Poem for a Daughter
by Anne Stevenson

‘I think I’m going to have it,’
I said, joking between pains.
The midwife rolled competent
sleeves over corpulent milky arms.
‘Dear, you never have it,
we deliver it.’
A judgement the years proved true.
Certainly I’ve never had you
as you still have me, Caroline.
Why does a mother need a daughter?
Heart’s needle, hostage to fortune,
freedom’s end. Yet nothing’s more perfect
than that bleating, razor-shaped cry
that delivers a mother to her baby.
The bloodcord snaps that held
their sphere together. The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother.
A woman’s life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first, particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but a part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.’

I read this wonderful poem last week, thanks to Naomi Bulger’s blog. The timing was quite perfect, as we went to the hospital last week to have a de-brief about my daughters birth.

Although I had a Caesarian for my sons birth, due to discovering at the last hour that he was breech (you can read his birth story here), I never felt in anyway robbed of a natural birth. I recovered easily from the surgery, and my baby was fine. Nevertheless, when I became pregnant again, I opted for a VBAC (Vaginal birth after Caesarean for those wondering), mainly so that I would have a minimal hospital stay and recovery, because my little boy was due to turn two a couple of weeks before the birth, and I was still breast feeding him.

When I went into labour, I went in without any kind of birth plan on paper, knowing how quickly things can change during a birth. I planned to try to birth without drugs or epidural, but I had no problem utilising whatever I needed if I couldn’t handle the pain. I have already written the birth story here, but I will include a recap today. My waters began trickling early on a Saturday evening, 6 days before my due date, and flowed more and more throughout the night. I had no contractions, but little sleep. When I got up the next morning, my waters gushed, and shortly after that,the contractions came on quite hard, five minutes apart and lasting about a minute each time. We went to the birthing suite and I laboured there until 6:30pm using gas and visualisation techniques. I stayed upright or on my knees until late in the day, when I became tired. I hadn’t eaten or drunk water all day (a drip was inserted throughout the day to hydrate me). I was proud of myself.

When it came time to push, I had a lot of trouble with a cough that I thought I had gotten rid of. I was unable to bear down without coughing. I never felt my body take over with an uncontrollable urge to push. There was none of what I had read, about the body knowing what to do. The struggle seemed to go on forever, and nothing was happening. The OB came in and warned that we only had a limited time left before he would need to intervene.

By the time he did intervene, after nearly two and a half hours of attempting to push, I was begging for a Caesarian. We persevered with giving birth where I was was. I had an episiotomy, failed ventouse, and then forceps delivered my daughters head. At this point her shoulder became stuck behind my pubic bone. This is an obstetric emergency, and a lot of people appeared in the room. Lost in the horror of my pain as patented techniques were employed to extract my baby from me. I couldn’t distinguish when I was having contractions anymore, and I didn’t know how serious the situation was – I thought that it was normal. My husband held my breath in with his hand. My midwife got me to to focus by looking at her.

When my baby finally emerged, I whispered to my midwife “I didn’t know that I would be so bad at it.”. I didn’t know that her arm and clavicle were broken yet. I thought that it was my fault, from my inability to push without coughing. She was so grey and still from the ordeal of her birth. I can hardly bear to look at the photos taken of us both from that night. I had her placed skin to skin on my chest, though we were both too weak to breast feed, and I loved her so, so deeply, my wounded, broken little girl (the tears, again, as I type).

She healed quickly. She has always been a contented baby. We call her cruisy Suzie. In the hospital her broken arm was strapped to her body in webbing, then wrapped in bandages on a splint, and finally just strapped down with tape. The photos from her first bath are pitiful, but she, on panadol, was un-bothered. Within three weeks her strapping was gone and at six weeks her bones and nerves were pronounced perfectly fine.

 

She was, in fact, very lucky, and so was I, because within the bounds of Shoulder Dystocia, things could have been a lot worse.

Now my baby is five months old. She bears a little scar above her left eye, where the forceps cut into her, but that is all.

I needed the de-brief at the hospital, all of this time later, to understand exactly what happened, and why and, in the end, I needed to know that I didn’t cause it. I know some people would scoff at this need of mine, but it was strong, and I am aware of the importance of learning the intricacies of things which may have no answers. I know that it is important to talk, and to be listened to, if you want to heal.

The hospital must know this too, as they were so great. In a conference room with my midwife, another midwife who was present for the scary bits,the head of the birthing suite, and a senior OB, we went over the timeline of events, and I got to ask questions, and I was reassured that, in light of my previous breech baby, and the fact that my body wasn’t pushing, and then the shoulder dystocia, it was most likely that the shape of my pelvis wasn’t optimal, but that I had done everything right in staying upright and active and drug free. There was an apology for not managing my pain in the final, awful stages when she was stuck.

It was a big thing to me – to talk about it with experts – and to feel as though my need to know mattered. It matters.

Linking up again for #IBOT at Essentially Jess