What My Divorce Taught Me about Taking Control of Childbirth

It's interesting the things that come to me when I'm running (jogging, trotting, whatever you want to call it). Physical activity is one of the best things for me to get my brain juices flowing, and I can't count the times I've gotten a brilliant blog idea or inspiration for a new way to explain aspects of childbirth education to my students and the instructors I mentor. 

Today, as I moved at a pace just above a walk and listened to my music, I began connecting the dots between two major life events: divorce and childbirth. One of those I hope you never have to experience.

The first family picture with me as a single parent. This was August of 2008, when I had been separated for 3 months. I was sobbing in the car as I drove to met the photographer. During a time when most of the time I felt like I might just break under the weight of what was happening around me, I look at this picture and I see happiness, strength and beauty. I saw this image and I knew we were going to be okay. Photos by Holli B Photography

The first family picture with me as a single parent. This was August of 2008, when I had been separated for 3 months. I was sobbing in the car as I drove to met the photographer. During a time when most of the time I felt like I might just break under the weight of what was happening around me, I look at this picture and I see happiness, strength and beauty. I saw this image and I knew we were going to be okay. Photos by Holli B Photography

The connection between divorce and childbirth

Something about which I am passionately interested is the various ways women can feel accomplished and satisfied in their birthing times. Time and time again I find the conflict between epidural and all natural is one of the least important decisions a laboring mother and her partner will address, yet this seems to be the key focus of so many childbirth preparation methods and ideologies. Oftentimes, couples adjust their birth plans either because feelings change or medical needs dictate a change in course, and they still experience joy and profound accomplishment! 

So, what gives? How can a woman still have a positive birth experience even when things don't go as planned? How can I as a childbirth educator and doula in Tulsa, Oklahoma ensure my students and clients have the most satisfying experience possible, when I cannot guarantee outcome or mode (vaginal or cesarean) of delivery? Well, that's where my divorce comes in...

Stick with me. I promise it's worth it.

Getting What You Want

I'm guilty of it. I've told mothers over and over they can have whatever they want in childbirth and they have the right to say yes or no to anything. The truth is that is misleading. I absolutely DO believe women can get what they want out of their birth experience, but often what they REALLY want is several layers underneath what they SAY they want. And making informed decisions about options, interventions, birth locations and care providers are only a portion of the puzzle.

Example: I wanted to be married. I wanted my crumbling marriage to be saved. I begged and pleaded with my former husband and with God for my marriage to be fixed. I read books, and did everything within my power to communicate better, be a better wife, and do all the right things. What I thought I wanted was a fixed marriage with the man I was married to, when underneath it all, what I wanted was a better life. Guess what God gave me? A bright and shiny divorce with a beautiful bow of freedom wrapped around it! 

I wouldn't wish a divorce on anyone, especially a divorce with children, and yet I would not in any way change what I have gone through. I have without a doubt gotten what I wanted and needed out of the last seven years of my life. 

The Struggle for Control

"Take control of your birth." "Take charge of your birth." Ever heard that before? I have. I've said it. I've spent hours and years devoted to empowering women to take control of their birth experiences! The problem? Taking control of childbirth is like trying to take control of a divorce. You just can't. Divorce is unpredictable because you are dealing with another person and cannot anticipate what they will do, so you are constantly forced to respond in the best possible way, even if you think you have the upper hand. You often must make decisions and choose from lists that don't include ANYTHING that you actually want and then somehow make the most of it. 

The most predictable thing about childbirth is its unpredictability. There is a yielding and surrender that must happen since nature takes over in childbirth, yet that doesn't mean a woman must lay down and accept mistreatment or discount her wishes for how she wants to be treated in the process. What we do have control of is how we respond to the events in labor and delivery and how we choose to think and feel about the events. We also have a choice to speak up and ask for what we need and want in how the people surrounding us treat, care and support us.

