I have never wanted to try anything as much as I wanted to try natural childbirth.
This makes no sense. I don't run 5Ks, I don't play sports, I don't really do anything that involves me breaking a sweat. Mostly I live in my mind, and my mind views my body as a merely satisfactory co-worker: It usually gets the job done, but we're not super close.
When I became pregnant with my first son, I didn't give a lot of thought to the idea of childbirth. For one thing, the reality of it was months away which helped soothe my anxiety about it. Also, the necessity of childbirth makes sense to me—the baby was inside and would need to come outside. Few medical experiences are that straightforward.
So there I was, not thinking too much about actual labor, when I went to my five-month ultrasound and was diagnosed with placenta previa—a condition that means your placenta is laying on top of the cervical opening, blocking the baby's exit route. It's a condition that marks your pregnancy as high-risk, and possibilities like moving the mother-to-be into the hospital are discussed.
Faced with a choice like that, and advised to schedule a C-section at 37 or 38 weeks (if I made it that far), you let go of most of your previous plans. And it wasn't until my husband and I dashed out to buy a few baby necessities in case I started bleeding or went into labor early (two of the condition's risks), did I realize I wouldn't get to apply anything I'd already read about natural childbirth.
I burst into tears.
It was only then that I knew why I hadn't been afraid of labor. It was because I really, really wanted to try laboring.
But, life goes on. I was lucky enough to make it to 38 weeks and had a successful C-section that resulted in me giving birth to a healthy boy. So all was well, right?
Well, kind of. I was thankful my problem had been diagnosed, and I was thankful to have gone nearly full-term. My incision healed well and eventually its pain lessened, but I still somehow felt that I had missed the transition from healthy pregnant woman to strong nurturing mother.
My next pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. But my third pregnancy was healthy, without any complications and my obstetrician and I made plans to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section).
Although I was now 39 and again considered high risk due to my advanced maternal age, my doctor was optimistic that I could experience vaginal childbirth. I was thankful for this vote of confidence and immediately felt the same deep thirst to try and help my baby make his transit out through the birth canal.
And once again I almost didn't get the chance.
When my due date came and went, my doctor demanded that I schedule a C-section at 41 weeks. I did so, begrudgingly, and then went home and promptly set about doing anything and everything I could to induce labor.At 6 am on the Sunday morning before my Monday C-section appointment, I had a second healthy boy. Once again things were complicated—my "natural" labor ended in an epidural (not for pain relief but because the doctor thought a C-section might become necessary) and doctors using the vacuum extraction tool to help ease my son out the final distance.
Did it hurt? Yeah, it hurt. Did it leave me with some lingering physical issues? Yeah, it did. But would I ever give the experience back? Not on your life.
That first night my youngest son and I lay in our respective hospital beds, staring at each other, and I swear we shared the same thought: "Wow. We have really been THROUGH IT." My husband was snoring where he lay folded up on the uncomfortable couch in our room. I missed my older son at home.
But I was awake and ecstatic. I had done something physical that I had never done before, and I had a new baby with big brown eyes. It was one of the most thrilling nights of my life.
Everything about having children has surprised me. I was surprised when I was pregnant to feel my babies' movements, so distinct, within me. I was surprised to find what a body can endure during any process of birth, and what they endure in the weeks afterward—on no sleep, while still bleeding.
I have been surprised at how pleasurable it is to care, physically, for tiny human beings: to keep them clean, warm, fed, and soothed. My children have given me so many things. But perhaps the thing I am most thankful for is how they taught me to really own my body. My body that seems to just give and give everything I ask of it and more.
Even when my boys are too big to gather into my lap, or carry through crowds, I will still hug them, or sling an arm around their shoulders. And when I do, it will remind me of the two miraculous occasions on which my body, my unpredictable co-worker, paid no attention to my plans but still managed to exceed all my expectations.