18 August, 2011

Telling Stories

A few months ago, one morning while avoiding writing, I was surfing the Internet and read a post written by a midwife about the link between hospital interventions and ensuing complications.
The title of the post was “’If I were at home, I would have died’ – The trouble with Extrapolating Hospital Birth Events to Homebirth,” and the author/midwife went on to argue that interventions in a hospital are actually often the cause of emergencies like hemorrhages. She discussed her double bind as a midwife – to be both empathetic to women and listen and say “hmm mmm,” when they discuss their hospitalized, intervention-ized births that then went awry.
I felt an urge to respond, in agreement, to her post even though I rarely post on other people’s blogs. I first wrote about my birth and hemorrhage experience with stoic, police-description (or, I guess I should say, doctor’s notes) details, i.e.: “After 36 hours of labor in the birth center with midwives attending the natural birth I so hoped for, after being 9 + cm dilated and pushing for 10 hours, I was transferred to a hospital, where I was given an epidural, antibiotics, pitocin, a vacuum extractor and finally a c-section to birth my beautiful 10# daughter. A few hours later, I hemorrhaged 4000 cc’s of blood and had 6 transfusions and 4 frozen platelet transfusions in ICU.” My point of telling all these details was to explain that I believe I wouldn’t have hemorrhaged so drastically if I hadn’t experienced all those interventions; if I could have, indeed, birthed my child naturally. When people say to me I would have died in the birth center, I’m the one who says “hmm mmm,” since I don’t feel I would have bled so badly had I not had all the interventions at the hospital. Of course, I’ll never know if my belief is founded and no one has bothered to argue with me and the foundedness of my belief is actually tangential to the subject of this post.
The subject of this post is this: the very next person on the midwife’s blog who commented after I had posted wrote in saying, “It is hard to say if all the stories are true or imbelished [sic].” Though her comment probably wasn’t directed toward me at all, I took it completely personally since mine was the post directly before hers. I felt angry. Pissed actually. As in pissy. I read her comment and almost posted back something to the effect of, “How dare you doubt if these stories are true or embellished – of course mine is true, each one of those details happened and then a whole bunch more stuff that I didn’t even write about happened – like the fight between the doctor and the nurse who held the pressure valve on the vacuum extractor, or the fact that my midwife’s assistant, and consequently my midwife, were in complete personal crisis while I was trying to get a giant person out of my vagina!”
At the time, I wanted to get that woman who commented (who apparently had a very difficult birth story of her own) to read all my sections on this blog about The Complications I had in giving birth. I wanted her to know I wasn’t embellishing my story at all. But I didn’t say nor do any of that. I didn’t because my higher self knew the woman’s comment wasn’t directed at me and I was just pissy because sometimes, lo all those 30 + months later, I was still pissy about the details of my daughter’s birth.
The reason why some women are “birth junkies,” who tell their birth story over and over is because they have to tell it. Birth can be both a highly traumatic and highly spiritual experience – traumatic in the sense of intense pain and difficulty, and spiritual in the sense of bringing something lovely into this world who is so much bigger than the individual self. And based on all sorts people who’ve had both traumatic and spiritual experiences, telling our stories is often the best way to get through to the other side. Whether we tell that story over and over to a therapist, a friend, or on the Internet, by telling, we can get through to a side where the story is ours, fully ours, not just something that’s happened to us.
I like to think I’m almost on the other side now; that I got through that last little bit of pissy-ness; that I’ve told my birth story enough times to have the story be fully something I own. I’ve talked about my birth to all of the above mentioned and I’ve had the bonus opportunity to write creatively about my daughter’s birth – in poetry and some in fictional form, and even have done some visual art around the whole thing. All of the telling has been helpful to me in terms of healing, and I’m glad for that (and so are my husband and daughter). The telling of my stories on the Internet has been particularly helpful because, through public discourse, I’ve found a community of people who share similar experiences, some of whom then mention that my writing has helped them heal, too. Helping others through my writing is all I’ve ever really wanted to do for work, as in, my life’s work with the capital W.
But this blog has slowed down considerably and any meager Internet presence I once had has only decreased. I cannot even call myself a blogger, really, for a real blogger, it seems, would post more often than once every two weeks. What I’ve found after writing about all this stuff over the course of 9 months is that my interest, nay my need, to tell my story about my “one particular birth, and about being a mother and a writer,” has waned. I try to get inspired to post new stuff, at least a little something about the daily struggle of being a mom at home with toddler who also works as a writer (a WAHM, I’ve learned I should call myself). But more often than not, like I was doing that day I posted on the midwife’s blog, I spend my time reading other blogs to find a way to enter into a conversation about birth and/or motherhood. The former example notwithstanding, I hardly ever do post replies – a lurker, I believe I should be called – and while I read and don’t write back, I think about how I don’t even have a clean, well-lighted place in the blogosphere, especially within the mom blog networks.
As far as the mom blogs goes, I categorize two kinds: the “I’ll need a big tumbler of red wine and a chaser martini when I’m done with my day” funny kind, and the “let me guide you in the ways of how to conscientiously and perfectly rear your child while also growing your own garden, knitting your child’s hemp diapers, and having time to write and post angelic pictures on a super-cool blog” make-me-want-to-barf kind. I’m neither of those kinds. In terms of the polarized, hotly-debated birth front of Home Birth vs. Hospital Birth, well I did both of those in one fell swoop and I don’t seem to have much opinion on the subject anymore other than being somewhat adamant to allow women to make up their own minds about where they feel most comfortable getting a whole person out of their bodies. So, again, to use an ill-advised cliché, I’m like a square peg in a round hole.
As far as the writer aspect of my blog goes, well, I don’t fit into that blogosphere either, but I have, at least, been writing and thinking more about my creative work. I’m even slated to teach a creative writing course again this school year, which has raised my hackles on several levels, straight down to my creaky creative teaching bones. The anxiety about finding appropriate childcare in going back to teach, and the guilt of leaving my kid for even a few hours every week has me quite preoccupied, far more so than the vague sense of guilt I feel about not posting on this blog.
I guess if I’ve learned anything in the last two and a half plus years of motherhood, especially this year as a mom to a toddler, it’s this: things don’t always go the way we hope they would and, at some point, that fact will be acceptable to us. The birth of my child, the trajectory of my writing and motherhood careers, even this whole effort of being a blogger – none of these things have gone down the way I had hoped. Why I have to deal with hope unfulfilled is a mystery, but, a million gazillion other people do, too. I’ve learned that when I’m done sorting through the aftermath of my dashed hopes, when I’m done telling my story as truly and non-embellished-ly as I’m constitutionally able, I’ll come out stronger on the other side.


muse of south prairie said...

What I've learned in my 65 years is at the end of our story we see that it never is the story we thought it was in the beginning. Also, looking in the rear view mirror, objects are thankfully smaller and more easily handled. However, watch out for those huge ones that loom on the horizon.

54 Hour Mama said...

Thanks, oh Muse, for reminding me, of course there's more to come!

Nathalie said...

Damn, Nancy! True story ... so much to comment on here but mostly just love reading your words and find myself nodding along. Also laughing out loud - happy to see we have so much still in common. Including the bullshit and awesomeness that is writing in the margins of mothering and day-to-day life.