For anyone who has a history of abuse or trauma please read this and know that birth does not have to be another trauma you experience. It can be a very private, beautiful and healing experience; a memory you cherish and are proud of.
I hope you have a beautiful birth experience- however you choose to define that for yourself. This is long, but a real labor of love, and I hope you find it helpful.
Although I always imagined my life with children I could never seem to make the decision to get pregnant. My husband, John, and I have known each other since we were teenagers. We dated for 8 years, got married, and two years later decided to get pregnant; I was 27. Four months later, I panicked thinking I was pregnant. Suddenly I didn’t feel ready. The thought of going through OB appointments and childbirth scared me to death. I wasn’t pregnant but the intensity of the panic I felt was surprising. As a Therapist myself, I realized it was time to talk to someone about the sexual abuse I dealt with as a child realizing 17 years later that maybe the abuse had something to do with my panic I felt.
The first abuse I dealt with was from a family member when I was 10. It lasted for a few years until my mom figured out some of what was going on and made sure that person no longer had access to me. I didn’t tell anyone what happened then. I figured he was out of my life, I was fine, and there was no need to talk about it.
At 23 years old I had a pre-surgery appointment with a doctor who attempted exams that weren’t necessary and to remove some of my clothing during an appointment. I didn’t let him complete the exams or remove the clothes but I did have the surgery. Going under anesthesia after what he tried to do and not being able to trust him with control of my body was a traumatic experience for me.
So at 27 I started therapy after the pregnancy scare to deal with this. I talked with my Therapist (a male) at length about the abuses. I was then able to share with my husband what had happened. I now believe these situations have greatly affected my life- how I behave, some habits I have, how I react to situations, interact with my husband, my ability to trust others, etc. This was a real eye opener. I can’t stress how important it was to be open with my husband about the abuse prior to becoming pregnant.
Because of those situations (and unfortunately another abusive situation with a Massage Therapist at 29) I came to view pregnancy and childbirth as voluntarily putting myself in another traumatic situation where any medical provider (male or female), people I knew or didn’t know, could have access to the most private parts of my body for whatever reason they deemed necessary. I think never making the decision to get pregnant was a way of protecting myself from further abuse.
Getting pregnant was impulsive for me. John and I had a short conversation about it. I told him I thought I was ready to get pregnant but it wasn’t a big, grand talk. We agreed I would get off birth control so when we were “really ready” my body would be too. Two weeks later I knew something had changed. A week later we knew our baby was on the way! We were shocked but thrilled, so excited!
I started to feel the fear and anxiety about the birth once I saw the stirrups on the bed at our first hospital tour. I then wouldn’t tour the next hospital. Once I found out both hospitals had male OB’s on-call I wanted no part of it. I couldn’t stomach the thought of a male doctor I didn’t know touching me or attending to me during labor. Knowing that they were professionals did nothing to reassure me because of my experience with the surgeon and the Massage Therapist and I didn’t trust my OB because I didn’t know her. At 5 months pregnant I still hadn’t met her. I started to panic again.
I talked with my Therapist about all of these fears and the fact that I really wanted a water birth. He was adamant that I do whatever I can to make the birth the experience that I wanted. At this point I was tired and halfway done with my pregnancy already. It seemed like a huge pain to research water birth then possibly switch hospitals, doctors, insurance, etc. But I started to look on the internet that night and found the birth center website. I made an appointment with Jessica and met her a couple weeks later.
Our home birth journey
I instantly felt comfortable with Jessica. She was pleasant, calm, and answered every question we had. I loved that I was talking to the person that would actually be with us during labor and because of that I trusted what she said. I made the decision to switch to Jessica for my prenatal care and the birth on the car ride home after meeting her. I looked forward to appointments with her. She was concerned about me as a person, my husband and me as a couple, and our baby’s health. I loved hearing the baby’s heart beat, finding out what position he was in, and knowing that I didn’t have to deal with internal exams at our appointments! It was all very relaxed and calm.
There are a couple things I’ll always remember about Jessica...
I knew I needed to let Jessica know I had a history of abuse when I saw it as one of the questions on her paperwork. I chose her as my midwife because I trusted her and I thought I would have a (physically and emotionally) safe birth with her on my side. She let me know it would be helpful to think about what could trigger me from the abuse so she could avoid those things during labor. I knew that feeling watched or observed could bring back bad memories. Because of this Jessica respected me wanting to handle as much labor as I could on my own, which we did for 7 hours. She came to our home as soon as we called to tell her we needed her. Jessica was with us for about 5 hours of my labor. I never felt watched or exposed. She gave helpful suggestions and gentle encouragement along the way but never “took over.” I could take a suggestion or leave it- I felt in control, safe, and cared for. During one of my weepier moments I asked Jessica if she was frustrated with me (I didn’t feel like I was doing as good of a job as all the women in the Hypnobirthing videos!) She, of course, said no and gently said just to cry if I needed to. She told me that what was happening to me was hard and it was ok to cry about it. So I did.
During a particularly rough contraction Jessica took my hand, held it, and said, “You’re reacting to John like he’s trying to hurt you.” I just started to cry and told her I was scared. I don’t often cry or admit to feeling scared so this was a new one for me. I felt better afterwards, even in the middle of labor. Jessica knew me well enough to notice and to share her thought with me in a kind, respectful way. It made me soften towards my husband for a moment and be grateful for what he was doing to help me. I didn’t think much else of the statement at the moment, but I’ve thought about it a lot since then and I think she’s right… I do often do react to people like they’re going to hurt me- even with my husband, though he never has. I’ve tried to be mindful of this since the birth and choose a different way to respond.
I kept telling myself during labor, “I will have this baby at home.” I even made signs that said, “I WILL” and taped them all over the house. When I could feel his sweet little head and I knew his birth was close I thought to myself, “Oh my God! We pulled it off! I’m having this baby at home!” He was born soon after and it was pure joy when I saw that tiny little body in the pool.
Iinitially just wanted to have a water birth and to avoid another trauma. With Jessica I was able to have the birth I wanted and to feel protected. In the process my baby also had the safest birth possible, completely free of medical intervention. I’ve never been as happy as I am now with my precious baby boy and a husband I’ve known for 13 years but who is suddenly brand new to me as our son’s father.
Our little guy was born by candlelight in our bedroom. It was beautiful; the most amazing moment of my life. I wish for you to have the birth experience you want- and to feel safe, protected, and cared for.