Personal Writings and Essays

Miopic Views & “Natural Birthing”

Birth Trauma - Fragments of Homebirth

Trigger Warning – Birth Trauma

Link to Video

As part of my healing from a traumatic birth & post-partum experience, I decided to write & record my thoughts. Below you’ll find the transcript – which was where I originally wrote my experience over several weeks. You’ll also find the link to the recorded version.

These last few months have fostered a lot of noticing. Not the romantic idea of noticing or meditation, but the daily dirty kind. At first, this noticing was necessary for self-preservation. Because, despite, ironically, my best efforts, I allowed myself to barnacle to an excessively “naturalistic” idea of pregnancy and delivery that eventually led me to both a physically and psychologically dangerous place.

I’ll get into those details later. What I’ve been thinking about since slowly emerging from a period of extended fear and mistrust is the concept of health, the sale of health, and how the ego can get so tied up in conception, pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood. 

I’ve noticed an overuse, a fluffing, or when I’m feeling my most frustrated, a co-opting of the term, “listen to your body.” What I have learned in this experience of Traumatic Birthing and Postpartum is that “listening to your body” does not always mean ignoring allopathic medical advice. 

In fact, for me, the consistent anxiety, obsession, and fear I was feeling in the last 2 trimesters of my pregnancy was NOT me being a hypochondriac and was NOT me refusing to “surrender,” but was actually my INTUITION telling me something was wrong. My obsession with looking up Preeclampsia in the wee hours of the night, my need to always be taking my pulse, my complete tearful breakdown in the RiteAid pharmacy when my blood pressure read 145/95 in month 4 or 5. The obsession with the swelling in my legs and hands that felt very ABnormal to me, despite being told I was healthy and this was totally normal. My continuous telling to my midwife I was afraid of being “fired” as a client while also feeling fearful of “accidentally dying in labor” because I was not going to be in the hospital. My fearful, tearful obsession with listening to my baby’s heart rate because I didn’t think she was moving enough. If I had listened to my body and if my midwifery provider had listened to my body, they would have all told me that actually, I was not a good candidate for home-birth anymore. But instead of that she recommended passionflower extract rather than sending me to an  OBGyn and having a hospital birth. Because in the end, I did end up having seizure level high BP, undiagnosed Preeclampsia – so when I eventually did get to the hospital – originally just for an epidural after 3 painful days of labor (the final one ending in back labor) those blood pressure levels were truly deathly high….213/113….and my baby WAS underweight for her gestation age…5.8lbs at 41 weeks, and there WAS a prolapsed cord, AND an infected placenta – thus it is likely she wasn’t moving or growing as she should have been and I sensed that and was told to relax. 

Despite my best efforts, as I was reading home-birthing books, I felt a strange emotional attachment to “birthing at home.” As if by doing so it would prove something about me, my worth, my health. I continued to tell myself to be mindful not to get attached, to remember that even though these books seemed to villanize the hospital, it is not a good idea to become so cynical. I should have been aware that I was starting to keep shared language at the tip of my tongue like defensive talking points…”cascade of interventions….” anyone….?

The bottom line is that because I neglected to advocate for myself and listen to my body and because my midwife did the same and because I seemed “healthy,” my baby and I almost died. Each of us spent a week in the hospital – our entire birth plan abandoned. I had been so precious with the heel prick and vitamin K shot, but now she had a ventilator in her mouth, tubes in her wrists, navel, so who even cared. Now the mission was SAVE HER. She had inhaled so much meconium, she had an infection from my placenta (we both did), she was tiny, her color was poor. I was on magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures – twice. My blood pressure was continuously unstable. I felt anxious, scared, and hopeless that there would never be a medication that would work. I had memorized the sound of the blood pressure machine. I KNEW if it would be a high or low reading even as the cuff was only in the filling stages. I was terrified of dying. I felt it very close during the emergency cesarian, the week in the hospital, and for a few months at home. My husband felt it too. In surgery, he watched my body convulsing, vomiting, crying as they pulled our tiny, green colored baby out of my body. He peered in to see meconium filling the uterus. He couldn’t look at our daughter because he was afraid he would lose us both and focused on me. He wasn’t crying because I begged him not to because it made death feel closer. 