5 Things Women Want in Childbirth

I'm not talking about intermittent monitoring or the freedom to move around. I'm not talking about birth balls or essential oils. Those are absolutely choices women have and options for making childbirth more comfortable and helping them achieve their goals. But, what if those aren't an option? What if emergencies happen? Sometimes movement is limited NOT because the medical team are jerks, but because the baby is not tolerating movement well and his or her heart rate only responds positively to the mother being in bed in one stable position. If the mother has hung her satisfaction hat on the decision to be mobile during childbirth, she will be disappointed. 

Someone asked me recently how many of my clients get what is on their birth plan and I responded "100%." I'm not lying. Here's why: making a plan for birth is less about options and interventions and more about how we feel about our childbirth experiences and what we remember. How women are treated and cared for during labor and delivery far outweigh the method or mode of delivery.

Ultimately, the five things that sum up a satisfying birth to most women are:

  • Power
  • Respect
  • Connectedness
  • Safety
  • Knowledge

Getting what you want when bad things happen

Sometimes bad things happen in the process of childbirth. Sometimes nothing "bad" happens but unexpected situations arise. Inevitably, SOMETHING will happen that you didn't want to happen. Can you still get what you WANT in spite of having to go through a situation you DIDN'T want to happen? My opinion is without a doubt YES.

When I left my home with my two small children in a car packed with my most important belongings to move back in with my mother because my husband didn't want me anymore, one of the first things I received from my family was a stack of printouts of teaching positions that were open. Seem harsh? It wasn't. What my sister-in-law did by helping me look for a job was communicate to me that I was capable, that I had POWER, that I could do life as a single mother. While I NEVER wanted to do life as a single mom, I felt capable and empowered in the process.

I began making a series of decisions for myself and my children that I had never expected to have to make on my own: choosing a daycare, speaking up for myself and requesting the salary I needed from my job, opening my own bank account, making my own decisions about my divorce in spite of what others thought I should do. Many people around me showed me RESPECT in the midst of an incredibly difficult situation that I didn't want to happen. More importantly, I gained an immense amount of self-respect because of the hard decisions I made and the fact that I survived and thrived and so did my kids.

In a time where one would expect to feel the most disconnected and alone, I felt the opposite. In spite of having been told that my husband never loved me in the first place and didn't want me, I found myself nursing my sweet 9 month old in the middle of the night, with my two-year-old snuggled up to me. I would go and have dinner with my brother and sister-in-law and my nephews and laugh over beers while the children played with smiles on their faces and I felt deeply CONNECTED even though pain and sadness swirled around me.

When the time came for me to complete the process of collecting my belongings from the home I once shared with the father of my children, I felt scared. I couldn't do it alone. I went with friends who offered to help, and in a moment of feeling completely overwhelmed, I sat on the couch unable to move, speak or compute what was happening and watched as other people picked up, sorted, and packed up the pieces of my life for me. In the midst of devastation, I felt SAFE.

I remember vividly my brother explaining to me that divorce was the breaking of a legal contract and that my new reality was that I was going to be a divorced person. He spoke truth to me, and accompanied me to a meeting with my attorney who communicated with me in a matter-of-fact way the steps that would happen, and what I needed to do. They gave me KNOWLEDGE.

Feeling good about things that don't feel so good

Ultimately, my job is not to give you a good birth or protect you from harm. NO ONE ON THE PLANET could protect me from having to experience the pain of a divorce or the challenges that come with being a single mom. I had to experience that. You know the children's story "I'm going on a bear hunt?" At each obstacle encountered, you say, "can't go over it, can't go around it...you have to go THROUGH it." 

Childbirth and whatever comes with it (induction, intervention, discomfort, emergency, surgery, trauma, etc) is just like divorce and so many other life examples: you can't avoid it; you have to go through it. But in the midst of something you cannot control, you can still feel supported and cared for. You are still you and no one can take that from you. It can still be beautiful.

No matter what your childbirth journey includes, I'm committed to making sure how you feel about it and remember it is positive and satisfying. Your birth experience can and should be the one you deserve, and I can help you get that.

Written by Missy David, the Honeybee Mama