When we found out that we were having a baby, Laurence was keen to say: “We’re pregnant.” I would usually respond along the lines of: “I’m the one whose nipples feel like they’re on fire, who’s losing her waistline and who’s spending mornings – and nights – by the toilet. I think I’m pregnant.”
But he genuinely insisted. While having sympathy for my knocked-up discomforts, the language we used was, for him, an important part of understanding having a baby as a shared experience. I get that. But now that my stomach, lungs and bladder are squished, I feel like I’m carrying a bowling ball on a sore pelvic girdle and there is no comfortable way to sit or lie down – um, I’m the one who’s doing this thing.
As the months have passed, though, I’ve found myself increasingly thinking about ‘our’ birth. I’ve even (when he’s not around, of course) accidentally talked about “when we found out we were pregnant” and not even meaning the royal “we”.
Our journey into home birth has done a lot to create this shift, I realise. It’s meant we’ve both gotten informed about birth so that we’re comfortable with the decision. That’s included going to the Bristol Home Birth Group and to NCT classes. We’ve chatted about the ins and outs of what we’ll question, challenge or agree with in terms of routine issues that could come up.
When the midwife came to drop off the home birth box, look to see what we planned to do in terms of water, loo and electricity and fielded our questions, we went through the house, thinking about what could happen at which stage: birth pool in the dining room, waterproof sheets in the living room to deliver the placenta, what would happen with the placenta, that kind of thing.
But it was only last night that I realised just how involved Laurence was in the process. He was making a list of who needed to be texted and emailed and gathering things for the “hospital” bag, just in case. I feel now that even if we do end up in hospital, this process of learning and discussing has prepared us to be in it together – this is “our” birth, not just mine.
And while that’s comforting, it’s also oddly terrifying. Of all the “symptoms” I’ve had with this pregnancy, the one that’s cropped up over the past few days has surprised me the most: anxiety. It’s faceless and almost directionless but certainly there. It’s taken me a while to uncover it.
At first I thought I was just tired, emotionally and physically – and I’m sure that’s true too. Then, because it didn’t manifest itself as fear but instead fell over me in all too familiar sadness, I wondered if I was gradually getting depressed again. But after a practice dip in the birth pool and a Skype conversation where Laurence, my mum and I chatted about the birth, I knew what it was. I feel anxious about the birth.
It’s not because I’m afraid of my life changing. I truly believe I’m ready for that. And even if I’m not, I’m jolly well ready to stop being pregnant. And it’s not because I think I’ll be a bad mother or that the pain of childbirth will be too much. I’d like to think I’ve reached the stage psychologically where I’m prepared to take all that in stride.
No, it’s the awareness that this is one experience I cannot control. In many ways, I am at the mercy of my birth partners and the midwife. All three of them will have their own opinions on what should happen, born out of their own experiences, knowledge and preferences. No matter what I put on that birth plan or what we talk about beforehand, they’re the ones who have to interpret all that to fit the circumstances we find ourselves in.
At the end of the day, it’s a trust issue and that’s hard. It’s accepting that it’s no longer “me” but “us” and that the birth experience isn’t just mine (and the creature’s) but “ours” is deeply unsettling. But that probably means it’s a good thing.