Monday, May 20, 2013

May Your Birth be the Sound of Your Feet on the Ground

Name withheld upon request.

"I feel the need to write to put my thoughts and feelings out there to the community. I feel so guilty! I feel guilty because I deprived my son of a natural birth. I know you must probably think I'm pure evil but I actually chose to have a c-section even though there was no medical reason. I chose to have one because I was scared! I was scared of mother nature's way, scared to end up having an emergency c-section with general anaesthetic and I possibly wouldn't get to see my child until hours later. I was scared I'd maybe rip or be given an episiotomy; instead I chose to have a scar on my abdomen.

But now, two years later, it turns out it's not just the visible scar. C-sections are great - if they're medically necessary but otherwise I wouldn't do it again. If I had known then what I know now I probably would have birthed at home! Those fears seem irrational and stupid to me now but they were very real at the time and I know this is no excuse but I had no guidance, I was pretty much left alone by friends and family. I had no proper information like for example from your page! My husband supported me, but he would have also supported me had I taken a different decision.

I really wanted to breastfeed but, for now obvious reasons, it didn't work out the way I had envisioned it. I was given oxytocin to kickstart my milk-production and it was a wonderful feeling to feed him but this most beautiful experience didn't last long. As a first time mother and knowing nobody who breastfed successfully I was very insecure about the whole thing. It stressed me to be perfectly honest because I made tons of mistakes and it hurt a lot.

I felt as if he wasn't getting enough food and the nurses in the hospital "suggested" giving him formula as well after having breastfed him for 10 minutes. On the third day I was in great pain because of sore nipples and I had to pump. I felt like a complete failure! Nevertheless I continued breastfeeding him but never produced enough milk, my biggest achievement was 50ml (total!) on one single occasion. That amount is ridiculous but I didn't want to give up, I wanted to give him every single drop I had so I kept on doing this for about 5 months until my son decided for good he was tired of it and stopped sucking. 

But at least I can say I didn't do everything wrong. I feed him only home-cooked organic food, I carried him until he was 15 months old, he is not circumcised, not vaccinated, sleeps in our bed to this day and I hope that one day when my son is old enough and I explain all this to him he will be able to forgive me."

A mama friend messaged this to me and I struggled over publishing it, since I feel it's very easy for people on any side of any debate to immediately interpret this for their advantage. But in the end I decided to publish it because it's a piece courageously written and shared to give others insight. It lets us into the complex cascade of emotions and the struggle mamas have when they are processing their previous decisions, which might not have even been true decisions, while still acknowledging their inner power and dedication to their children.

This mama is saying she feels guilty. She feels personally responsible for her child's birth experiences. She felt so scared of birthing that she chose medical intervention. Those are hard words to read. They made me sad when I read them not only because it's hard to know that others are suffering. But because it's an inherent contradiction. 

Remember the ole college days, when you read the basic psychology textbook and learned about internal versus external locus control that leads to interpreting events differently? Even in that class, you learned that American females are more likely to process negative situations as an internal attribute while males assumed an external attribute. Meaning, if a female received a poor grade on her test, she would feel personally responsible, blaming herself for not studying enough, for not trying hard enough, for perhaps not being smart enough. Whereas the male was more likely to blame others, deciding that the test was too vague, the professor incompetent or the weather distracting. 

Nowhere else do I see this more clearly than in the parenting world. Mamas are, well, vicious. They are vicious and I'm not talking about the mommy wars. I mean they are vicious to themselves. They rip themselves to pieces. They blame themselves, absolutely guilty, without trial, without extenuating circumstances. The mama above didn't say our culture, with all its fear mongering and negative birth imagery deprived her child. She didn't say the doctors who agreed and fully participated in the unnecessary intervention deprived her child. She didn't say her partner, who went along no matter what deprived her child. Only her. All the weight is on her shoulders and she is fully to blame without any claim to the circumstances and exceptions that had shaped her viewpoint at that time in her life. 

And this is why I published it, and what I hope people take away from it. Whether you birthed in a hospital or at home, whether with surgery or IVs or nothing. Whether with a healthy outcome or a damaging outcome, whether with a positive or negative outcome....whatever has happened in your parenting journey to your child and also to you because you have been changed, too, be gentle to yourself, Mama.

Be gentle to yourself. 

It's okay, healthy and perfectly your right to process all emotions including negative ones. This isn't a call to repress your experiences. 

But be gentle to yourself. Keep an eye on your internal dialogue. Are you guilty? Or is is that you are grieving? When you feel a negative emotion, acknowledge it and process it without being compelled to attribute it to some fault or inferiority in yourself. If you feel unhappy about a previous decision, go ahead, feel it, process it, work through it. But don't think that you have charge yourself in your own trial. 

And if others are intent on forcing you to attribute guilt, to attribute regret, failure, inferiority, error...then walk away from them. It's one thing to address a situation; it's another thing entirely to tear down a person. They are no more equipped to sentence you than a dog wearing a judge's robe. 

A wise man once told me that the key to life is realizing you are here to become a better you. Your goal isn't to be better than someone else. It's not to look over to others to see where they are in comparison to you. You can always find someone who is better or worse than you. You can always find someone who is willing to judge you and where you are in life against her own backdrop. 

No, your goal is to look back at you, and to trace those hard-earned steps in the ground where you kept going to become a better you, not for anyone else or to be measured next to anyone else but for your own empowerment and improvement. In this context, it's not about guilt. Where you were and the decisions you made at that time fit you and your situation. Where you are now is a testament to how hard you have worked and how much you have grown. So keep processing, healing, improving and learning. Most of all, keep forgiving you so that you can walk forward on your path.

Though I've never been through hell like that 
I've closed enough windows 
To know you can never look back 

If you're lost and alone 
Or you're sinking like a stone 
Carry on 
May your past be the sound 
Of your feet upon the ground 
Carry on 

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