months to feel “back to normal;” and I actually felt that my c section recovery was more straightforward. That doesn’t mean I recommend a surgical birth, as there do seem to be some unique benefits and processes around vaginal birth, but that’s just the honest truth!
And that’s something I need to do with this podcast. I realize that saying some of these things doesn’t HELP the cause of empowering women in their natural births. But despite being unsure, my default is always honesty. What is real, what is honest. I believe, even if it’s scary, that we have to be expected to handle truth, to respect others’ right to talk about their experiences, and be adult enough to know that there is complexity, there is nuance, there is context at work in EVERY birth story we hear. I hope that makes sense.
Back to what made me ready to talk about my second birth, my vaginal birth. I think I was ready to talk about this more quickly than I was with my first birth, my c section, because, although my second birth had many surprises, it was not the EXTREME rug-out-from-under-you kind of surprise that my c section was. It did not challenge the whole of my intellectual scaffolding the way my c section did. That type of world-rocking was what, I think, really made it so hard to talk about for so long. But, of course, it taught me so much, too, so I’ll look forward to recording that episode, as well!
Now, a quick detour to talk about language. I am a word girl, but there are limitations to how I express myself here, and in order to keep it all authentic to my thought process, I am going to just speak and I ask that you roll with the spirit of what I’m saying and not necessarily the letter. For example. I use the term c section. I’ve seen people across the birth spectrum refer to this in several different ways. On one end, I see it referred to as “surgical birth,” which I don’t relate to at all, and I’ve seen others on another end of the spectrum refer to it as “belly birth,” which I actually really like … but it’s just not cemented in my vernacular yet.
With that in mind, another point about language and spirit vs. letter:
In all of my birth-related episodes, I will at times probably be using the term “natural” childbirth – it’s the best term I can muster, among the many options I probably have. I choose this term in part because saying “unmedicated” – which, it WAS “unmedicated’ – can kind of go two different ways. It can feel like sort of a dig at “medicated” births, as if choosing medication is somehow bad, which I don’t like, and it can also sort of suggest that the default is “medicated,” and I’m not sure I feel right about that either (I tend to think that there’s no default other than the default of YOUR PERSONAL PREFERENCE.)
At the same time, I wouldn’t call the alternative to “natural” birth “unnatural,” but these are the limitations of language in a 30-ish minute podcast.)
I also thought that simply giving the location – home – might transmit all the necessary information, but that feels odd, too, for some reason? But I might use the two descriptors interchangeably.
Whatever language I use, try not to read any value judgment around it. I believe wholeheartedly in nuance, in context, in validating every birthing woman’s perspective on their own experience, because the exact same experience can “hit” each of us in a completely different way. So please, just remember that, in recounting my own experiences, when I need to drill down to specifics, I will need to have some sort of descriptor there. Again, I’m a word girl, BUT I also recognize that there are limits to how much we can corral language, so I’m learning to always lean on the spirit of what’s being said rather than the letter.
Again, no value judgments attached to my terminology. I don’t think “natural” always means “good;” just like the word “chemical” doesn’t always mean something bad. For example, had there been an emergency where we needed hospital tools at my home birth, then these so-called not-necessarily-natural tools would have been “good” and the lack of tools would have been “bad.”
So when I say “natural” in reference to my experience, it really just means the baby came out with very little intervention beyond the tools I had at home: water, manual pressure, and people. In this case, a doula and midwives. And my husband.
