A few years ago, I joined the other 96.7 % of women who were obsessed with BBC’s Call the Midwife, a television series about a group of post-WWII midwives, nurses and nuns who worked for England’s healthcare system in London’s impoverished and war torn East End. My mother was the one who urged me to start watching it, when I was 8 1/2 months large with baby boy #2.
The emotions of pregnancy and ever curious woman’s mind about others birthing experiences made the show addicting and horrifying.
Remember when Chummy has to deliver her first breech birth and lets the baby hang half-way born for a full minute? It’s all I could think about when, a few weeks later, I was fully dilated, ready to push, and my own midwife announced he was coming the wrong way. But even with its rather graphic and disturbing parts, Call the Midwife‘s ultimate message is that babies are wonderful and mothering is a gift…and that labor will only last an hour or two and you’ll only push twice. The hope that the last two aspects bring, is what is addictive. Even though my birthing experiences have been nothing like I watched on the show, I always have hope that the next one will be.
Each of my three sons were born through a completely different experience.
My first was all natural, no drugs to induce, no drugs to dull the pain and no doctors involved. Horrendous. Painful. No nuns or British accents to be had. After a swift and highly painful labor, I set to pushing and the midwife said he would be born on the 28th. Three hours later, we had a boy with a melon-sized head born on the 29th. The pain didn’t leave with the euphoria of seeing my first child and I was unable to sit properly for a few weeks. With my second, I was very open to medication, but was willing to go as far as I could and hoped for a shorter delivery. Unfortunately, my obstinate second born had flipped overnight and we were unaware until it was time to deliver. The midwife would not deliver breech and I was, (highly against my will–Chummy delivered breech babies!!), rolled quickly into the operating room for a C-section. Consequently, I planned nothing for my third. When I was progressing well, I choose the epidural purely so I could say I had done it all three ways. (Next time I will choose it again for the best reason: it is magic.) Before we could even meet him or name him, he was rushed into the NICU for reasons we weren’t told why for a few hours. After the initial shock and fear, I realized that this was the best way. I was able to sneak in the nursery and snuggle with him for as long as I wanted, and then I was able to sleep and recover for three days.
It was then I realized what BBC had got right.
The gushy feelings and tears of joy might not be present at every birth and most mothers won’t be fortunate enough to “tiny pushes! tiny pushes!” their babies out, but there is one fact present in every birth: the mother is exhausted. She has gone through trauma and needs to rest, and–dare I say it?– to not be the primary caregiver for this child right away. I am all about bonding, nursing and connecting, but I’ll tell you it was a whole lot easier to enjoy all those things when I had slept through the night and had a decent shower first. With my second child, I had to hold him the entire first night of his life because he was too cranky to be in the nursery. It was a great start to our already fraught relationship because of the breech issue.
The truly endearing aspect of the show is that the mothers are being cared for with love by relatives, nurses, nuns–all of whom are excited and long to be a part of the experience. It’s not an original idea that birthing has become a business, an assembly line, a marketing ploy. No longer are we celebrating a common miracle of life, because the miracle has turned into an experience, an option, an idol. We read birth stories as challenges to meet or stark failures to avoid…instead of the spectacular beauty and mystery that birth always means: a life with eternal ramifications has been started. Those involved are able to love each other in these moments in a completely sacrificial way that is hard to reproduce in everyday, humdrum living.