If you want to see someone’s face contort in horror and surprise, tell them about how your entire family was present when you gave birth.
Almost unfailingly, this is the reaction I see when I talk about the birth of my daughter. And I get it — truly, I do. I am never offended by the bewilderment I see glowing in someone’s eyes as they picture the scene — my mom, dad, sister and brother alongside my husband during one of the most intensely personal and vulnerable moments of my entire life.
But my husband and I are united in the opinion that the way the birth transpired – slowly and painfully and frighteningly, but in a room bursting at the seams with support and love – was exactly what we both needed.
As a first-time mother opting for a medication-free birth, I knew that I wanted – needed – my mom and sister there for support. Along with my husband, they are the scaffolding that hold me up; they’re like my tranquilizer and my mood stabilizer, so I figured, why can’t they be my epidural, too? I also had a wonderful doula, so I felt really confident in my birth team.
As for my dad and brother, they had always planned to camp out in the family waiting room. We’re all very close and I knew they wanted to meet my daughter right away, but probably skip all the
icky intense stuff. They were in my hospital room as I began to labor, held my hands during some contractions, but I expected that they would leave when things got serious. And gross.
But of course, nothing went according to plan.
We would find out later that my daughter had a nuchal hand – meaning she was born with it held right next to her face. Two things here: 1) Ouch. 2) It complicates everything.
Once I was dilated to eight centimeters and entered the transition phase of labor, I stayed there for HOURS. The intensity of the contractions and the swiftness with which I was experiencing them was too much for my body. By the time I was ready to push, I was shaking violently, hyperventilating and had absolutely no control over my limbs. I hadn’t slept in three nights and I was just completely done. Done trying, done fighting, done birthing. DONE.
My father and brother had stayed this entire time, and they helped my husband carry me to the bed. Then, they helped hold me still while my mother put her hands on my face, held an oxygen mask over my mouth and helped me breathe. My sister grasped my hand.
Together, we did the seemingly impossible — we got Baby Rose into this world.
After I had given birth, my midwife was unable to locate and stop the bleeding. Simultaneously, the neonatologist was across the room, suctioning meconium out of my daughter’s lungs, trying to help her take her first breath. I can’t say it enough: I don’t know what my husband and I would have done if my whole family had not been there. My mother and husband stayed with me while my sister, brother and father went across the room to keep watch over my daughter as the doctors worked on her. When she later had to be transferred to the NICU, my husband accompanied her and my family stayed by my side, helping me to process what had just happened.
She and I were both wrapped in love and comfort during these first frantic moments of her life. We were both so delicate at this time, but my family’s attention and care spirited us unharmed through the storm.
I was able to talk about the birth experience at length with everyone in the days and weeks after it happened, and they helped me to move on from what was ultimately a pretty traumatic experience. When I told them I felt like a failure because I hadn’t been the stoic birth goddess I wanted to be, they told me I was being insane (and I was). When I just needed to go through my birth story again and cry, they were there for me, and they shared their memories of it too.
When I said, “I can never have another child. Never. Ever,” they nodded and patted my hand and said, “Just wait. It’ll be okay.” We all healed together, and because of their support, I was able to emotionally recover from my daughter’s birth.
Best of all, I can see the evidence of this experience in the relationship that exists now between my family and my daughter.
My sister will often cover her niece with kisses while saying, “I’ve known you since the moment you were born.” And there’s a beautiful paternal tenderness in the way my younger brother treats my daughter. I know that every time he looks at her, he is remembering that he was watching and praying as she gasped her first unsteady breaths. I hope that when the time comes for him to be a father and witness his own children’s births, this experience will have helped to prepare him.