Birth Is Just One Day -- or Is It?

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I had an interesting discussion at a recent ICAN meeting. Most of us there had had successful VBACs and were attending the meeting to support the couple of women who were hoping to have one. As a result, the conversation centered on how we can offer information and support without coming across as overzealous.

We talked about how some people wonder why we're so focused on birth, when birth is just one day out of years and years of parenting. It's true that, for some women, birth is "only one day," and it's the many years of child-rearing that come after that "one day" that matter. They feel that as long as your child is born healthy, it doesn't matter how he came into the world, or when, or what the mother's experience was. You have a healthy child, now move on! But for others, that "one day," that birth-day, is a pivotal moment for a woman. It's not just that now she has a child and has 18+ years of parenting to look forward to. It's not just whether she has a healthy baby that matters. Birth is a huge event. It changes you for life. It changes your brain. It changes your body. It changes your life.

For those women, those in the latter category, birth does matter. It matters a great deal. If she has a traumatic birth, it can leave her with deep psychological scars. If she has a picture-perfect birth, she can carry that bliss for years.

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Image Credit: MammaLoves on Flickr

Birth, while it may be only one day (or two, or three), does leave a lasting impression on mother and baby. Studies show that there is a difference between being born vaginally and being born via cesarean section. There are documented risks to both mother and baby of a c-section that do not exist for vaginal birth. In a complicated birth, the consequences can continue for more than just "one day," or even just a few weeks. For some, the consequences of a birth that does not go as anticipated can continue for years.

Before my oldest son was born, I was in the camp that as long as you have a healthy baby, it doesn't matter how he was born. I believed that c-section has its place (which it does), that modern medicine has made giving birth safer than ever, and that the goal of pregnancy and labor is to end up with a healthy baby. When he finally emerged from an incision in my stomach, 29 hours after labor began, I felt like I barely knew who my child was. I didn't hold him for hours. I couldn't breastfeed for a day. I lost a lot of blood, was in a great deal of pain, and had no connection at all to this gorgeous boy they'd taken out of me.

After my oldest son was born, even that very day, I knew that birth is more than just the "one day," more than just "having a healthy baby." There is a whole cascade of biological processes that occur in childbirth that make you emotionally and physically ready to become a mother, and when birth doesn't go the way you expect, you miss out on those processes. Because of the craziness of his birth, I feel that I didn't properly bond with my son in those first few hours, like nature intends. I didn't know I was a mother. My brain didn't know. My body didn't know. And because the c-section also interfered with breastfeeding, I didn't get that second chance to bond right away, with the oxytocin rush of nursing.

It's not to say that I don't love my son. He's a healthy, happy almost-six-year-old now, bright, tall, and handsome. But that "one day" of his birth still haunts me, and I still wander down memory lane, thinking of those first few weeks, when this baby was a complete stranger, and I wasn't even sure he was mine.

I've since had two VBAC's, one drug-free, and I can tell you that the "one day" of those births left a completely different, no less important impression on me. When those babies were born, put right on my chest, nursed immediately, well, my brain clicked on. I had had a baby. This was my son. I gave birth. The birth of my second son taught me what it meant to be a mother. The birth of my third showed me that my body is made for motherhood.

The trouble with birth being "just one day" is that you only get one shot at it. You don't get do-overs for births. No birth is the same, just as no woman, no pregnancy, no child is the same as any other. It's important to be educated and informed before that "one day," so that you can make the most of that once-in-a-lifetime experience. It's also important to know that sometimes things don't go as planned and to be active and proactive in making the best out of a situation that might not be ideal. And it's important to admit to yourself, and to allow others to admit, that when things don't go as planned, you can be affected for days, weeks, even years afterward, and that acknowledging the pain or trauma of a birth gone awry doesn't mean you don't love your child less and aren't grateful to have her. Birth is not "just one day."

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