Having a child is an acutely life-changing event that lies infuriatingly, defiantly outside the realm of my control. It responds to nothing but its own processes, blatantly ignoring my wants in favour of the unborn's needs, as if I were a mere host loaning out my body for the noble act of bearing life.
Some years ago my dear son, in utero, demanded a very particular hormonal mixture that reduced me to an over-salivating, scent-adverse, vomiting, stomach-separated, vision-impaired, forgetful, tired, congested, migraine-attacked, wobbly mess for my entire pregnancy. I literally hobbled around and spat in a cup everywhere I went, gagging and vomiting until my almost 48-hr labour began.
The very recent birth of my daughter came in a similar fashion, as the sweetest, most precious blessing at the end of an equally harrowing experience. The all-day vomiting from years gone by was reduced to a single, violent morning spew that tore into my esophagus with a sickening regularity. The spit cup was ever present; I simultaneously hated and clung to the sight of it. The stomach-separation worsened. My pelvis groaned and creaked under the weight of my distended belly. And then there was something I had never dealt with before in any period of my life, or during any stage of my previous pregnancy for that matter - depression.
To think that some people struggle with versions of such an affliction on a daily basis is a truly saddening thought to have. Hormone-addled and besieged by the above, the joy of discovering my pregnancy was short lived and almost instantly replaced with the fear of what I knew was coming for me. The extreme levels of sickness. The physical ailments. The inane line of questioning from well-intentioned but ultimately insensitive people. And worse of all, the crippling dread of having to constantly deal with a factory-like, unfeeling medical system to negotiate a path to a natural, healthful, physiological birth that respected the needs of both my unborn child and myself.
In retrospect - and with those pesky pregnancy hormones completely obliterated by the mere sight of my daughter - I now realize how anxiety surrounding the medicalized aspect of birthing contributed to what was a profoundly dark nine months. Every appointment was a battle of sorts, where health workers would ask the same daft questions, make the same bizarre observations, and issue the same thinly veiled scaremongering about the many, many ills that could besiege a pregnant woman before she is carted off for 'monitoring' or worse yet, to the operating table for an emergency C-Section to avert a potential threat of some sort or the other.
Most irritating, was the fact that each midwife could offer no actual aid for the issues I had to contend with. (I am yet to hear of a proper cure for the gut-wrenching nausea that one must apparently grin and bear.) Yet, they were hell-bent on cross-referencing me for any sign of complications, even though I was essentially as low-risk a pregnant woman as they come. And when no issue could be found, talk invariably turned to the many hurdles I would have to jump, in order to have a simple, natural birth.
With each passing month, I realized the unflinching midwives were simply running through their board-certified checklists, relying on their preferred protocols and statistics in a manner not unlike an old village soothsayer who rubs a pregnant woman's belly with shining oil on a moonlit night, shakes a gourd rattle in a frantic, circular motion and with utmost certainty, declares the girl child-in-waiting to be a strapping boy. To them, the utterly random nature of pregnancy and birth is of little consequence in the face of their facts. But what are the 'facts', really?
Pregnancy lasts nine months. Morning sickness goes away after the third trimester. A pendulous stomach indicates a worringly large baby, or problems with the amniotic fluid levels. Second labours are almost always faster than the first time. The cervix dilates at 1 cm an hr in active labour. Breech babies hardly ever turn after 38 weeks. Pre labour is actually 'false' labour. A slow labour is a stalled labour. If one cannot push out the child within a certain timeframe, something must be wrong. The placenta must be delivered within 30 - 45 mins, or else something's wrong. On and on and on they go.
The facts, randomly drawn as they are from a grab-bag of edicts made in response to the observations of some births in some places, have become The Law for all women, everywhere.
Ultimately, the ace in my pocket was the knowledge that I had already given birth to one healthy child in a completely natural, unmedicated way, in the face of a frightfully draconian - and at times, racist - US healthcare system; surely I could manage to do so in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter? Then, there was the wisdom of perspective. Any anxiety concerning natural, unmedicated labour immediately shrinks to infinitesimal dimensions when compared to nine months of silent suffering.
And so, after a relatively straightforward labour that started quite unceremoniously on a Monday morning, my daughter was born in good health and spirits.
Here's to the bright moments and blessings that come, even through the darkest days.
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