What I try to always bear in mind is that every woman is different. In life, and in birth. Birth is different for everyone, and just because *I* experienced something a certain way doesn’t mean you will. I do feel like, in hindsight, I didn’t necessarily get what I needed going in to my natural birth. Of course, I didn’t realize this until after, because I didn’t KNOW what I needed – but it would have been useful TO ME to have some additional ideas of what to expect beyond what I took in. And here’s what I took in: Books, like Ina May’s book, natural birthing websites, and of course social media and influencers in my sphere, all seemed to portray natural-slash-home birth as this intense but empowering, grueling but triumphant, pain-with-a-purpose, lioness-goddess-like experience and truthfully, it wasn’t that for me. That’s not to say I didn’t get through fear and pain, but it didn’t feel like this exhilarating triumph. The pendulum didn’t swing, from the pain part way over to the exhilaration part. it just stopped right in the middle. At least, that’s how I see it NOW. I’m in a sort of processing pause right now, as I feel like “i’m good” right now, like there’s nothing really bubbling up (or being aggressively mashed down), but it might come up for me again at some point, at which time I’ll take a new look at it.
What I did learn through processing my first birth is that IT’S ALL OKAY. My births are MINE, and I process them in my own way and on my own time, and YOUR birth (if applicable) will be YOURS. Now, there’s nothing horrifying in here – in fact, overall, I lean positive on my home birth experience, but over the next few episodes, I do talk about things like pain and fear and bowling balls barreling out my rear end – which could happen anywhere, by the way, at home or in the hospital.
Now, to be honest, I don’t think I would have WANTED to see or hear anything other than what I’d chosen to consume ahead of my home birth. I did have a NEED to characterize my upcoming birth in a certain way so that I could approach it with confidence. But still, a few things would have been useful to know or have had a dialogue with my providers about ahead of time, rather than me asking, terrified during the process “is this ok?”
THAT SAID. If you are curating what you see and what you consume in preparation for your birth – no matter what “kind” of birth you’re planning – feel free to go no further with this episode. Skip it. You need to do what YOU need to do. I personally chose to consume mostly empowering, goddess-like, grueling-yet-manageable, almost artistic content leading up to my birth, feeling like what I saw was what I would internalize and reflect in my own experience. This wasn’t necessarily true for me, but it’s what I felt I needed at the time. I think we all have to strike that balance of being willing to push ourselves a bit out of our comfort zone, while still holding those boundaries as far as what we’ll bring into our awareness.
All right, let’s talk about my OB…and my home birth midwives
Again, I’ll talk more about my C section birth with my first in an upcoming show – I’m jostling the timeline around a bit, based on what’s freshest in my mind – but I do want to share that this winding road to a home birth actually never would have happened if not for my OB, and I never would have met my OB if not for my C Section!
I toyed around with home birth for my first, and interviewed a few midwives, but eventually settled on birthing my first at a local birth center staffed by nurse-midwives. it’s the only freestanding birth center in the area, but my time with them ended when I came in, in labor, only to find out that baby was breech! I was sort of shipped off to the hospital from there – again, I’ll talk more about this in a future episode, but the doctor that performed my emergency c-section was this amazing, soft spoken, respectful, kind, listening ear obgyn who treated me as if I had been her patient from the beginning. You hear horror stories about hospital transfers, so I am so grateful for this, because I truly believe she was meant to be part of my story. And I have since heard from MANY women who also feel peaceful and confident about their birth experiences because this doctor held space for them. And that’s what it is to TRUST your doctor. To really know that even if you don’t get the birth you want, that the person you invited in to your journey really did the job of opening all the doors possible, and giving an honest assessment when needed.
I’ll take a quick detour to tell another story – one lesson I’ve learned is that you truly don’t know what a seemingly negative experience is actually bringing into your life. I thought a c section was this disastrous outcome (again, it’s not, but that’s how I FELT), but instead it brought me the most incredible medical practitioner who made me believe that you could feel safe and …. Just SAFE in a hospital, even undergoing surgery; that someone trained in all the “what ifs” could also make you feel comfortable and calm. In the same vein, and this is the detour, I would never have met my husband if I hadn’t had a pretty awful relationship beforehand. I don’t want to get too specific, because a lot of people were involved, but the bad relationship landed me in a situation where I met a relative of my husband’s, who introduced me to him, and he was and is literally the best, most honest, caring, values-driven, man of integrity on the planet. I had SO MANY REGRETS about past relationships until I realized that this one quite literally set me on a direct, linear path toward the man I now have these two beautiful babies with.
