Tuesday, August 17, 2004

(Not) Love at First Sight

All these women over the years who hide their shame... I hear it over and over during subsequent pregnancies...


I didn't love my baby at first. I hear you, that is pretty common. No, you don't understand. I didn't even like him at all! It took days (weeks/months) to actually believe he was the same thing that had been inside me.

Was it:

the epidural?
the morphine?
the hospital?
the cesarean?
the doctor?
the forceps?
the vacuum?
the fight with my spouse?
the crappy babyhood I had?
the general anesthesia?
the exhaustion?
the surreal-ness of it all?
the real-ness of it all?
the fact that I wasn't ready to be a mom?
that I was a teen mom?
that I was an older mom?
that I was a single mom?

and the list is endless.

I think that those of us who see with our eyes tend to react differently than the blind women I have seen. Blind women (and I have only been with a couple in all these years, but I have talked to other midwives and doulas about this) tend to smell and feel... it is just different for those of us who use our eyes... our culture is just so... visual!

But, what of those of us who have reactions that have nothing to do with looks? The indifference after a long labor and/or complicated birth? What would happen in the wild? I believe the midwife would be the one to assist that new mama... holding the new baby to mom's breast... kicking in some hormones that help with the "bonding" stuff. I don't believe many babies in the wild born to exhausted moms were just left to fend for themselves as mom recovered.

Why does this happen? I wholeheartedly believe we are biochemical beings as much as Spiritual Beings. Low glucoses, long labors, quick labors, being denied food and drink for many hours, medications, stress, immobility, fear... all those and more all combine for a terrific combination that can really do a number on the biochemistry of a person's body! Add to that being cut open, having your child taken out, your guts rearranged, sewn up, more meds pumped in... all of those are major reasons why someone might not Be There for their child the way they had dreamt it would be.


Unfolding is a lesson I have shared several times this week.

I know many people who watch movies and within 5 minutes have the entire ending in their expectation. I hate watching movies with these people IF they speak about it outloud. Sarah is forever second-guessing what people might do (could be a good cop trait, however)... trying to figure out why Aimee does this or the other thing... how come Tristan doesn't do such and such.

I am not like that. I learned a LONG time ago to allow things to unfold. I learned to not anticipate in movies... that way I was rarely disappointed. I never anticipate gifts, letters, cards, or thank-you's; therefore, they are always a delightful surprise!

In birth, as a midwife, if I have expectations of how someone will do/react to something, I am not only setting myself up for disappointment, but also setting HER up for failure. It doesn't mean I don't anticipate issues... shoulder dystocia, hemorrhage, etc. It doesn't mean I am not ready to resuscitate at a second's notice. It just means that I allow women to unfold in their births.

The biggest issue I have with childbirth classes is the Visualizing the Perfect Birth exercise... IF it is done without discussions of how even the most unpredictable birth can be considered Perfect (even with death). It is all fabulous to meditate and create, over and over, your birth. I absolutely believe in playing out how things will go. Shoot, I did that when I had the lumbar puncture and it did go as I rehearsed it! But, contingencies must be addressed or the class is failing the "student." Miserably.

No one (most no one) talks about the feelings that can appear (or NOT appear!) after birth. Who wants to hear that women hate their children or are indifferent or want them to go be adopted? Pregnant women who haven't experienced such intensity would/could judge harshly and the I Would NEVER Do That fall out of their mouths as if they were defending their very right to be a parent. I would say that at least a quarter of the women I have spoken with in these 20+ years have had this experience of Disbelief in Emotional Reactions after their birth. The entire gamut represented.

Gerber ads, formula ads, marketing, advertising, La Leche League pamphlets, magazines, etc. all push, Push, PUSH women to believe they will fall instantly in love with their newborn. Soft focus lenses and spaced out close-eyed stares from mother to infant... it all looks so good you could lap it up with a spoon.

A birth story unto itself, but one of the women I was second assist for labored for 20+ hours at home, pushed for 3 hours at home, another 2 at the hospital, a vacuum attempt (x3), the failed placement (x3) of an epidural THEN a spinal try, and then the baby freaking, the mom being put under general anesthesia and her baby born by cesarean. She didn't see her baby for over 2 hours, but dad held him and we all loved him lots.

The baby is almost 2 now and mom is still so freaked out at how she fucked up this kid's first hours of life on the earth. She has rebirthed with the child, has had cranio-sacral, homeopathy, therapy, medication, massage, and a dozen other modalities all trying to reconcile her "failure" as a mother to be there to bond with her child. No amount of words can soothe her pain; believe me, I have tried. So I listen, over and over, to her sadness... and I pray she gets unstuck and doesn't treat this child as The Second Coming. Apparently, sometimes, stuck feels better.

I have had numerous discussions with moms after we resuscitate newborns or after the baby was yanked out as it was dying inside mom and was worked on, removed from sight, and worked on more... or babies that are poked and prodded and have gadgets holding their bodies together... or babies who have their spine closed at 2 hours postpartum... or babies who have heart surgery at 1 hour postpartum, never having seen mom or dad... or babies who have their intestines pushed back inside and endure several surgeries to close their guts...

what of all these babies and their psyches?

I know many of these children as infants, children, teens, and now adults... and they are FINE.

It doesn't mean we don't WORK to have peaceful birth. It doesn't mean we ignore their feelings and sensitivities and indiscriminately screw monitor leads into their heads or spank their butts or speak evil of them.

It just means that when we HAVE to, (like my question to Donna about her calling Landen's birth her Perfect Birth... if I'd have had to give her pit or help Landen breathe, would it still have been perfect? Donna says YES because it would have been needed to sustain life), for goodness' sake, we are resilient beings! Our minds work through infinite crisises in our lives... death, pain, moving, divorce, separation from parents, sleeping alone for the first time... the list, as we know, is endless! Perhaps those of us with trauma (and I count myself since Meggie needed to be resuscitated at birth) have assisted our children in a life lesson that might aid them forevermore. Perhaps they CHOSE us so we could give them a part of their walk earlier than later... so they could be strong for something 50 years from their births.

Maybe I am just justifying.

Maybe I work too hard to help women let go of guilt. There is PLENTY to feel guilty about later as they get older. Believe me. It just starts around birth-time. It grows with every passing year.

I believe the true issue is if there is a disconnect with the child after time has passed. Some women do have connection issues (usually surrounding childhood abuse or drug/alcohol issues) and need help learning how to mother/parent. For some, it might be true postpartum depression. These are different than the transient, "Who the hell are you?" that so many women feel.

I hope this helps some. While I really do struggle with the phrase You are not alone because I feel it discounts feelings, I think that if women heard these stories pre-pregnancy and during their pregnancy, it might help women feel less alone.

And who wants to feel alone when we are scared?

Not I.

1 comment:

WendyLou said...

I had never thought that my baby's tough pregnancy and premature birth may be toughening her up for something she needs to deal with in 50 years. Makes me worry what that is, for I was toughened up as well.