I talk not having a “redemptive” birth, the “KIND” of birth and whether it matters, home birth start to finish, and what I wish I’d known.
This is episode 5, topic: Liz Talks MORE About Her Second Birth (Part 2 of 2)
In case you missed it, episode 4 was all about my second birth, part 1. I talked about:
- “Processing” vaginal vs. c section birth
- Language around birth
- Birth imagery: Internet vs. Reality
- My OB…and my home birth midwives
Today, in part 2, I’ll talk about: [topics covered]
- Not having a “redemptive” birth
- Why the KIND of birth might not matter
- My home birth, start to finish
- What I wish I’d known
And I want to warn folks, just as I did in part 1: 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.
[before I begin, some UPDATES:]
-I mentioned Athletic Mom in one of the previous episodes, and I want to VERY QUICKLY (so don’t fast forward) share how you can grab the Athletic Mom Daily Fix for free. The Daily Fix is a set of five different movement “small bites” that you can choose one or more to incorporate into your day. It’s not about Fixing YOU, it’s about GETTING YOUR FIX, because the more you do them, the better you feel! I asked my trainer, nick, who is a corrective exercise expert, to create movement sets for post C Section, Post Vaginal Birth, correcting posture, and for just generally feeling like crap, and finally, for that transitional period in life we call “new demands,” when you realize that the kids are heavy AF and you get asked to coach the 4 year old soccer team and you realize these are entirely new challenges. ALL of these I very specifically asked Nick to design either because I wish I had had them myself a LONG time ago, or because they’re actually really truly useful to me NOW. So If you want to add these fixes to your day you can go to AthleticMom.com and by the time this podcast airs you SHOULD be able to just pop in your email and grab them. And you can share with anyone and everyone!
A side note about Athletic Mom. We named it this NOT because we’re trying to help people become something they aren’t already. I never want anyone to feel like “hey, you SHOULD be (or look, or perform) like an athlete, or you SHOULD be/look/perform like a yoga mom or you SHOULD be/look/perform like Tracy Anderson)…Athletic Mom was so named because I believe TO MY CORE that moms are athletes, and I had this idea of helping women like me discover and cultivate and OWN what they ALREADY ARE. We’re just starting out, but we have an amazing team who really believes it’s possible to start a business based on AFFIRMING the amazingness of what people already are, not by selling big promises around changing someone, or what some “guru” thinks you should aspire to be. Cool? The program will be ready in Q1 of 2022, so keep your eyes open!
On to the show!
Before you listen to this episode, I really want to encourage you to listen to Episode 4, which is part 1 of my home birth story. In Episode 4, I talk ALL about the important context, nuance, and details around talking about a personal experience like this, the language we use around it, and how honesty around an experience is of paramount importance to me. If this episode makes you feel any sort of discomfort, or even like “hey, she shouldn’t be talking about that” I betcha dollars to donuts that Episode 4 will help make things make sense.
So…..go do that, if you haven’t already.
In episode 4, I also talked about WHY and HOW I pursued parallel care between my amazing OB and my home birth midwives, and how my OB did not support home birth, but she still treated me with respect.
And now, if you’re still here with me, here’s where I talk about what natural birth at home – my HBAC, or home birth after c section – was like – FOR ME.
In episode 4, I talked about how I anticipated my second birth being this this lioness, goddess-like, empowering experience, but in all honestly – it wasn’t! I talked about how the pendulum did not swing all the way to the other side, from pain and fear across to empowerment or triumph; that it sort of just stopped in the middle.
