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Touching the life force

MagazineJune 2007 (Vol. 18 Issue 3)Touching the life force

At this writing, the one of our two children I gave birth to has just turned 17, which caused a renewed reflection about how she chose to come into the world

At this writing, the one of our two children I gave birth to has just turned 17, which caused a renewed reflection about how she chose to come into the world. Those memories were ignited again by our cover story on caesarean sections this month.

Our birth plan was that our first baby would be a home birth. But as is so often the case, our birth plan got ripped up and scattered to the four winds.

Nothing about Caitlin's birth went according to plan. Had my advisors on this birth been anyone other than the activebirth specialists I had, Caitlin almost certainly would have been induced and/or delivered by caesarean. The main problem was that she was late-finally born exactly four weeks later than she was supposed to. Most doctors these days get edgy when a baby is just one week overdue, let alone an entire month.

The tardy delivery, of course, scuppered our plans for a home birth; most midwives won't touch a home birth if the baby is more than two weeks late. Nevertheless, our obstetrician was unfazed. "My record's five weeks," he said. On the 27th day of being overdue, I called up my acupuncturist and asked him to bring himself, his needles and his electrodes over.

By the next morning, I was actively in labour. I wish I could say that the birth proceeded according to plan. I wish I could say that it was quick and uneventful. Mainly it was long. I'd begun in furious labour and was predicted to give birth in a few hours. In the event, my labour slowed down in hospital and dragged on for 21 hours. When one midwife came to the end of her shift, she was replaced by a new one. I laboured on, with no pain relief but a birth pool. The baby's head (later measured to be in the 99th percentile) got caught on the way down, and required several hours of the second midwife and then our obstetrician pushing one way while I pushed another.

I was so fed up and disheartened when I heard that there was only the top of her head showing after pushing for what seemed like hours that I marshalled whatever strength I had left, transformed my entire being into what felt like a tidal wave and, in one gargantuan push, got her out. I was still pushing when they told me she'd arrived.

It was long, it was bloody, it was primal, it was shockingly, extraordinarily, appallingly painful.

It was amazing. It was so amazing that I couldn't sleep the night after the birth or, indeed, for four nights after that. All I could think about for those four days was that life had just ripped through me like a sapling forcing itself though the earth. I'd felt it. I'd felt the life force. I was sick with exhaustion, but I couldn't stop looking at Caitlin. I stared at her for hours in the early dawn. I was more elated than I will ever be in my life. Nothing, nothing has compared to it, will ever compare to that transcendent moment.

I go into this much detail about my own circumstance because no one ever talks about the transcendental element of pain. In my antenatal class, we spent many hours discussing how to cope with the pain: using water, using TENS machines, concentrating on the breathing, working with our birth partner. Many women look to modern medicine to eliminate discomfort. My mother, an obstetric nurse, asked to be anesthetized, because of daily exposure to what she was in for. Many women opt for elective C-sections just because they are terrified of coping with the pain.

I cannot help but think that pain has something extremely cardinal to do with childbirth, with finishing what is started. With life, in all its inconvenient, bloody, painful, transforming detail-with the privilege, for those few precious moments, of experiencing life at its most elemental. Except in emergencies, doctors interfere with that extraordinary, transformational process at their peril.

Lynne McTaggart


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