I need this time to be different. We all know that.

I need birth to mean life this time around. I want that, desperately. But I also need to find room, head-wise and heart-wise, to welcome whoever this new person might be, should they decide to show. This pregnancy has been a very private affair, and in many ways a very sad one, the hope undeniably inherent but buried, latent. I’ve been so afraid to assume this small one is here to stay, unsure and confused now whether the obsessively noted movements inside my abdomen signal a start or a finish to our time together.

The milestones and stages of this time around have, most of the time, felt like the re-tracing of a trip that ended badly, very badly. I haven’t been able to experience this on its own terms. So when it comes to anticipating labour and birth, I’ve been terrified. I imagine flashbacks, panic attacks, and the unbearably acute renewal of feelings I’d rather not bring back to their full-fledged, monster size. My only experience of birth has been, well, horrific.

But maybe, just maybe, if the setting is different, if I’m in an environment where this birth isn’t a grim, gruesome process to just be gotten through; something other than danger and imminent death to be overcome. The Lowlands, as I was told last time, is the place to have a baby, after all. Home to a proud and long-held tradition of home birthing as the norm. Where birth is natural, beautiful. Given how things turned out last time, this has all sat rather bitterly in the back of my throat since. Me, who spent time years back apprenticing with midwives, considering becoming one myself. Plans changed, other opportunities presented, but I’ve always been drawn to the different notions surrounding what birth can be.

When I started out this pregnancy, though, I wanted the most medical of care from the get-go. I wanted machines, people in white coats, percentages and numbers drawn from blood tests, graphs, images. And it’s been just the right thing to do – we’ve drawn a lot of comfort from high-tech care. Most importantly of all, it’s not at all how we did things last time. Different.

My time in hospital with the pox, though, got me thinking. It was hard, really hard, being vulnerable and in pain in a hospital again. It may have been a different hospital in a different city, but somehow it felt exactly the same. Giving birth there offers the most non-Lowland experience an expat can get – extensive, constant monitoring and wonder of wonders, an anesthesiologist on-call around the clock and the real promise of pain relief if you ask for it – simply not the norm here, even though it was made the law just last year.

But to all appearances, it won’t be different. Last time I ended up in hospital because things had gone very, very wrong. Lately I’ve realized that maybe, just maybe, I still have a shot at a beautiful birth experience. Obviously, birth resulting in a live child this time around would be pretty damn beautiful. But maybe, if I can take advantage of the fact I’m living in the supposed haven for natural birth, maybe it won’t have to be so traumatic getting to that better outcome. Maybe I’ll actually be in a state where I can welcome this new person rather than just relive the trauma of losing his or her predecessor.

I’ve actually found what seems to be the perfect solution. Making Mokum live up to its meaning. It turns out this city has a birthing centre, the only of its kind in the country. Softly-lit, warmly-coloured rooms dressed up to feel like home and staffed by seasoned professionals in the practice of natural, home births – but it’s housed in a hospital, with doctors, more extensive tech and operating rooms just down the hall, should they be needed.  I’ve paid a visit, asked the staff a barrage of questions. For the first time, with this as an option, I feel like I can not only face this impending birth, but actually feel some excitement, some hope.

It’s not that easy, though. One, they might be full-up when my day comes and they don’t take reservations. Not to mention that labour may not start out smoothly or anywhere near on time – and it turns out they’re pretty strict about just who gets to go natural in the end and they’re quick to boot you over to the machines and methods of the hospital if anything close to a complication seems to be happening. Which I actually find comforting.

But the biggest source of unease – the fact my current hospital and doctors won’t give their consent for me to go there. They’ve also made it clear that they don’t care how I feel, dismissing my concerns about how going through labour again is very possibly going to be traumatic, refusing to talk about ways we all might be able to cope with that. It’s been disappointing and alarming. Tellingly, this place doesn’t give tours of its maternity ward. The kind of births they have here are emergencies to be managed and the emotional experience is secondary, unimportant compared to the outcome. Fair enough, especially for the likes of me. I’m just not convinced, given my history and the progress of this pregnancy, that this birth is sure to be a medical emergency. Helped by our fantastic doula here who’s been with us since M, we met with a highly-recommended doctor at another hospital for a second opinion. After a thorough going-over, he thinks differently. That I can choose to give birth where I want – should all stars amiably align in the right direction, that is.

So now we’re in the uncomfortable position of having to choose who to listen to, who to believe. Is now really the time to disagree with any doctor? Is it selfish to worry about emotions and aesthetics, birth stools, bathtubs and low-lighting versus uncomfortable, constant electronic monitoring in an ugly setting attempting to leave nothing to chance? Is it irresponsible to leave the doctor who makes me feel bad for the doctor who tells me what I want to hear?

This all opens up a whole slimy, wormy discussion, as a recent GITW thread demonstrates. Home versus hospital, natural versus not; the question of power, choice and control in birth. No clear answers, no known outcomes to virtually any of this.

I just want a way, some way for my broken heart and my exhausted emotions to look toward this birth a potential passage to joy, not simply the reliving of my worst nightmare, re-tracing a trauma that obliterates my ability to recognize or enjoy an alternate outcome.

I have no way of knowing how it will go, any of it. But I feel like my heart needs some help as this birth approaches. Even if it’s just drawing pretty curtains over the most traumatic day of my life. I’d welcome the disguise. I need it.

bocian firanka

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