Before I talk more about that, I also want to talk about something else. Years ago, when I was feeling a lot of sorrow around my c section – as I talked about in episode 4, I had an emergency c section for a surprise breech presentation with my first daughter – Immediately after, when I was looking at it as some sort of failing, either on my part or the part of the healthcare team at the birth center, I had a lot of people suggest that I could have a second birth that would be redemptive or “healing,” and I always sort of rejected that, even though I appreciated the sentiment. In some ways, maybe I rejected it because it felt like an inadvertent shorting of my first daughters’ humanity, to suggest that her birth, the way she came into this world, was in need of redemption. What if she came into the world exactly as she was meant to? What business of mine was it to decide otherwise? It also felt like we were sweeping pain under the rug, covering it with this “oh, one day, you’ll have a healing experience” rather than really working through the feelings at hand. I think this is different for everyone – some people need the promise of redemption, the hope of things going differently. But what *I* needed, and what maybe will resonate with some of you, was not that. Of course, I wanted some kind of magical experience, but not to redeem my prior one.
What I had to learn was, FOR ME – and again, this is just speaking to MY experience – FOR ME, nothing needed to be redeemed. There was nothing wrong with my first birth. Whether it was a product of a flawed maternal health system – and the system IS flawed, absolutely; or a tragic loss of skills around breech birth – and there IS a tragic loss of skills around breech birth – there was still nothing WRONG with it from the perspective of its purpose in my life. I am truly a better, more compassionate, more aware person because of my c section birth, and I wouldn’t change it. I really can say now, honestly, I would not change it.
So I did not go into this second birth with expectations of redemption, or in an attempt to heal wounds from my first birth. It is truly its own, separate entity. And I didn’t plan a home birth in an attempt to go to the exact opposite extreme of my first birth. if you listened to episode 4, you’ll know that I didn’t even intend to have a home birth in the first place, and although I had my home birth midwives and was established with them, I also had an OB, and I didn’t know where I’d give birth until the day I went in to labor! (Sometimes I joke that I didn’t know my daughter was going to be born at home until she was born at home.)
So let’s talk about my second birth, my natural, home birth with my second daughter. I suppose at this point in my journey, I would say I clearly know what this birth WASN’T. It wasn’t lioness, goddess, empowering, purposeful pain kind of experience, like the books I’d read and the accounts I followed on Instagram suggested to me. So I know what it wasn’t. What it WAS is something I, in the course of outlining this podcast, I realized I still need to assess – and I’m excited to bring my awareness to that. What WAS this birth?
What I do know, is that it WAS an affirmation that, for me, the KIND of birth doesn’t matter. On a cosmic level, whatever that means, it doesn’t matter. We can have an honest discussion about all the benefits to vaginal birth, and all the reasons x might hold benefits compared to y; and on and on. But how a baby comes here does not HAVE to matter. I do we need to advocate for mother-centric care, and for equity in access to resources that make birth safer. We need to advocate for choice, for providers that are there FOR their patients, and who work in a system that doesn’t manage humans like tally marks. All of that is true. But when a baby doesn’t enter the world as planned, we as mothers are not OBLIGATED to carry that like an albatross around our necks. THAT is what I’m saying. And this might not resonate with everyone, because WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT. But if it resonates with YOU, I’m glad I said it.
What I learned across these two experiences, is that no matter how I bring my babies earthside, I am a mother. Just as adoptive mothers are mothers. Just as foster mothers are mothers. Birth is monumental, it’s life-altering, it’s transformative, but what’s even MORE monumental, life-altering, and transformative, is PARENTING. This is something I picked up as I sought wisdom after my first was born: that, number one, neither of my daughters really care how they got here, but even more so, that my relationship with my girls is fed by my ongoing actions, day after day, not by the moment they came into the world.
And again – I do NOT mean to say that the way women birth does not matter. It ABSOLUTELY matters, and I am in complete support of the many birth practitioners – midwives and doulas, in particular, who are fighting for mother-centric care, for choice in birth, for lost skills, for women reclaiming their power in the birth process, for equitable maternal care across the united states and the world. This is much needed, and I feel that very personally since I very well might have been able to avoid unwanted surgery had my practitioners had the skills to deliver a breech baby – which, as many midwives would say, as well as the well-respected OBs Aviva Romm and stu fischbein, the latter of which is a home birth obstetrician, is a “variation of normal.”