Now, back to the topic. even having had a positive experience with this emergency transfer, and having a good overall experience in the hospital, I still struggled a LOT – as I said before, I think it was the sheer impact of having had something sooo unexpected, so off the radar, SO stunning happen in such a vulnerable moment for me, in my first birth – I had been in labor for quite a few hours when we found out I was going to be transferred into a situation I had ZERO familiarity with. That left me really unable to imagine doing labor and birth again.
In particular, I had really cemented myself to this idea of needing a “guide.” I had had a doula with my first birth who really did serve an important purpose in the lead-in to labor, but she was also as “against” c section as I at the time, and very adamant about some important stuff that was also important to me, and we really had more of a people-with-shared-values, she’ll-fight-for-what-I-want against all the forces trying to prevent it, kind of relationship than a wise guide/mentee relationship. And again, I think I had a lesson to learn about expectations in parenthood, so I can see the good in that now, too. I had a different doula for my second birth who was much more of that wise guide, answering all my questions, sharing anecdotes, really trying to plug in to what I needed to feel empowered, and I think adding that to the fact that I had matured so much from my first birth, it ended up being a much better fit.
Now, in following up with this OB in her office after my c section, I remember I just felt shocked by her compassion, yet again. It softened me. I felt like…wow, if I knew I could have HER as my doctor, I think I’d have another baby. She’s “the guide.” She has medical expertise, which made me feel safer – that’s not true of everyone, but it turned out to be true for me. She is so respectful, she never rushes you, she listens, she attends natural births, but can administer medicine, and I believe that she would never use meds in an unwise manner, I could TRUST her if it came to that…etc., etc.
And this was in the back of my mind for YEARS as I continued to see her for well woman care. But the conundrum was, she was in a hospital group where you’d never know who would be there when you went into labor. So I thought…I’ll stick with her for my well-woman care, and if she ever goes independent, then I’ll think about if I could have another baby again.
And I’ll interject…on myself…with this. During my first pregnancy, home birth was on my radar for a brief moment. In my SECOND pregnancy, I had had a trusted person suggest home birth to me a little while before I got pregnant, and I literally scoffed. I had NO INTEREST. I KNEW that it was not my path, and I was good with that! That ship had WAY sailed in the process of planning my birth with my first. I had found this doctor, and if I ever got pregnant again it would be HER and I was GOOD!
Back to my OB. Around the same time that I started to feel like hmmm…maybe we COULD do this again? Maybe we AREN’T one and done? I just happened to find out that my OB had started her own practice and was doing all her own births! Boom! It really felt meant to be. I got pregnant, she gave me excellent, compassionate medical care, everything was chugging along. I registered with the hospital where she had privilieges. Everything was moving forward in a very direct way. And then…March 2020 happened.
And this was an interesting moment for me. I really felt like I had had this series of “ta-da!” moments. Ta-da, your doctor is opening her own practice! Ta-da, you’re pregnant! Ta-da, you’re going to give birth with your doctor at a great hospital with the full spectrum of birth choices!
So here we are, the whole world, with this massive sense of uncertainty, hospitals not allowing birth partners into the delivery room, birthing in masks (this is not a political statement about masks; one can not want to give birth in a mask without political implications) … we just didn’t know what was happening! Suddenly, the hospital environment didn’t feel safe any more. While I had come to believe that I could find safety anywhere, which was something I had to really work hard to realize, since so many of my decisions with my first birth were based around being convinced that I could NOT have a normal, natural birth or feel safe in the hospital environment, I thought…maybe this is a good enough reason to look elsewhere for options.
I started to look at these nurse-midwives-turned-home-birth-midwives, who I had actually met when deciding where to birth with my first, I got their rates, and as I was thinking about it, suddenly I LITERALLY got a check for THAT EXACT AMOUNT in the mail. And I just thought…I think this *might* be the path.
