A Gentle Birth: Suubi’s Birth Story

“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. 

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The day before I went into labour (featuring cute pregnant belly: great to compliment, not recommended to touch without asking.)

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.

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One’s high on gas, the other one is high on life.
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My birth team, clearly having a blast.

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). KmyXVl2BTqy1Mbk7oTJC2Q

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.

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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.

Living Gently 

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. 

Are you pregnant?

I am not pregnant.

Just in case you were wondering.

I thought I would let you know because I am asked… often.

How often?

Modestly: once a week.

Let me repeat: I am not pregnant.

I know I am a married woman, of a childbearing age, but I do not feel these facts should give people carte blanche to look me up and down and ask me intimate questions about my reproductive health.

In my opinion, there is never a good time to ask a woman if she’s pregnant.

I do not care if the woman looks 10 months pregnant, and is waddling so hard it looks like she is crowning, I will NOT ask about her ripe pregnant belly until SHE mentions she is currently “with child.”

Until that time, I will carry on talking about the weather, and the latest episode of Broadchurch.

I have had a few stand-out instances when I was asked if I was pregnant.

Incident #1: I was registering children in for a church event. I was standing next to my very petite, very pregnant friend. She’s one of those gals who is “all baby” and looks like she’s got a basketball shoved up her shirt with every pregnancy. She looked adorable (and pregnant—not that I would have said anything to her if I was a stranger). I remember I was feeling particularly cute because I was wearing this flowy bohemian shirt. Flowy… not, basketball under my shirt. A father approaches our table; he looks my friend up and down, he looks me up and down, and then looks at ME and says, “How far long are you?”

I went home, burned my shirt, and cried.

Incident #2: I was dismissing my students from class on the last day before summer break. One of the mom’s came over to bid me farewell. As we stood chatting, she stopped mid-sentence, looked me up and down, zoned in on my stomach and said (in a whispered voice): “You’re not pregnant, are you?”

If you have to whisper it, you shouldn’t say it…

In my experience, when my friends are pregnant they are usually pretty excited to tell people about it. In fact, in many cases, it’s hard to get them to shut up about it. Which is wonderful, and should be expected.

However, if one of my friends does not immediately announce their pregnancy I am assuming there is a reason.

Jokes aside, pregnancy can be a really touchy subject.

Some people struggle for years to get pregnant.

Some people get pregnant but have suffered several miscarriages.

Some people (believe it or not) do not actually want kids.

I do want to have kids eventually. When I get asked if I am pregnant I take offence not because I do not want kids or because I have struggled with infertility but because it feels like I am being subtly told, “You look fat in that outfit.” In reality, I could have worse things said to me but I can not help but think about my friends who are actually struggling in this area.

So, in an effort to change the world, here is an exhaustive list to help you know when is a good time to ask a woman if she is pregnant:

  • She recently got married and should be pregnant by now.
  • She has a glow.
  • She is wearing flowy clothing.
  • You are related and feel you have the right to know.
  • She is starting to “show.”
  • She is really “showing.”
  • Her stomach is so huge she has to be pregnant.
  • She is rubbing her belly in a nurturing fashion.
  • You are so curious you can’t stand it anymore.
  • Her water broke. (At this point I would encourage the person to seek medical attention for their incontinence, not letting on any suspicions)
  • She is holding a baby in her arms… to which an appropriate response would be: “You were pregnant? I could not tell due to how thin you’ve looked over the past several months. Congratulations!”

Now go in peace.

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