What I am saying is that MY births are still beautiful, even though both of them could be “held up” as examples of pretty much anything either side is trying to prove.
OKAY. Back to the nitty gritty of my home birth. The sort of wacky part of my birth is that once I started contemplating having a home birth, I had this vision of dim lights, comfort, in this nicely remodeled bathroom with faucets that worked and no mold in the shower – We had contracted to have our original-to-the-home bathroom redone, which was badly needed on all levels, and it was to be finished long before I gave birth. Then, of course, COVID, and construction was delayed quite a bit so that we had NO showers when I went into labor except the one in the basement, which is this sort of creepy, 1970’s era orange and brown… installation. But it works, so there I am, getting ready to labor in the corner of my basement in a very un-instagrammable setting. All good.
So I went into labor with both my girls around 3AM, in pretty much the same way. So, labor felt pretty familiar to me. I spent most of it in the shower – thank goodness for our amazing hot water heaters – intermittently texting my doula and keeping her updated on contractions – – and when it felt like the right time, we headed out in the car to get checked by my OB in her office. Now, I said before that I really didn’t know where this baby was going to be born basically until she was born. I really felt that need to check in with my OB that day, knowing that the midwives were also standing by.
Now. That car ride SUCKED. Absolutely sucked. And had I felt really destined for one choice or another, staying home and never taking that car ride would have been such a wonderful bonus to home birthing. But, in the moment, I needed to see my OB in person. I don’t know how much that would have actually yielded in terms of information about whether my birth at home was going to be safe, but it’s what I needed, so I did it. Maybe I felt like seeing my OB on the day would be more pleasing to my relatives, who are not in support of home birth. I don’t know. But the urge was there, so I satisfied it. This was around 9AM, and I was really interested to hear from her that I was around 6 CM dilated by that point! Maybe closer to 8? But I remember 6.
Now, of course, hearing that, I was like…COOL! So this is what 6CM feels like? Only 4 more to go? I CAN do this! This isn’t so bad! What are people talking about?! (I mean, it was painful, but manageable.)
It wasn’t until we got home, and the midwives arrived, set up the inflatable tub, that I started to feel like damn this hurts. But still, manageable. Purposeful pain, right? The warm water felt AMAZING, counter-pressure had a measurable impact, all good.
Side note – I think maybe I had been a little puffed up about how it was going to feel, because I had talked to my mom and my aunt on my dad’s side about my grandmothers’ births and their births and they were all pretty quick and, to hear them retell it, uneventful. So I assumed it would be like that for me. HA!
Now, I know a lot of people recount their birth stories detail for detail. But I’m not always great with details. The entire process was around 12 hours start to finish, and I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point, in the tub, my water broke.
And THAT is when it went from 60 to 6,000.
Oh. My. Goodness. The rush of that water and the feeling thereafter were absolute…I can only give you these words. I felt scrambled. I felt like when a record is playing just fine, then suddenly it starts skipping and just playing high-pitched jibberish. I felt absolute panic, because what it felt like was that I had been going along with these predictable contractions, and suddenly someone had released a bowling ball that was coming down and I couldn’t control its descent but I had to stop it at all costs. Like those game shows where the boulder comes down the mountain and you have to find ways to not get crushed by it. I felt COMPLETELY out of control. (I’ll talk more about that in my overshare). I remember asking my doula if this was ok, if it was normal, and of course, yes, it was all within the spectrum of “normal” and stuff they’d all seen before, but NOBODY had told me it would feel this out of control, this heightened, this panicked, this painful. Or maybe they had, and I just didn’t listen. I KNEW. I mean I KNEW that I could not do it. Every contraction, I LITERALLY felt like my body was trying to run away. My legs would do this erratic movement as if my body was trying to escape the danger right there within my body.
