Do you sometimes – every day, perhaps – feel like the only sober person at a party? Perhaps weepy, slurring drunks are not the most appropriate comparison for pregnant women and new mothers, but then again, if the shoe fits.
Every time I leave an appointment with you I wonder if you have been kind enough to attribute my inarticulate mutterings to pregnancy, or if this is just how you’ll think of me forever. And then I promptly wonder if this is just who I am now; have the hormones and sleep deprivation ruined my chances at becoming a Senator forever? (And the perks of the job were so tempting!) Is it too soon to enrol in one of those mail-order programs that gives you fancy crosswords and promises to stave off dementia – or is it too late?
I bring all of this up because I am here trying to figure out how to say everything I’ve wanted to say throughout this whole process, but haven’t managed to get out of my mouth yet. Please forgive me if this letter gets a bit “fangirl”. I haven’t written a fan letter since the one I sent to Leonardo DiCaprio shortly after Titanic came out, but I’m pretty sure this might get even more sappy.
The very first appointment that Tyler and I had with you, you started by asking if we had any questions. This is my favourite thing for any healthcare provider to do because I always have questions, even if I always respond by saying “Not that I can think of”. As someone who likes to know the answers before she asks the questions, it can take me a while to get around to asking. I want you to know that I do recognize the humour / ridiculousness of always responding to your question with “No, I don’t have any questions…but I did want to ask you…”
At that first appointment, Tyler and I did ask some questions and the first question we asked was my attempt at breaking the ice. I said “Tyler wants to know how big my boobs will get.”
You gave the best answer in the world. You gave a very professional description of the physical changes that lead up to the birth and immediately after, describing the engorgement of having your milk come in, etc. and then you said: “About three to five days after you give birth, your boobs will be enormous. However, you’ll be peeing every ten minutes, sweating like crazy, leaking milk all over yourself and crying as all of your hormones settle out. But from across the room, you’ll look like a fucking porn star.”
You probably didn’t say the f-word in there and I’m not sure you said “porn” star specifically, but it makes the story better, so let’s pretend you did.
Swearing or not, this was the answer that made Tyler and I love you. (I told you this might get sappy).
Tyler loved your inclusion of research in your answers. I loved your sense of humour. The only reason we changed our minds to consider a home birth was because you talked statistics, and detailed some of the specific studies that had been done, and then joked about having to clean up after people no matter where they gave birth.
However, the day that really sealed the deal for me was one appointment where I was on my own, and I completely forget what we were talking about leading up to it, but at one point you said to me: “I’m really looking forward to your birth.”
Now I don’t know if you say that to all the ladies, but it made me feel amazing. For the first time, I got really excited about giving birth instead of just being nervous. Every time I thought about it from that point on, I could hear you saying those words, and the effect was incredible. It made me calm, excited, and confident.
Women build relationships by sharing experiences and talking about their feelings, and so I imagine that all of your patients leave your care weeping about the amazing bond they have formed with you. By the time I gave birth, I had a neurotic need to make sure it was you who delivered the baby – after all, you were so looking forward to the experience! Never mind the 10 other babies you delivered this month, I knew you wanted to be at my birth as much as I wanted you there. Right? Let’s say yes.
So, no offense intended to Heather of course, but when your pager wasn’t working that day, I was devastated. Right up until the labour intensified. And then I’ve never been so happy to see someone as I was when Heather walked in the door. Magical Heather. Wonderful, beautiful Heather. It’s so nice of your practice to have two such incredible midwives. And then to have both of you there! I felt like a lottery winner.
I want to somehow put into words the experience of giving birth, and I’ve tried many times since that day – mostly in my head, because my arms have been too full to actually write it out. It’s impossible of course, but I am going to try to tell you what some of my coherent thoughts were.
I was so grateful for your coaching, for you talking me through the details: breathing, bringing my shoulders low, letting the pain recede, paying it less attention. You’d make an amazing yoga teacher. Thank you for the moments when you told me what was happening, explaining things. Thank you for telling me to fake it: that was hilarious and worked so well. You had me convincing myself that I could do it and that was what I needed – a mantra.
Thank you for acknowledging with such incredible sympathy that it was hard. You validated my feelings without letting me wallow or be overwhelmed by it, and that made me feel stronger. Thank you for telling me over and over how strong I was. At the time I remember wondering if you were “just saying that”, but your tone was so convincing, I decided to believe you.
Ignoring my obvious issues with believing people when they tell me good things for a moment, you said everything right. You even scolded me when I needed it and that was so perfect. Tyler is a man of action, not words, and he told me later that he was so grateful for you saying all the right things. You would tell me I was doing great, and then I would look at him when you left the room and he would echo your words and I would be reassured. Us Millennials need a lot of positive feedback.
It was also so empowering to have been so well-informed. The workshop your team gave was wonderfully helpful for me and I remember noticing that things were happening as you said they would. In fact, the more intense things got, the more I kept thinking: “Right when it gets too hard, that’s when it will get easier. That’s what they promised.” And it happened!
At one point, Tyler and I were in the bathroom and I was feeling anxious. You and Colleen had just checked the heartbeat, and although you told me that you would say if there was a problem, I was hyper-sensitive to the sound of you both talking quietly outside the door. I was convinced that a hospital-style conversation was ensuing about how things were not going well. I listened hard, needing to know what was going on. Desperate to hear the warning that things weren’t going well so I could prepare myself.
You were talking about spaghetti. Even in my insanity and pain, I laughed at myself and had a little moment of gratitude for you and Colleen both. Clearly, if we were talking about dinner, no one was worried. Hungry maybe, but not worried.
Everything you did that day was so in tune with what I needed: you were the most brilliant blend of attentive, professional, and loving. Blame the hormones if you’d like, or possibly my naturally soft and squishy heart, but I did feel a lot of love. I felt so cared for, and supported through the whole process.
To make the whole thing that much more amazing, when things started to get real, I was kneeling on my couch, in my living room, in the house that my lover and I had built together, watching the sun set over the field. I remember thinking to myself “Come on kid, hurry up! You’re missing a beautiful sunset!” But then the fireflies came out, and as my Dad said, the fairies brought a beautiful baby squalling and squeaking into the world. The whole thing feels rather elegant now, now that the pain has vanished from memory. That moment that I felt her shoulder release and her body rush out, was the most incredible moment of my life – for all of ten seconds – after which it was dethroned by the moment I heard her cry. I’d know that voice anywhere.
God bless the hormones. Especially the ones that make you forget. God bless our body’s ability to have babies. And God bless the midwives who make the whole experience magical. Given how often it happens, birth should be ordinary, but it continues to defy scepticism and be miraculous anyway.
Thank you for facilitating a miracle in my living room. I can’t wait to do it again sometime.
Elizabeth is the mom of one funny and social little girl, and a management and fundraising consultant for public and nonprofit organizations. She went into pregnancy planning a hospital delivery but was thrilled when home birth was confirmed to be a safe and happy option for her and her family because she finds hospital gowns to be really scratchy and uncomfortable. She delivered in a super-soft cotton robe, at home, and highly recommends her midwives as a result (of that, and the whole experience).