My husband and I decided that our son needed a sibling. He is extremely social and dependent on interaction. This made it very clear to us that he shouldn’t face the world alone. He should have a buddy. During my pregnancy, my son was super excited. He sang to baby and told everyone he really hoped for a sister, well, after he stopped telling people I was having “one of each”. Even when my pregnancy meant that I couldn’t rough house or keep up with him, he wasn’t resentful at all. As for me, I was excited and really looking forward to a home birth where my son could come and go as he pleased and hopefully be there as his sibling was born. If you follow my blog and you’ve read about my last birth experience, then you know the entire thing was empowering, perfect, and exactly what I needed to usher me into motherhood. This birth was quite the opposite. It was a reminder in every way that I am woman, but that doesn’t always mean I roar.
I’m going to tell this story from the fainting couch. If you don’t know what a fainting couch is, it’s a basically a chaise used during the Victorian era (and as I’ll use into the Freudian era) for women to faint on as apparently at this point in history, we did that a lot.
The fainting couch as a place to lie, but oh so quietly.
My physical experience of this pregnancy and birth involved several pains that were disregarded as fake or misguidedly experienced. Among these pains were painful chest tightness and shortness of breath. This is the first time a woman pushed me down on the couch. I told her I couldn’t breath and my chest up high felt as though sacs were being squished by an elephant. Her first reaction was that I must be hysterical. I must be anxious and having a panic attack. Rather than beginning by believing I know what I feel, the first reaction by the medical community is to assume the pain is one I’m creating in my mind. It seems a long jump to me to hear that a woman is experiencing pain and conclude that her mind is betraying her. After this pain was resolved, I experienced what it must have been like to be diagnosed with hysteria except my diagnosis did not lead to such a pleasurable resolution as hysterical paroxysm. My kidney began to hurt one morning. It was an achy feeling at first, but grew quickly into excruciating dull pain intermittently sharp. I called my midwife (and this how deep our sickness goes) who thought I was in labor. Through my pain, I assure her several times, this is not labor! I insist on going to the hospital, which should be revelation enough, and there I receive my diagnosis: hysteria in labor. Over and over I insist to them: this is not labor. I am not in labor! For God’s sake, I’m not in labor!! They do not hear me. They disregard my experience and continue with their diagnosis. Pelvic stimulation must occur next in the form of two men shoving their hands into my vagina to prove to themselves that I am not crowning: do you understand what crowning is? Why would it take two of you to come to this conclusion? Am I not the only person who can’t be trusted? After they’ve told me the news: you’re not crowning (REALLY?), they pass me off to another because they are stumped. I continue writhing in pain, and begin to beg for pain medication since I’m not in labor. My final physical experience with the couch came while I was actually crowning. Monitors are attached to my stomach to make my word obsolete, but they are not transmitting properly. Since I can’t be trusted, being hysterical and all, we must change rooms. I tell the nurse my contractions are getting strong, she says no, they’re five minutes apart. I insist they are closer and she disregards it. This is how I end up walking myself to another room while crowning. When we arrive, I explain that I need to relax my vaginal muscles but I can’t do that standing by the monitor while she hooks me up unless she wants urine and feces on the floor. She lies a pad down (because it’s more important to be monitored than to let my body do what it was made to do) and she lets me know I can relax. I apologized saying: “I’m sorry I have to push.” That’s when I had the baby.
The fainting couch as a place to be prevailed upon from above.
You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t feel what you feel. You don’t have the ability to interpret the meaning of your own experience. You are not qualified. You are powerless. In the physical weakness that resigns my body to lying down, I am barraged with these pressures. Your pain has no physical cause, lie back darling, you’re anxious. Your pain is caused by something not immediately obvious, allow me to examine your vagina or you cannot move on to someone who can figure this out. Sometimes I gave myself over to these pressures, pretending not to know what back labor feels like, convincing myself I must not be having the contractions I’m feeling, allowing someone to make me feel as though I have to apologize for doing what I need to do because I didn’t do it the way they wanted me to.
The fainting couch as place to process past experiences.
As I moved through these experiences, I found myself in a very long cycle through women’s experiences of old. I cannot relate to corsets cutting off my breath and forcing me to lie down. I can relate, however, with a Freudian use of the very same couch and the process of being pressed into it. Being told I am anxious, made me feel anxious. Being told that I didn’t have enough information to reliably explain what I was feeling, made me feel as though I didn’t know what I was feeling. Being forced to abide that monitors, and doctors, and nurses knew better than I what I was feeling, made me believe that I wasn’t capable of solving a problem I knew the answer to. People invaded my space physically, emotionally, and intellectually. They poked me with needles and shoved their hands and fingers inside of me. They shoved their opinions, inferences, and ideas into my mind replacing my autonomy. They sifted my emotions through their emotional panic and it’s silt settled onto every aspect of my own psyche. These experiences left me feeling incapacitated and raw. When I was left to my own devices in my own space, an unwanted whistle triggered the memory of physical intrusions. When left to solve my own problems, ones that I have solved before left me crying, anxious, terrified, guilty, and utterly incapable of making a decision unassisted.
The way my daughter entered the world prepared me for the life she faces, the life I’ve faced. The rape of our bodies and minds by those to whom our words seem surreptitious. People will assault her by disregarding her words, want, and will insisting that what we wear- our skin, our suit, our smile- is more indicative of our intent than our intentional verbal insistences. We will be judged by outward appearances, of this I was jarringly reminded. This has, in a unique way, prepared me for the battle I face with my precious baby girl. For this, I am grateful, enraged, and humbled.