So In that last hour, when baby was descending through my pelvis and I was sure something wasn’t right and I really, really needed to stop it all from happening, every contraction feeling like uncontrolled electricity coursing through my body trying to get it to stop, make baby stop coming down, I really was in this place where I hadn’t yet accepted that the only way out was through. I was on all fours at the time, and my midwives gently moved me so I was sitting upright in the tub, and this is where I didn’t reach acceptance of the fact that the only way out was through, but I did stop adamantly refusing to even try. So I pushed. And it was grueling. My doula was filming, and when she shared the video with me later, I was like “I don’t want it if there’s any sound.” Spoiler: there was sound, and it’s not even primal. It’s like something other than primal. My doula said it was totally normal, but I have an idea of how I’d describe it, but I feel like I’m already bordering on unhelpful territory so I’ll keep it to myself…And I promise, I don’t want to move into “unhelpful” territory. Being useful to people is my whole goal with this podcast. I don’t want to portray this like they portray it on television, with these unhinged women grabbing people and screaming for drugs. In fact, drugs (or regret about where I’d chosen to birth) never crossed my mind. I didn’t wish for drugs. Maybe if I’d been in the hospital, with access, I would have? I don’t know. I just needed to get to a point where I wanted it to be over more than I wanted to stop it from happening. And I got there, and my beautiful, perfect daughter was born, and…
I laid there. like a limp fish. I was so fearful that something wasn’t going to be ok, that I asked the midwives to catch my baby. And I will say – I WILL always regret that. It’s not trauma, to me, but it’s a regret. And we are humans. We all will have regrets.
And another regret is definitely the limp fish. Not that I could have controlled my reaction, but I wish I’d had that moment of bliss, or that “oh my gosh my baby!” moment! But all I could do was lay there, holding her, and saying “I was scared too.” And she was crying, and I was just asking everyone “is this ok?” … it was not empowered, it was not “I DID IT!” And it sucks, I hate that, but …that’s ok! It can suck and I can hate it. That part bothers me, but it doesn’t haunt me. It’s a bummer, but it’s not trauma. My husband really stepped in at that moment and was a really nurturing presence, which is why we’re a good team I think.
So connecting this all with home birth. Here’s what I would say. I AM glad I was home. I’m glad I was with providers who believed in me (and I’m glad I had an OB that would have believed in me, too.) Again, the house was a mess, I was in a corner of the basement, but it was MY mess, MY basement.
I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunities to process this experience, because I think I needed it to grow in a very specific way. I have hard the stories about redemptive, healing births, and they are beautiful. But I think what *I* needed to learn was that birth, even when done in a woman’s preferred environment with her preferred providers, can just be … ugly. and painful. and beautiful, all at the same time. I think, in opting for home birth, I had this unconscious belief that it would be, that it needed to be, this empowering, primal show of ancestral, instinctual knowledge that connects all women across the millenia. And maybe expecting that isn’t wrong, but maybe my VISION of what that actually IS, of what that actually LOOKS LIKE, is wrong. Being a human is messy, ugly, scary, shocking, and profoundly confusing at times. Maybe, for some of us, birth connects us to those parts of ourselves. The parts that we feel are unacceptable. That we feel we need to hide or not experience if we can help it. If that’s not me to a tee, I don’t know what is.
And I don’t think this is EVERYONE’s experience, but for me personally, I really live in my head. I don’t live in my heart. I find it hard to tap into my instincts, as I am very, VERY analytical, to an absolute fault. I see birth as a heart-experience, and maybe that’s part of why it was so hard in that moment. Or maybe it just really freaking hurts, I dunno!
