Before I realized I wanted to become a parent, I decided I wanted to be a surrogate. I had a strong desire to be pregnant, but having my own child wasn’t initially part of the plan. Among my chief concerns was that, despite really wanting to experience pregnancy, I did not want to experience childbirth.
When I admit this people they point out that no one looks forward to the delivery. But for me, it was more than that. I dreaded it. I didn’t want to think about, talk about or plan for it. My mother had all three of her children via C-section and I truly, honestly thought that elective C-sections (although hers were not elective) was a choice everyone had. I also didn’t know that you were kept awake during the procedure.
My decision to get pregnant and have a baby on my own is its own separate story. But once I was pregnant, my thinking on the whole birth process was that it would happen regardless of how much I dwelled on it. I wasn’t naïve though—I eventually did a prenatal class, and took a tour of the hospital maternity ward. I learned a lot, and I remember a fair bit of what I learned.
I think part of my initial interest in pregnancy stemmed in part from my having endometriosis. I’ve had such severe experiences with this part of my body and I think I just wanted to understand it more. I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have to think about ovulation and cramps—they’ve been a constant, painful part of my life for almost 20 years. I wanted to see what my body could do, despite having endometriosis.
I learned about timing contractions. I learned about every possible rash a baby could come out with. I learned about the risks and benefits of different birth plans. The prenatal class I’d registered with was biased towards natural home births—to the extent that, of the three of us in the class who planned hospital births, one was eventually swayed to have her baby at home.
We were given information that made me fear epidurals, pain medications and any other “unnecessary” interventions. There was no shame associated with going in that direction if medically necessary, but there was a push away from it if possible. I don’t hold this against the class instructor; it’s what I signed up for and I could have gone to a different class in a more clinical setting and chose not to.
What’s hard about writing my childbirth story is this: I hated giving birth. And I hate talking about it. I was with a friend and her one-week-old baby earlier this morning in a coffee shop when a man she only knew in passing asked her question after question about her labour and delivery. This week marks four-and-a-half years since I gave birth to my daughter Anna and I still would prefer not to talk about it.
My daughter’s birth was not complicated. I had an extremely long early labour; my water didn’t break (ever) and I didn’t recognize my contractions as contractions. Anna came out with a scratch on her head from doctors trying to artificially break my water. She was a bit late. The hospital was cold.
The contractions felt like an extreme version of the menstrual cramps I’d experienced with endometriosis. It also felt similar to chronic illness in that I felt like I had no control over what was happening—a familiar, yet difficult, experience for me. In my situation, it was not true that “childbirth is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before”—something pregnant women are often told. It was actually like various terrible things I’d experienced before.
So I disassociated. I didn’t want anyone in the room with me—not the person I had there for support, and not the midwife. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I felt disgusting and embarrassed and sick; nothing was comfortable or bearable. I wanted it to stop. At the time, in that moment, I remember very clearly thinking I wanted it to stop more than I wanted to have my baby. It was horrible. I was exhausted and borderline suicidal. I didn’t ask for any kind of intervention because I couldn’t bring myself to ask for anything, words just weren’t coming. By the time I did ask, I was too far along for it to be administered.
Someone else may have been proud that they made it through with no drugs, but I was not. People have told me they’ve forgotten their labour and delivery experience almost immediately after giving birth. I remembered mine vividly, too vividly, for a very long time after. I didn’t want to make small talk about it. I was having nightmares about it and could not handle that it was what every person I spoke to wanted to discuss. What I suspected was confirmed by a counsellor at a reproductive health/mental health clinic at a local hospital: I was experiencing postpartum PTSD.
There’s no way of knowing if the instinct I have of not wanting to think about childbirth was in any way connected to my diagnosis. More realistically, statistically speaking, the extremity of my reaction was probably borne out of past trauma. What I do know for certain is that I don’t feel good about my drug-free childbirth. I’d have a hard time recommending it to other expectant moms, although I understand my experience is particular to me. It was a really terrible experience for me, and continues to be a painful memory.
My experience doesn’t write off drug-free childbirth, and I don’t at all mean to sound unappreciative of it having been a safe and viable option for me. Another person, with their own combination of personal experiences, might have had the exact opposite experience. My wish that I was unable to recall my daughter’s birth does not negate the good that came from becoming her mother—but my experience of parenthood to date has had nothing to do with my so-called natural childbirth.
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.