“How has your ‘Gentle Project’ been going since the baby, Ashley?” I am condescendingly asked. “Are you up to your eyeballs in cloth diapers and compost?” Serves me right for being drawn to such smart ass friends.
Yes, since having baby, my blogging for the Gentle Project has taken a bit of a back seat. I arrogantly thought babies just slept and ate all day so surely I would be able to commit to writing… but alas…
With that said, part of my Gentle Project was also about being gentle with myself; my heart, my emotions, and my body. The season of pregnancy, the experience of childbirth, and my survival through postpartum has indeed been a crash course in self-care and gentleness. In that spirit, I wanted to use my final Gentle Project post to share about my birth experience, what I have learned about self-care and the power of gentle thoughts.
Not-So-Gentle Birth Ideas
“Gentle” was never a word I associated with childbirth. In fact, I had never met anyone who, in my opinion, was more afraid of childbirth than me. Fear was a HUGE struggle for me long before I was even pregnant. Television, movies, and other people’s horror stories contributed to me believing that birth was a nightmare women had to survive, as opposed to a natural activity our bodies knew how to perform.
Fast forward to postpartum-me and I can confidently say I enjoyed my childbirth experience. I would even go as far as using the term “gentle.” My pregnancy wasn’t perfect, my birthing experience wasn’t perfect, but I did indeed enjoy it.
My running joke during pregnancy was that I felt great until I visited a doctor and they told me all the things that were potentially wrong with me. With every doctors visit we would learn of something new detected in my blood or something seen in a sonogram, I would panic, and then the next appointment they would say they couldn’t find any problems… so I never knew what to expect, other than that I was expecting.
I started reading and researching about pregnancy and childbirth, even though my doctor told me never to Google anything ever. What can I say? I’m a rebel. A lot of what I read was SO negative and scary, I started understanding why my doctor discouraged me from my internet research, but in fairness, the doctors were just as scary.
Hypnobirthing and Other Gentle Things
Somewhere around the 12 week mark, a dear friend of mine asked me if I had ever heard of hypnobirthing, and encouraged me to listen to a podcast from Russel Brand (yes, that Russel Brand) where he interviews a woman by the name of Katharine Graves about Hypnobirthing.
There were three factors in me having a gentle pregnancy and birth: a supportive partner, my “doula” friend, and hypnobirthing! When I first heard about Hypnobirthing I summoned images of a stage performer hypnotizing audience members into clucking like chickens and embarrassing themselves. Then as I started learning more about it I summoned images of crunchy hippies lighting serenity candles, and braiding their armpit hair. I remained a skeptic for a long time, even when seeing it’s benefits during pregnancy, but after coming out on the other side of childbirth, I’m happy to report there was nothing crunchy, hippy, or stage performer about it. I could go on and on about what hypnobirthing is, but that would be a different (really long) blog post. If you want more info go to the experts here.
Upon the discovery of hypnobirthing I immediately changed my approach to birth. Instead of being an experience I had to “endure,” I started looking at it as the amazing life-changing, life-starting experience it is. I started shutting people down when they’d see my swollen belly and feel inclined to tell me about their traumatic labour experience (everyone from the well meaning ladies at work, to random strangers in the grocery store. I also grabbed a stranger-woman’s boob in the grocery store when she grabbed my pregnant belly… but that’s a story for another time. Well, actually, that’s pretty much the whole story. I’m not into unsolicited touch. The end.) I stopped watching TV shows when birth was being depicted as a screaming, bloody, horror show, and I was also careful with how I spoke about pregnancy and birth.
Funny enough, I found a lot of people struggled with me speaking positively about birth. Many felt inclined to “take me down a peg” when I spoke about what I enjoyed about pregnancy or what I looked forward to in birth. I quickly learned that complaining was far more socially acceptable than being positive.
Suubi’s birth was an amazing experience. It did not go as I planned, but I was prepared for my plans to change and to go with the flow… so in that way, it went according to plan.
I planned and hoped for a short labour, no drugs, and natural delivery. That was the dream. I was hoping to be like those women who feel a sneeze coming on and then whoop, a baby.
I laboured for a few more hours than expected (48 more hours actually), and after successfully dilating to seven centimetres, ended up having an “emergency” cesarian section (“emergency” is in quotes because it did not feel like an emergency; we calmly came to the conclusion that c-section was the best route, and 8 hours later, there we were).
Though Suubi’s birth turned out a lot different than I planned, anything I was able to have some control over went beautifully. My time labouring at home was peaceful and quiet. The people who surrounded me were positive, encouraging, and empowering. I listened to music, cracked jokes, and felt an absolute gentleness around the whole experience.
Hypnobirthing helped me not only in pregnancy, and labour, it also helped me during postpartum. It taught me how to speak and think kindly about my body, my feelings, and my baby. It taught me to be prepared with close friends to support me and check in on me. Most importantly, it assured me that I know what’s best for myself and my child, and that I am allowed to advocate for my own care.
I recognize, statistically, that the experience of birth for many women can be quite scary and dangerous. I recognize the privilege I have to live where I do, with the medical care I have, in the skin I have. It is not lost on me the absolute blessing [miracle] it is to have a healthy baby and an incredibly supportive husband.
I wrote this post out probably about 14 times. I was meant to post this in December but kept second guessing myself. I didn’t want to feel like I was rubbing salt in the wound for anyone. I didn’t want to trigger those who have struggled.
But I also think about pre-pregnancy me. I think about the YEARS I spent fearing something that turned out to be one of the best experiences I have ever had. I know how much I needed to hear from somebody that birth could be gentle and not terrifying. I know that not everyone’s experience can be guaranteed, but if I have learned anything from this year of The Gentle Project it’s that there is no harm in attempting to live more kindly, and more gently, no matter how imperfectly.