One of the things that I have loved most about this blog is the connections that I have made with other women; some of them were strangers, some acquaintances and some were friends that I now have a deeper relationship with. The following story comes from a high school friend, Jenn Ruff Snow, that I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with through social media and motherhood. She has a way with words as you will see. In her words, “Your birth story may be the beginning of your time as a mom, but it should refine you, not define you.” That is what I am hoping that all mama’s take away from this series.
In The Business of Being Born, the anthem of the women goes something like this: At the moment where I thought I couldn’t go on, I dug deeper than I ever have before and found a new strength. Just when I thought I was finished and I was certain I couldn’t do it, that is when I did. What mom doesn’t want that? For awhile this idea haunted me because I felt like it just wasn’t true in my case with the birth of my babies. Not for me and for so many other moms I know. You may be one of them, who struggles to come to terms with whatever difficulty that motherhood has thrown your way. This is my toast to you.
I was 28 when I had my first child, my only son. I was 35 when I had my fourth child, my 3rd daughter, my last baby of all. I have four separate and very different birth stories for Landon, Copeland, Zoe, and Charis, but I have also developed one birth of a story, the way that their entry into the world fits into who I am as a women and a mom.
Nearly 8 years ago, I was ten days overdue and swollen and absolutely wrecked by the reality of an induction. My husband and I were the first of our friends in town to have babies, so I had zero community to talk to me about stretch marks and weight gain and all the pregnancy things, much less all the impending newborn knowledge like swaddling and breastfeeding, diaper counts and sleepless nights. We checked into the hospital, ten days overdue and I remember the accounting lady saying, ‘You look so nervous!’ Wow, lady I wonder why?! I remember thinking. The hospital bag that I had packed at 37 weeks, ‘just in case’ was finally, a month later, in the hospital, but the extra time to prepare had me feeling more anxious rather than less.
Some of the details of Landon’s birth are vivid. I remember my family coming early in the morning of the induction to be there for his arrival. I remember the medical students being in the room when I received my epidural. I remember how awful the contractions were and I remember my sweet doctor explaining the likelihood of a c-section after 18 hours had passed and my cervix was locked down at 3 cm. I remember a nurse telling me that I should pick a time that I wanted the baby to be born because that would help. (If you are a nurse, please don’t say something this insensitive…I should have told her I had picked 3 weeks ago, but alas that didn’t work!) After a team rushed in to stop the contractions because baby’s heart rate was dropping, turning me on my side and poking my arm with something to counteract the Pitocin, I decided it was time to have the surgery. At 1:22 am my sweet beautiful son was born with his squishy face and brown hair.
If I am honest with you, thinking about the disappointment of these and other details too long can still bring me to tears nearly a decade later. Laying alone in a recovery room while your family meets your baby without you, before you even, is just wrong. Holding your baby two hours after being born and knowing you will never get those two hours back, it broke my heart. After binge watching A Baby Story for countless hours in my third trimester, I knew that c-section mommas were so exhausted or ready to meet their child that they didn’t even mind having surgery and were full of only joy, that was the narrative. Once they saw their baby, it was all worth it, and didn’t even matter. “All that matters is that you have a healthy baby.” My OB even told me at midnight on Landon’s birthday eve, that she had a similar birth and 2 c-sections later she wouldn’t change a thing. But unfortunately, that was not my emotion. I WOULD have changed a thing, I DID care that I had a c-section, and for my next baby, it would be different.
