Monday, January 30, 2006

With Three Days' Distance

A few years ago I had a client who very much wanted to have a natural birth. It was her first baby and she had the closest thing to a "textbook labor" that I've seen. Twelve hours start to finish. Contractions that became steadily "stronger, longer and closer together. Spontaneous rupture of her water in transition. The urge to push two hours later.

She changed positions frequently, vocalized as the contractions got stronger, and never once asked for pain relief. She did so well and the birth went so smoothly that I could not wait to meet with her afterward and share in her elation.

I went to her house and all was well. We admired the baby. We commiserated about stitches and perineal soreness. She aired the usual frustrations with sleep and nursing. Then I asked her how she felt about the birth. She burst into tears. She apologized for crying and said, "I just can't think about the birth without remembering how awful it was. It hurt so bad. I never thought anything could be so painful."

It was a good reminder that birth experiences are individualized and highly subjective. Who was I to say she'd had a "good birth." Even though it was what she'd wanted ahead of time, and even though she had a loving spouse, fabulous midwives, and a supportive doula, her memory of the experience was traumatic.

Keeping this in mind, I was prepared to hear second-guessing and regret from my most recent client when I visited her over the weekend. We talked on the phone the day after the birth and at that time she said the labor was horrible and that while she was glad she didn't "cave" for an epidural, she wished she could have more of a sense of accomplishment about it. She said that if she had it to do over she might have gotten an epidural.

When we met face to face two days later she volunteered that she was so glad she had gone natural. She said she can still remember that it hurt, but the exact nature of the pain has faded. She said that having gotten an epidural with her first child, she would have been very disappointed to have gotten one this time around. Especially since the time at which she wanted one was only a few hours from when she delivered. She said her only regret was that she hadn't gotten a prostaglandin gel earlier in the week, to get her cervix more primed for the induction.

She was radiant. It was evident that she now had the sense of accomplishment she wasn't feeling immediately after the birth.

Which was something of a shock to me. I confessed that I'd been having some guilt pangs about not mentioning the epidural option to her when she was slogging through her 'teenth hour of labor and was so exhausted. Of course that's one of my rules: let the client suggest an epidural, not me. But still, sometimes I start feeling cruel... Anyway, she just laughed at the thought of my wanting her to get an epidural while she was so resolved against it in her own mind, even in the thick of labor.

Time can change our thoughts about birth, for sure. But not always. The client I mentioned at the beginning of this post is expecting her second child in the spring. She has asked me to be a doula again and is using the same midwives. But she hasn't made up her mind yet whether she wants to try going natural again. Her memories are still too crisp.


Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

I'll be interested to see how the former client's birth goes when the time comes.

Birth memories are such as curious thing--I love how Penny Simkin tells the story of the woman at the nursing home where Penny was holding childbirth classes (at the beginning of the short film "Doulas Making a Difference".) The woman in her 80's vividly remembers her childbirth experience.

Thankfully, for _most_ women the most difficult parts fade, as you said, and the challenging painful labor in the moment, gets foggy with time. I hope this newest client continues to remember things in an even more positive light.

Great writing, doulicia.

9:30 AM  

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