I was young when I gave birth. I tried to do research and approach pregnancy and childbirth with an open mind. I tried the breathing and the ball. I experienced a good portion of labor without an epidural (that was enough). But, my experience was limited to what my doctor or the hospital’s lamaze class told me. I did not know that midwifery was an option. I never imagined giving birth anywhere but in a hospital with my feet in cozy metal stirrups, and I looked forward to ultrasounds and dopplers. I have been trying to imagine whether or not I would have done things differently if I had known, if next time, I would make different choices. I think the experience in general went smoothly enough that the ends justified any areas where the means were lacking. I have never considered it a bad experience, but looking at Anne Drapkin Lyerly’s definition of a “good birth” as allowing for agency, connectedness, and dignity, I do see areas where it could have been better for me.
As cheesy as it might sound, the morning after finding out I was pregnant the world looked different. I bought into the hype of giving up yourself for the new being inside of you. I think partly because of my age, my naivety and determination to prove my worth as an unmarried mother-to-be, I tried to do everything everyone else expected of a good pregnant woman. I went to Lamaze because the doctor recommended it. I walked until my hands and feet resembled balloon animals. I ate all day long because they said I was not gaining enough weight. I showed them in the end by gaining 45 pounds. Call me an overachiever. I was going to have a happy, healthy baby damnit! Who cares if six weeks after giving birth my OB would tell me he was concerned about my weight. Some extra baby weight does not a bad mother make!
My body was a machine, but this is not to say that I felt separate from the experience. I certainly felt both a mind and body connection to the experience and to my daughter. I think it would be difficult for Dopplers or ultrasounds, or any other technological approach to pregnancy and childbirth to negate or devalue spending day and night with a poking and hiccuping reminder of a mothers bodily connection to her child. As Lyerly says, these things may “have the effect of reinforcing the connection of a woman and fetus, body and mind” (106). A mother’s relationship with the child in her belly is unique. No one else can share the experience to the same extent or in the same ways. These forms of technology can certainly reinforce the mother’s connection to her baby, but they can also promote bonding between parents as well as between father and child. My daughter’s father cried when ultrasounds produced a picture that looked like her waving at us, also when they told us we were having a girl. Having him there, experiencing some of the same emotions led to him emotionally supporting me. It helped him appreciate what was happening inside of my mind and my body.
Like many women I am sure, my doctor arrived at the last minute. I may not have known the nurses in the hospital, but I had loved ones there. He was there. My mother was there. They, like me did what we were expected to do. They held my hand and told me how to breath. I cursed at them. I only pushed for twenty minutes. I later attributed this to what dancing and gymnastics had done for my body. That may have been the case, or it may have been me trying to prove my superwoman/supermom abilities. I don’t know. I feel that I did have agency, connection, and dignity, but I also see where they were limited. The birth of my daughter is an experience I will always cherish, but I realize that with knowledge I could have a different kind of agency, dignity, and connection that could make things better the next time around–for me.