Speaking of living in my head, I’ll bring it back to the cause-and-effect analysis, I talked about this in an interview for an episode of the Modern Mamas podcast that I believe will come out in the first quarter of 2022 … something I did not think about, and what probably helps account for really being so stunned with the process of birth for my second, is that I had never given birth vaginally before. I was very sure about the labor process, since I’d experienced it before, but the vaginal birth part was entirely new. My friend Laura, who co-hosts Modern Mamas, is planning a home birth, and we talked about how she knew what that experience was like because she had a natural birth with her first, in the hospital. I had NO idea what to expect, and I didn’t think about that. I thought I knew, I thought it was in some way in my DNA as a woman, and perhaps it was on a heart level, but in my head I did not know. So this part of the birth was a very rapid process of fusing myself externally with this concept of natural birth AS IT WAS HAPPENING, and that was a really hard thing for me. Again, I live in my head, not my heart. I avoid many strong emotions. I hate being confused or unsure. This experience was a crash course in accessing those exact states of being. I literally had to be forced to experience that in this way. I’m still just in disbelief!
Now, If you’re listening to this and absolutely horrified, I’M SORRY! If the way I have portrayed birth is offensive, I’m sorry. If I have made you fear giving birth, I’m sorry! I truly believe, though, that having had some conversation around this would have perhaps made me uncomfortable in the moment, but it would have helped me IN THE MOMENT. And remember, the spectrum of birth experiences is vast and my experience CANNOT determine yours. And I have a wonderful little human that I’d do it all again for! I wouldn’t like it, but I’d do it.
Now, part of the reason I am grateful for my home birth is because it WAS amazing just to rest, eat, even laugh in my own space after baby was born. I have a picture that means the world to me of myself and my husband in our big king sized bed, just taking in our new baby. The midwives are moving around, things are quiet, I got to see my placenta, just being the curious, analytical person I am (I probably should have majored in biology and gone to med school, because I am just fascinated by the body, and by this amazing organ in particular, and I really wanted to SEE it). The DOWNSIDE to being there, at my home, was that things just sort of carried on as normal. Construction resumed in the other part of the house, the 6 year old came home, and I was expected to be “mom” again pretty quickly. That said, that might just be part of having your second child!
Now, my recovery from this birth, and this has nothing to do with the location, but my recovery from a natural, vaginal birth was rough, It took a long time – 6 months – to feel like myself again. Where a c section felt pretty straightforward and linear as far as healing, I felt like I had layers and layers AND LAYERS of tissue – front to back and top to bottom – that needed to heal in this very non-linear way. I talked in episode 4 about how this wasn’t represented in the VBAC facebook groups, and I was surprised by that. And I really want to share that here – the recovery was really, really difficult and possibly more painful, or at least the pain was more diffuse, than my c section recovery. There continues to be things I’m working toward healing nearly a year and a half out. I was also working on some things long after my c section, although these things are distinct and different from one another. And all this is part of the reason the idea for the daily fix even came to my mind, because I AM really still working towards my body functioning the best it can, and I wish I’d had the same corrective expertise in my life after my c section as I have now. It’s an ongoing thing. But I am SO GLAD I’ve had both the experiences I’ve had, because I feel so connected with people across so many different circumstances, and I feel like I can be useful to people across a spectrum of experiences.
That’s it for my home birth story! I hope I covered enough to be satisfying. If I’ve missed something, or if there’s something you’d like me to address, please message me! I’ll do my best to oblige.
I’ve talked a bit about how I wish I had been privy to certain types of information about vaginal birth before going through the process. And one thing I really wish someone had told me – and that I’ve told a few other people, intending to be helpful – is that it might feel like a bowling ball is coming out of your butt. But it’s not. That bowling ball will come out the correct tunnel, and the feeling is normal. It’s NOT like a giant poop, like so many people have called it. It’s so much more than that. It’s a bowling ball. But it’s not going to come out of your butt. I promise.
Before I wrap up Episode 5, can I ask you to join me by hopping on my newsletter list? You can do so by going to liztalks.com RIGHT NOW and entering your email. I want to ensure I catch you and keep you, so if you’d do me the honor, I’d be so grateful.
That’s it for episode 5 – I hope you ENJOYED it, and I hope you’ll stick with me as we talk, food, beauty, families, exercise, marriage, and LIFE. THANKS for listening – we’ll talk next week!