Pregnancy number 2 when my son was now a toddler, I shifted gears. This time I was expecting a girl, and just as the sex of the baby was contrasting from my first experience, so would this birth be. Enter Ricki Lake’s documentary and Ina May Gaskin books. Enter doulas and hypnobabies and Bradley method and birthing positions. No more cascade of interventions for me. The adrenalin and oxytocin will carry me through. Not contractions, ‘pressure waves’. Not due date, but ‘guess date’. Pass the essential oils and birthing balls. I did squats and kegels and meditative cds. I took evening primrose oil and pushed on pressure points until my ankles were bruised. Behind all of this effort on my part, the truth was, I thought that my body had failed me the first go round, and that maybe I failed myself. If I had waited longer I could have avoided an induction. If I had skipped the epidural and moved around more my body would have progressed. I was determined to have my vbac. I celebrated my 30th birthday nine days before Copeland was born. As a last hurrah of my 20s, I dyed my hair platinum. My body was made to do this. I am woman, hear me roar. That was the new narrative.
This birth was more victorious, and the vivid memories from this time are much more sweet. I went into labor on my own and experienced a full day of contractions that started without the help of a medical professional. I ate breakfast out and knew that I would meet my girl soon. I walked around a shopping center and had to pause during the pain. I tracked when the contractions started and stopped on my phone and was shocked and amazed as they grew in intensity over time. My cousin came over in the middle of the night to stay with Landon when I needed to go to the hospital. I worked through labor rather than having it calculated onto me. All of the unknowns and surprises of birth stories were actually happening to me. The doctor who delivered Landon came in and told me, ‘you’re doing it!’ She checked me and I was 5 cm. I had never dilated that far before!
I took a picture eating an Italian ice in the hospital bed with a goofy smile on my face. Immediately after that, my water broke and all of my non-medicated intentions were hushed by my voice screaming cuss words. I do not cuss, but it was like something out of a movie where the woman is crazy. No amount of lavender or positive affirmations could help me at that point. All of that to say, I did indeed get the epidural, just like my first birth. And just like my first birth, despite 24 hours of unmedicated labor, plus a few more, I still didn’t dilate enough. My cervix actually started to swell and my baby wasn’t dropping into the birth canal. I remember my ob saying, ‘Let’s go have a birthday party,’ after explaining he thought we needed to go ahead and do another surgery. And even though I was sad and disappointed that I didn’t get a vaginal delivery, I was also proud of myself. Copeland was also born at 1:22 (what are the odds of that?) only pm, and looked like her brother’s twin, only prettier. Because of new ‘family friendly’ hospital changes, I held her in the recovery room and she never left my side. My family came to me, and I got to introduce her to them. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was redemptive.
I have had two more deliveries since my first daughter in 2011, two more beautiful daughters, two more csections, and so many more details I could relay. Before having children, I thought a good birth story consisted of all the practical details, the time table, the centimeters, the birth positions and apgar scores and baby stats. In the 7 years that have passed since becoming a mom, my thoughts have changed.
I have come to a place of great peace over my journey as a mom. The grieving of my birth stories as inadequate is over. It has taken wrestling with God. It has taken a fight against envy. Maybe it was their big heads that kept me from having a vaginal delivery? Whatever it was, it is not my fault. After a lot of tears and prayers and finally acceptance, I look at my csections now with love instead of regret. I love how shocked we were when Zoe looked so different than our first two. I love how Charis’ crazy hair surprised the doctor. Just like my doctor said, I wouldn’t have them any other way. As crazy as this sounds, I love how my cesareans have humbled me. One of my favorite artists Melissa Helser sings a song that has become definitive of my story as a mom. It goes like this:
I am strong and full of light, I am steadfast, no compromise. I lift my sails to the sky, I’m gonna catch the wind, I’m gonna catch the wind. I am bold, no fear inside, spread my wings, open my life, like an eagle, whose home is the sky, I’m gonna catch the wind, I’m gonna catch the wind.
For my kids and because of them, I want to teach them that strength can come through weakness. Motherhood will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it will make you better than you’ve ever been. Your birth story may be the beginning of your time as a mom, but it should refine you, not define you. At the moment where you think you can’t go on, you dig deeper than you have before and find a new strength. Just when you think you are finished and are certain that you can’t go on, that is when you do.
Jenn and her first born, her son Landon
If you have a story that you’d like to share, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more birth stories, visit the Features page.