Among the most profound and beautiful experiences of my life are the first time I felt my son move inside me and his arrival in the world… I didn’t really have a preconceived idea about how the birth would be. Thanks to my very effective socialisation I never doubted there would be degrees of discomfort but I felt I could ‘handle’ it and was ardently against any ‘unnecessary’ medical interference. I had the (#hindsight) benefit of a mother who’d read Dr Gantly-Reid and Bettelheim; was a La Leche League advocate and refused to use the word ‘pain’ when I asked her whether it would ‘hurt’. I remember I found all this intensely annoying at the time. I had my own ideas about how I would do things; left Gantly-Reid on the Shelf beside ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding’ and ‘Breast is Best’ and told my mother in no uncertain terms that I would not be attending any LLL meetings… thought I knew it all. Second time round I often took those yellow-leafed books from the shelves and looked through them… even long after I knew I wouldn’t need them.
I was 23 when I had my first child. I loved being pregnant but as time went on I longed more and more for the birth itself; not simply to meet my child (whom I secretly and somewhat guiltily hoped would be a boy) but because I was so excited by the thoughts of ‘giving birth’. I was torn between the love of carrying my baby so closely and a growing anticipation of birthing itself. I was frustrated when people repeatedly asked me variations of ‘Aren’t you scared?’ I wasn’t scared. I was overjoyed at the prospect of it and in my excitement I felt like it would never come.
It did come eventually of course and whilst it would not, retrospectively, be the birthing experience I would wish for, in my naïveté I didn’t know that it could be any other way. I didn’t know that I could ask to be assisted only if I needed it; to listen to my own body’s language rather than to undress, walk, lie down, sit up and push on command… that it was okay to let things take their course… I probably should have read those books.
I was happy within reason to allow the ‘professionals’ to poke, prod and monitor… or not monitor, as was the case in the end… and to send me to the shower fully dilated with ‘hours to go’ rather than straight to the delivery ward. An overwhelming urge to push, which left me clinging to the shower rail calling for the nurse and a mad wheelchair dash down the darkened corridor at breakneck speed later and I was being told to ‘Get up on the bed after the next one, you don’t have much time’ and ‘PUSH, PUSH’. After 4-and-a-half minutes of ‘bearing down’ for dear life my exquisite little boy made a break for freedom and the midwife-who had known me so well previously- (‘I think you’ll be going home’, ‘I don’t want to see you back in this room ‘til you can’t walk’ and ‘First baby! Long night ahead of you… This isn’t E.R. you know!’), was, to her credit, retracting all her prior assumptions.
I finally found my voice and warned them away from the cord until my miracle was safely tucked up at the breast. I gazed at him, moved by the unexpected way he seemed to just know me and to trust me so completely. He contentedly made himself at home and so began our life together; indescribable, heart-breaking love.
When I saw my little girl at her 15 week scan the miracle of her overwhelmed me and took my breath away… my heart felt ease and my pain immediately began to ebb. This pregnancy had been a crisis; a violation; the final straw in a union doomed by dysfunction… I had left almost as soon as I realised I was pregnant; not because I truly wanted to but rather because I had to.
Seeing her now, tiny and helpless… reminded me of what I already knew- of our shared affinity. I could not believe that I was going to be mother to a baby girl… that I had a daughter. The instant sense of connection with that thing which I had hitherto failed to connect with filled me with relief and emotions so bitter sweet that I knew I could not afford to start to cry… seeing her, so utterly perfect… so fully formed and beautiful… so real. To be shown a glimpse of the wonder that had been taking place, without my even being conscious of it; whilst I had been so absorbed in the depths of my distress, caught me off-guard. I felt as though I was looking at someone whom I already knew… when only moments before I had been so afraid at the thoughts of what was unfolding. It shook me yet it calmed me and comforted me. It was a sense of ‘Oh… it’s you… but of course it is’… a deeply spiritual recognition… a feeling that she was wise and not quite of this world; and I was humbled.
On the evening of the 15th of June 2010 I sat in the sun drenched waiting room of the maternity hospital. I couldn’t stop smiling, quietly euphoric. Despite everything those stirrings of maternal anticipation were rising up in me, washing over me. You could say it was the sunshine streaming through the window or the hormones, some combination of both or something else altogether but as I sat there that evening an image of myself smiling broadly whilst cradling my baby… my son’s arms around my neck as his beaming face looked on over my shoulder, bathed in white light suddenly, filled my mind’s eye and the thought ‘everything is going to be fine’ resonated almost audibly through my whole being.
I sat back in my chair, hands on my bump, smiling involuntarily, looking around at the breastfeeding posters on the walls. I felt the maternal longing surge in me as I pictured my baby girl at the breast and I breathed deeply for the first time in months. I felt full of optimism about the life that lay ahead of us and I felt happy for the first time in as long as I could remember. The release was so incredible that I wasn’t sure whether to laugh out loud or shed tears of pure emotion. That moment was blissful and I’ll always treasure it as what my daughter’s pregnancy really was to me. I still go back to that memory on occasion to remind myself that everything is, in fact, ‘going to be fine’. Alhamdulillah.
I am immensely grateful for that moment.
If it weren’t for that fleeting, short-lived peace I’m not sure I would have survived what came in the next breath.
The midwife called my name and I went in, full of happy anticipation… unsuspecting… still smiling