I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a story about the day my son Connor was born. But this is not a birth story.
Oh, I wrote a birth story. 7 months ago, in fact. It’s 3500 words long – a good 500 words longer than most of the papers I wrote in my undergrad. But I’m not going to share that story. That story sits in my drafts folder, and may surface someday, perhaps as required reading in high school health classes everywhere, as the country’s most effective means of teenage birth control.
So, why did I write a Birth Story Novella if I didn’t want to share it? Well, originally, I thought I would share it. In the weeks leading up to Connor’s arrival, I read every birth story I could find in my internet universe. Blogger birth stories. Family birth stories. Friend birth stories. Friend-of-Friend birth stories. Home births, c-sections, water births. You name it. If you’re reading this, and wrote a birth story, I read it. And so, a few months after Connor was born, I figured I owed the internet our birth story. I mean, that’s what bloggers do, right? And writing a birth story is supposed to be healing! Cathartic! Magical, even!
So, I hunkered down, hospital charts in hand for reference, and wrote Connor’s birth story. I wrote about my 36 hours of labour. The tub labouring. The epidural. The oxytocin. The epidural failing. The saline injections. The 2.5 doses of lidocaine. The back labour. The midwives that began and ended their shifts during my labour. The 3 hours of pushing. The vaccuum. The moment when everyone in the room finally realized Connor wasn’t coming out on his own.
And, worst of all, I wrote about being strapped down to a table in the operating room, contractions still coming fast and furious, and realizing the spinal for my c-section wasn’t taking either.
“It’s not working. Oh God, Oh God, it’s not working.”
I wrote about the fear when I realized they’d have to put me completely under.
I wrote about the panic, the agony, the despair unlike anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime.
I wrote about how the first memory of my son is hardly a memory at all – a fleeting image – brief, and bleary. A hazy picture of Matt with a baby. “What is it? What is it?” I said, before drifting back to darkness.
I wrote about all of that, because that, technically, is Connor’s birth story. And that birth story sucks.
For a long time afterwards, I couldn’t think about it too much. It was too unfair that so many people held Connor before I did. That so many people heard his cries before I even awoke. That I wasn’t there for his first hours on this earth. That after all the work, all the suffering, I was robbed of the moment that was supposed to make it all worth while: A baby on my chest, my husband beside me, in on the world’s best little secret: that we were three.
Writing about those feelings wasn’t cathartic. It wasn’t healing and it wasn’t magical. It just made it all worse.
And so, after spilling 3500 + words on Connor’s birth story and feeling no better, I started thinking about the moments after that story ended. Because when Connor’s “official” birth story ended, this story began:
This story starts 36 hours after my first contraction. 12 hours after my epidural. 3 hours after Connor was delivered via c-section and 1 hour after I woke up and blacked out again. This is the moment I met my son. And it doesn’t matter who held him first or how he got here, because when my husband Matt put him on my chest for the first time, it felt like two pieces of a locket finally coming together.
This story continues when Matt handed me a phone, and I got to tell my mom, voice broken and cracked, that she and Dad had their first grandson. That his middle name was Thomas, after Dad.
This story gets even better when, after introducing Connor to a room full of people that will love him every minute of his life, the nurse turned of all the lights, wrapped Connor in a blanket, and tucked him right back into my chest. It was the complete reversal of the scene a few short hours earlier. Instead of blinding lights overhead, an operating room full of people I didn’t know, and a sleep that wasn’t natural at all, I had only the soft light lights of the city outside, an empty room, and four hours blissful sleep with my baby boy.
This is the story that matters, and one I’m privileged to live out, chapter by chapter, every new day I spend with Connor.
Birth stories can be beautiful, empowering, and full of memories to be cherished, but they can also be gruelling, disappointing, traumatic and awful. And I’ve finally realized that those stories are OK to forget.
I think I found it so hard to come to terms with with that last statement because we live in an age where people make playlists for their births. They bring in professional photographers to capture every minute. They pick out candles and hire doulas and plan a birth experience. And that’s not a bad thing! That’s good! But the undercurrent running beneath that sort of attitude—that a birth story is the most important moment in your life, and it will fulfill every expectation the internet puts out there—can make it incredibly crushing when you don’t get a story you want to remember. Thankfully, I’ve learned that there are always other stories worth remembering.
Those other stories everywhere. Like the story of a couple’s first glimpse of the sweet two year old they’ll soon bring home from an orphanage. The story a precious babe’s first night at home after months in the NICU. The story of these three young foster children getting their adoption papers for Christmas. They’re not birth stories, but stories of beautiful beginnings all the same.
Once the clouds around my labour finally lifted, I not only had a new appreciation for the stories like the ones above; I was also finally able to hear, and appreciate, one more very important story from that day – the one from my husband.
Matt didn’t get to see Connor being born. He didn’t get to hold my hand for the final push. He heard Connor’s first cries only as muffled wails through hospital walls. But none of that tempered the unbelievable joy and relief he felt when the doctor rushed out to tell him “It’s a boy!”
Connor didn’t get to spend his first hours on this earth with me, but he did get to spend them with his Dad: skin-to-skin, head on heart.
Now isn’t that a beautiful story?