This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
No, not a metaphor. This is literally going to be about my experience giving birth to my two kids. So, TMI.
Why? This post from Harvard explaining that women today are twice as likely to die in childbirth than their mothers. Mother’s almost dying, especially WOC, have been in the new a lot lately, as well, because of such high profile cases such as Serena Williams. I’ve been struck in the same way as the author of the above-linked post as to how it has been showing up consistently in my feed.
I am fortunate that I am an educated white middle-class women, so while I am not immune, I am inoculated from much of the poor and dismissive care other women receive. When I was pregnant with my first child, I took a Bradley Birthing Method class. I lived in SoCal, interacting with other educated white women. We were able to pay for the more-expensive class, drive weekly to the Valley to take said class, and advocate for our birth plan with our HMO-provided OB/GYN (who was also a huge hockey fan and would tell me I was fine and then spend the rest of the appointment talking hockey). I got a doula. I had a mid-wife (again, HMO provided) at the birth.
The hospital where I gave birth was east of where we lived, serving a primarily lower socio-economic class of people who were largely Latinx. I managed to give birth to my daughter, without complication and without any interventions at all. Not even an IV. The LD nurse on duty told my story far and wide on the floor – I was her first birth during her 20-year career with no interventions. I was a hero for many of them.
It made me sad.
I was invited back to speak to the next iteration of the Bradley class to share my birth story, to show that it was indeed possible to have a “natural” birth in a hospital, one run by an HMO no less. But I kept thinking of the nurse for whom I was the first, and the countless women who had potentially unnecessary interventions because of the way we treat WOC and births in this country.
I had my son at home, with a midwife (and what turned out to be something like 5 midwives in training, including one with a baby herself in tow). In some ways, it was more intrusive than the hospital birth – I was constantly monitored while I was at home, just in case I had to be rushed to the hospital, where with my first-born, I was basically left alone because I had things under control and there were more urgent cases to be dealt with. Also, it’s weird to have your not-even-two-year-old poke her head in now and again to see what all the fuss was about.
But ultimately, it went just as smoothly as the first birth but for a moment after I had heard my son cry and held him on my chest where the midwife got very quiet and when she did talk to the other midwives, it was in tense, clipped tones that I knew meant something wasn’t quite right. And in that moment, I was convinced I was going to die. There was bleeding, and I knew that bleeding meant death after giving birth. I had had my son at home, and he was alive and well and I was possibly going to bleed out at home. I was shockingly ok with it, probably due to the natural hormones running through me and the exhaustion of having just given birth to an almost 10-pound baby.
I was going to bleed out and I was going to die.
I didn’t, obviously. The excess blood was from the umbilical cord coming detached from the placenta and once that was out, all was well. At least, I think that’s what was wrong. I was so out of it that I only vaguely remember everything that happened after I got him out.
There is an irony of course about how when we give birth we are so close ourselves to our deaths. So many things can go wrong, and yet we treat every pregnancy like it is a disaster waiting to happen, but once the birth is over, we behave like the worst is over. The worst isn’t over. It’s when the worst begins. But we focus on the baby, not the mother. The mother survived the most “important” part.
My life had value because I had the resources to give it value. It shouldn’t be that way.