I don’t celebrate my birth story the way I’m supposed to. In fact, I don’t even remember it. I grew up knowing the power of birth to change a woman. I listened eagerly to the stories told by my mother, aunts, and cousins about how birth was their first step into motherhood. I even supported my cousins as they brought three children into the world. I knew that birth was a powerful rite of passage, and yet there is a chasm of memory where my birth story should be.
Where another might share memories of pushing her baby into the world and hearing that first cry ringing out, my daughter’s first cry is lost to me forever. Where other children were greeted by a room full of eager grandparents, aunts, friends, and cousins, my daughter was born into a room full of strangers in masks. When I woke up from anesthesia, alone but for a pink-clad nurse, I was unable to move my body or force my lips to form the words, “Where is my baby? Is she okay?” When I first held my daughter, I questioned whether she was the same child whose every cell was knit within my womb. When I first took her to my breast, my body was slow to realize she had been born and produce the colostrum she needed to thrive. It took months of therapy and buckets of tears for me to say that I gave birth, instead of merely allowing that Karys was born.
I don’t love to tell my birth story, because it is a trauma that scarred me in both visible and invisible ways, but I know that I am not alone in my experience of a birth day that is difficult to celebrate.
My birth story in short is this: I was in early labor and headed to the midwife’s office to be checked and (presumably) sent back home to continue my labor. When the fetal monitor strip, which had counted out my steady contractions and my daughter’s steady heartbeat, got stuck, my midwife asked an OB to perform an ultrasound to monitor my baby’s movement. During the ultrasound, Karys was supposed to move six times in thirty minutes, but she only moved three. At this point, the doctor told me that she was going to “take the baby.” Outwardly, I nodded numbly, but inside I screamed, “You can’t take my baby. She’s mine.”
I was told to rush to the hospital next door, and within thirty minutes was headed to the operating room, feeling the effects of the anesthesia coming on as I was wheeled away from my worried husband and family. I woke up three hours later, bound to a table, groggy, unable to speak, and unsure whether my baby was alive. After the anesthesia had worn off enough for me to control my own mouth, I asked where Karys was; I was told that she was with her daddy, and I’d get to see her soon. When I was first wheeled into the recovery room and I saw her in Steve’s arms, I wasn’t sure if she was, in fact, my baby. When she was first handed to me, my husband and my mother each held an arm to be sure I was able to hold her without dropping her.
I was later told that the umbilical cord was wrapped three times around my daughter’s neck and stuffed into the birth canal. I was told that without the surgery, my daughter and I could both be dead. I only know what I was told.
My memory of her birth is one of being terrified, confused, and alone. The image of Karys strangled by her own cord haunted me, and I spent months feeling as though birth was my first failing as a mother. I couldn’t even keep her safe when she was living inside of me. How was I ever going to protect her in a world full of dangers?
I don’t like to tell my birth story, but I told it over and over to anyone who would listen until I could put myself back into the story. It was a story that unfolded around me, but I was eventually able to reclaim it by rewriting the pieces that I had lost. I wrote myself into the delivery room and relished the sound of her “drama queen” cries as they reverberated off the sterile operating room walls. I wrote myself into the circle of people who greeted Karys in the recovery room, though in reality I floated on a cloud of anesthesia. I scratched out the part of the story in which the doctor told me she was going to take the baby, instead hearing her tell me that she was going to perform a “C-section,” a term whose meaning I could comprehend. I wrote back in the part of the story in which Steve and I whispered Karys’ name to her instead of it being revealed as fact on a dry-erase board in a nurse’s happy handwriting. Finally, I rewrote the version of the story in which I failed to protect Karys and turned it into the story of my first act of maternal protection: She was in danger. My body stopped contracting to keep her safe. I lay down on a table, scared and alone. I allowed my body to be opened and her body to be pulled out. I was a good mother before she was even delivered into this world, and I proved that I will do whatever it takes to protect her.
I don’t celebrate my birth the way I’m supposed to, but I celebrate it in my own way. Each time I tell my birth story honestly, through tears, I celebrate it. Each time I doula a mother during her labor or in the first weeks after birth, I celebrate it. Each time I speak or write about the importance of birth and the importance of mothers, I celebrate it. Most of all, each time I look into my daughter’s blue eyes, knowing that I am entrusted with helping her grow into a strong and confident woman, I celebrate her birth and my birth into motherhood.