When I was pregnant with Dahlia, I was absolutely, undeniably, nothing’s gonna get in my way going to birth my child at home, and naturally. I was even, I admit, judgmental about anyone’s choice to do otherwise – I just couldn’t understand why anyone would actually want to have their baby, on drugs, in a hospital. Without being aware of it, I took for granted that a healthy baby would be the guaranteed reward of my empowered choices – an exceptionally healthy baby who would thrive even more than expected because s/he would come out of me naturally and go directly to my breast, uninterrupted, in the comfort of our home.
Dahlia had other plans. After 32 hours of hard back labor at home and several of those hours stalled at eight centimeters, I made a very clear choice to go to the hospital for an epidural. Six hours later, she was born easily and safely and immediately put on my chest. Four hours after that, having signed a dozen liability waivers to be allowed to leave the hospital early, we were back home in our bed with our new daughter.
I had my healthy child, in spite of her hospital birth. Even then I took for granted the incredible miracle of her health and her life. I spent a good part of the next year working through my guilt around having chosen to go to the hospital and have an epidural. A part of me felt inferior for the choice, and I felt, in some way, that I had failed.
I did it with Tikva too. Even with this child whose life – of any length – I knew would be a miracle, I fretted for a while during her short life about having chosen the epidural. The epidural I told Dave I wanted because I didn’t feel relaxed, and I wanted – needed – to feel relaxed as I delivered my child whom I knew would be unable to breathe on her own, who might not even make it past her birth. Maybe it was my brain’s need to fret over something that really didn’t matter in order to distract myself just a little bit from what was so constantly at the forefront of my consciousness: That my daughter’s life was fragile and unsure, her future – and mine – unknown. That she very well might die, and that I would be forever changed no matter how the story unfolded.
My thoughts have rambled before around the question of how to birth a child and what my choices mean. But it’s not this that is on my mind right now. Though related, it’s something different.
I have read my share of birth announcement emails and birth stories since Tikva came through my life. All are different. All but one have announced the birth of a healthy living baby (or babies). Some were born in the hospital, some at home, some vaginally and others by scheduled C-section for various reasons. Regardless of location, those that told the stories of vaginal deliveries have shared one quality:
Praise of the superior mother who births her child naturally, vaginally, and without drugs.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a progressive place, a liberal place, a funky place, full of New Age and yoga studios and locally grown organic produce and raw food vegan restaurants and Michael Franti concerts in small venues. I love it here, it has been my home for 30 years. And I recognize that I am immersed in just a tiny sliver of the way most people in the U.S. – let alone the world – approach life. Before he met me, my husband didn’t even know babies could be born at home in the western world.
Yet there is a certain holier-than-though message being communicated here without being spoken outright, and I don’t think it is just here in California. As the day of Tikva’s birth approaches a year later, I have become extremely sensitive to it. The message tells me:
You are a powerful goddess, a mighty warrior when you have birthed your child naturally, trusting your inner wisdom and strength to guide you.
Because you are a warrior, you will be rewarded with the undeniable manifestation of your choices – a healthy child.
So what am I? What am I if I birth my child in another way? Am I less mighty, less empowered for choosing to have an epidural? Am I less of a warrior because I birthed my children in the hospital? Do I trust my inner wisdom less?
And what is Tikva, my child who died, whose body was too fragile to live for very long? Any less a gift? Any less a manifestation of the most incredible grace and magic life has to offer?
And what of Dahlia, my precious light who was born healthy, in the hospital, with an epidural?
See what I’m getting at here?
How about this for warrior:
I birthed two babies, and carried three. I said goodbye to one too soon at just 10 weeks of pregnancy. I carried Tikva for 20 of her 40+ weeks knowing that she might not live. I moved halfway around the world to give her every fighting chance. My relationship with my husband grew deeper and more solid throughout her life and since. Together, we cared for Dahlia while she, too, loved and lost her sister.
I loved my daughter fiercely for every day of her short life. I lived with grace, connected to her and to God in every moment. I loved her so completely, so unconditionally, that I knew when it was time to let her go. I held her as she breathed her final breaths. I felt the moment when her spirit left the beautiful body that I held in my arms for the last time. I stroked her soft cheek. I held my daughter as she died.
Am I less of a warrior because of how and where I birthed her? Am I any less her mother because she is not here in my arms?
So much of our collective identity as women is tied to being a mother. No wonder all of that comes into question – in our own eyes as we look at ourselves now, after loss – when our child dies. I can only imagine how much more so when that child dies before s/he is born, or during or shortly after birth.
But we are no less a warrior, no less empowered, no less mighty and powerful and connected to our inner strength without our children here to prove it. I never knew the depth of the warrior I could be until Tikva entered my life, until she departed. I never knew the grace I could live from was possible before her.
I think we are asked – in the moment of loss – to tap into a warrior in ourselves we might never have known was there. Because to mother a child who has died – to say goodbye over and over, to let go a little bit every day for the rest of our lives – is HARD. It is powerful, mighty, full of grace.
The work of a warrior like no other.
That’s what’s been on my mind lately when I think about birth.
That’s what I remember when I read another birth story, when I doubt for a moment the true warrior that I am.
Yes, I am a warrior too.
And so are you.
.::. .::. .::.
What makes you a warrior? Do you believe that you are? How did you approach birth before losing your child, and now?