“Come on skinny love just last the year
Pour a little salt we were never here
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer
I tell my love to wreck it all
Cut out all the ropes and let me fall
My, my, my, my, my, my, my, my
Right in the moment this order’s tall”
from “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver
Two weeks ago, I discovered Bon Iver’s album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Immediately I had it on nearly constant repeat, much to my husband’s delight. “Skinny Love” played in my mind while I slept the first few nights after hearing it.
Why don’t you just have a listen to it while you read this post?
Isn’t it absolutely beautiful?
I actually bought the album off itunes, so I could listen to it during my labour. Luckily for my husband and attendants, my labour went so quickly that it only repeated about eight or ten times. I’ll try not to go into details, since this isn’t that kind of blog, but I will say that labour and birth were a transcendent and healing experience for me. I actually kind of enjoyed it. There were definitely parts I didn’t enjoy, and there were moments when I felt overwhelmed and I just wanted to stop the whole production. But my support team was awesome, and whatever they said or did, those overwhelming moments stayed just moments and I was able to get past them. But I felt really powerful and like I was really coping well and that is a good feeling. I felt like a rock star for about two solid days after.
My first son was born by emergency c-section after 12 hours of fear-filled and difficult labour. So birthing my second son meant venturing into the unknown. One of my biggest fears going into this birth was that the baby would go into distress and I would have to push him out under duress. I didn’t think I could handle the pressure. I told my midwife, “If the baby goes into distress, just cut me. Don’t fuck around. I don’t want to labour with that kind of fear again.” What do you know, but the fear was realized. His heart started to slow down too much, but I was fully dilated so the midwife told me I just had to push the baby out. The funny thing was I wasn’t scared at all. The midwife was so calm that I figured if she thought *I* was this baby’s best chance, who was I to challenge her? So I just did it. Turned out it was just because the cord was around his neck and he was absolutely fine once he was born.
For decades I had a recurring nightmare/anxiety dream where a tornado was bearing down on whatever building I was in. In the dream I was helpless to do anything but watch, terrified, and wait to see if it was going to hit me or my neighbour. I knew I had turned a corner with my anxiety and panic when I stopped feeling afraid in the dream. In my most recent tornado dream (which I think I had sometime during my pregnancy), the tornado came when I was standing in an open field with nothing but a falling-down shack nearby for shelter, and I chose to stay out in the open rather than risk the flying debris of the shack. This birth felt kind of like that.
Right after he was born, I said, “That wasn’t that bad!” And everyone looked at me like I was crazy, because I’d been quite loud throughout the labour and I’d had some really hard parts. I really meant the actual birth part, which I kept thinking was going to get worse and suddenly he popped out and it hadn’t gotten worse.
I need to give a shout out to my doula, Jody Cummins-Lambert. I felt like she’d earned her fee before I even went into labour, and she offered perfect support throughout labour. I know a lot of people thought it was a bit redundant having a doula along with midwives, but it wasn’t at all. I highly recommend it, especially if you’re planning a hospital birth. She stayed in the background so my husband could be my primary support, and she helped him figure out what I needed. She also helped enormously on day 2 postpartum, bringing me witch hazel and epsom salts and throwing in a load of laundry.
I have one more thing to say. Having now experienced a highly medicalized, necessarily surgical birth and a natural birth where I was allowed to find my own rhythm and ways of coping, I feel like the attitude of “as long as you have a healthy baby, it doesn’t matter how the baby enters the outside world” does a real disservice to women. Of course, no mother would choose a better experience for themselves at the expense of their baby’s health. But the experience matters. Having a lousy birth experience is a big deal, and I think we need to do a better job of helping women have better birth experiences, supporting women during the postpartum period generally, but especially after a traumatic birth. For me, it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second son that I acknowledged all the emotional stuff related to my first son’s birth. And the most helpful people I spoke to about it told me the best thing was to simply acknowledge the fears. I expected to feel fear during labour or have flashbacks to my first son’s birth, but it never happened, probably because it felt so different.
13 days postpartum, I may not be in the most objective position, but I think birthing a baby may be just about the most powerful thing a woman can do. I don’t want to be exclusive and deny pain medication to anyone or anything like that, but there’s a lot more we can do to make birth better for women. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is something I explore in my photography down the road.