I couldn’t see my baby for a few days. I was afraid to see my baby a few days after that.  I was limp from the magnesium, afraid to hold her. My husband had to hold the breast pumps to my chest as the hospital taught us to pump, encouraged me to breast feed. They loved our daughter. They held her when we couldn’t, updated us regularly, fed her donated breast milk. This was not what I had read in the books. The OB fought for a vaginal birth until it was absolutely impossible – despite the prolapse, despite the preeclampsia. She gave me 6 hours, while nurses rocked my body back and forth every time our daughter’s heart rate dropped, lookin for a stable position. It was the meconium that made us go into emergency mode. At one point, the NICU Doctor came down into my room and thanked us for coming in when we did. I know what he was really saying. He was very kind to communicate it the way he did – with a true thank you and no judgement. 

I was wracked with guilt. My “preferences” almost killed us. I did NOT listen to my body because I had brainwashed myself into believing that a good birth, a good chance at life for my beloved baby only meant an interventionless home birth type. 

The language of birth is SO fraught with judgement. Natural birth means vaginal only. But natural births also result in death of the mother, of the baby – something many doctors reminded me of when we got out of the hospital, saying “just imagine if it was 100 years ago…” Besides, isn’t everything on this Earth actually natural? What are we really saying with that language? How is that helpful? Unmedicated feels like a Medal of Honor, feels like a promise that the baby will have the HEALTHIEST life. This might be true, but also, being alive is health too sometimes. 

And, of course, birth trauma doesn’t end after birth. My anxiety about being on any medication during pregnancy put me in the position to be on more medication than I have ever been on in my life. Finally, we found meds that worked, but I had to take them 2 times per day. I was afraid of forgetting, afraid of taking too many by accident. I wanted to come off them and also was afraid to come off them. I had anxiety about taking my blood pressure – a “bad” reading could destroy my day, flinging me back into PTSD. I was afraid to be alone with my baby incase I “dropped dead.” I was afraid to exercise, afraid to go for walks away from home, afraid to drive because any change in my pulse spun me out into physical tremors and intense anxiety. I was afraid of the night because that is when my blood pressure became the most unstable and would have me dosed again with MAG, as they called it. 

I had the best team – 2 different therapists simultaneously, an incredible OBGyn, a lactation consultant, Pediatrician, General Practitioner D.O. And, even as I learned to trust that my body could hold me, that I could work through the fear, it was hard. Even as death felt farther away, its shadow felt close. I was afraid of my Spiritual Practices. I avoided my altar, was afraid to chant. All the things I leaned on in my pregnancy scared me now. It has taken over 4 months to get to the point where I am aware of what is likely real and what is in my head. It has taken this long because flashbacks and memory is intense. It has also taken me this long because for 7 months of my 41 week pregnancy, I felt something wrong with my body and was encouraged to ignore it… 

This is complicated because I am a holistic practitioner. Honestly, as I was leaving the hospital, I thought about quitting. I do believe in Āyurveda and in the holistic approach. But, I also see there is Identity politics here. There is cynicism, mistrust. It is warranted of course. Allopathy and hospitals are complicated places, but so is the home, so is the tub.

Nothing is black and white. That’s been the lesson for me. And, if ever it seems like it is, I know now these are the colors of bias and I should beware. I also know that if I am really going to embrace Yoga and Āyurveda and lean into their teachings that have held me for over 20 years, that tantra does not mean “natural” but an ability to alchemize with ALL of material reality as it truly is. 

Health is not static. It cannot be had. It fluctuates, exists on a spectrum and it’s RELATIVE. There is no such thing as “being healthy,” though there are things we can all do to align with health. That conundrum IS the practice, I’m learning again and again.

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