That is STILL not to say I was SURE. In fact, I took this to my OB and said…you know, things are so uncertain right now, I am considering home birth. Of course, she said she couldn’t recommend that, that her professional organization recommended against it, et-cetera – and I don’t begrudge her that, what.so.ever because, in America, home birth and hospital birth are ENTIRELY separate things. They just are. She said what she was professionally obligated to say, but to her credit, she also still supported me *as her patient.* Even though she didn’t support home birth, she didn’t kick me out of her practice because I was contemplating it and being up front with her about it. To me, THAT is a great healthcare practitioner.
So, basically, I stayed with my OB while at the same time receiving parallel care from my midwives, who knew exactly what the scenario was. And I can’t say that I recommend this strategy…I truly didn’t know what I was going to end up doing, because none of us knew what was going on for a long time in 2020. But I wanted to be prepared, either way. It was a lot – there were a lot of appointments, a lot of long talks with my new doula, who really gave me the full spectrum of information, which is what I needed.
There is a LOT to it, and I’d brought this idea of parallel care up when planning my first birth with a home birth midwife, and had gotten a very almost angry “why. WHY would you want to do that?” which had really shut me down. I felt that I had offended someone by wanting to build relationships in both worlds to see what felt best and safest to me.
So, all the way up until I went into labor, I did not know what I was going to do. Who I would call when the time came. But I felt safe knowing I had all the options. I felt the statistics for me, as a low-risk mom, 5 years out from my c section, having received regular medical care, were favorable either way. That I was set up at a hospital should that feel like the safest place for me. That I had received medical care from multiple competent practitioners who knew me well by that point. As a side note, I also had the option of being attended by my OB at the birth center that I was supposed to give birth in the first time, which was interesting, but I had no interest in going back there, and when I asked whether being at the birth center was any safer than being at home in case of emergency, my provider actually said “it’s the same ambulance ride” which oddly sort of helped. Home birth midwives would have the same tools at my home as the nurse-midwives had at the birth center.
So, on the day I went in to labor, I actually went and saw my OB in her office, got checked, and told her before we went back home to labor that we’d call her if we decided to head for the hospital.
And we ended up calling the midwives.
And that’s where I’m going to end it for this week! Next week, I’ll share more details of my birth story, the good, the bad, and the ugly of home birth, and more. Wow, it’s tough to fit everything into a 30-ish minute podcast, but I’m learning!
Now, for my Weekly Overshare:
Hasn’t this entire episode been a bit of an overshare? This week, I’m going to share with you a strategy that helped me with momentary depression after both my kids were born. I’m not talking about clinical depression, that’s something where you need to enlist the help of a qualified practitioner for.
After both my girls were born, I found the nights to be profoundly depressing. In the hospital after my c section, as the sun went down, I would experience this feeling of dread like none other, when I’d been perfectly fine during the day! I blamed that on the TYPE of birth, hormones, being in the hospital; but I also experienced this with my second! And I found that the best remedy FOR ME was ignoring everything I’ve ever said that people should do. Instead of going to sleep, my husband and I would put in headphones and watch reruns of The Office. As many as we wanted. In this scenario, going to sleep wasn’t what I needed (well, it probably was). What I needed was blue light and Michael Scott relentlessly abusing Toby and taking the office women to the mall to talk about pap schmears.)
Before I wrap up Episode 4, I would LOVE to remind you that you can join me, message me, and communicate with me via Instagram @realfoodliz or through my email list, which you can find at liztalks.com, and where you can always reply to any of my email exclusives. I LOVE what I’m doing here with Liz Talks and the new content I’m creating, and it really does depend on catching you and keeping you to make it all sustainable…so if you’d do me the honor of subscribing to this podcast and my newsletter, it would mean the world.
That’s it for episode 4 – I hope you ENJOYED it, and I hope you’ll stick with me for part 2 of this birth story – THANKS for listening – have a fantastic day!